Gaza Strip women take up men’s jobs, defying Hamas, traditions
Gaza City - Ghadir Tayeh, Salwa Sorour and a handful of others in the Gaza Strip share an uncommon connection. They are vulnerable women who survived successive Israeli wars and a crippling economic siege that forced them out of their homes to take up daring men’s jobs to provide for their families.
Gazans agree the women are “tough cookies”, if only because of the traditionally men’s jobs, such as carpentry or driving a bus, they have chosen.
Tayeh, a soft-spoken 25-year-old mother of two with a jobless husband, said she took the “harsh man’s job” or carpentry because she wanted “to prove to everyone that Palestinian women are tough”.
“We are capable of doing anything that man does, no matter how strenuous it is physically,” Tayeh said. “Palestinian women are independent and strong. They will excel in anything, no matter how tough it is.”
Women in Gaza hold public and private posts, rubbing shoulders with men in a territory run by the militant Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian equivalent.
One of Hamas’s early moves in Gaza was to veil women and segregate the sexes in public.
Although overall the number of women is almost equal to men, their participation in Gaza’s labour force is much smaller, according to figures released in March by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). Women make up only 19.1% of Gaza’s workforce.
PCBS also showed a gap in wages. Women make a daily wage of $21 compared with an average of $27.50 for men. The bureau did not explain if the situation was different in the private sector.
The report showed that 39.2% of women in general are unemployed compared with 22.2% of men. Of all women in Gaza, about half with only high school education are jobless.
Women’s bleak situation in Gaza is also blamed on a highly conservative society of clans, including Arab tribesmen who once inhabited the Negev Desert in central Israel. While men in such patriarchal societies have the final saying in all family matters, women are given duties confined to cooking, cleaning and raising the children.
But Tayeh, the carpenter, decided otherwise as she had to provide for her family. While she admitted taking up a man’s job because she couldn’t find more appropriate ones for women, she said “carpentry, which is a tough job and full of risks, should not remain monopolised by men forever”.
Sporting a red headscarf and a blue robe, she confidently grabbed an electric saw, slicing chunks of wood before they are moulded into shapes for toys. Her products are sold to an Italian charity that taught her how to handle carpentry tools.
Salwa Sorour, 40, is the first Gaza woman to become a kindergarten bus driver, transporting children to school and home every day.
“Such a job is a taboo for women in Gaza but I really I enjoy it because I like both driving and children,” she said.
Sorour said she avoided rejection by Hamas police to grant her a special bus driver’s licence by opting for a minibus, which only requires a private driver’s licence she already had.
“People think driving a bus is only the job of a man but I broke that notion,” said Sorour, a dark-skinned woman in blue jeans and head cap, beaming a charming smile.
She said while families welcome a woman escorting their children to school, some “look at me as if I’m crazy when they see me behind the wheel”.
“But I don’t care,” she said. “I forget everything when I hear the children calling me ‘mom’”.
Majeda Murad, 45, said losing her legs in an accident a few years ago did not dissuade her from learning carpentry and upholstery at a Gaza centre for handicapped women.
Now, Murad boasts of the quality of the house furniture she assembles.