9 March 2012
Beit Surik, West Bank
One of several villages trapped between the separation Barrier to the east and the border with Israel to the west, Beit Surik is a small village overlooked from all directions by illegal Israeli settlements. Before the Barrier’s construction, people and trade flowed freely across these borders. Today, permits and checkpoints make employment in either Israel or the West Bank nearly impossible for its 4,500 residents. Within this isolated village, divorced mother Iliana Mohammed must find the means to provide for her family of five.
With the economy in Beit Surik struggling to survive the effects of the Barrier, new job opportunities are almost non-existent. Unemployment has risen to about 50 per cent of the village. To address the lack of job opportunities that is pervasive throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, UNRWA offers a job creation programme (JCP).
Targeted to the most vulnerable of Palestine refugees, the JCP creates short-term job opportunities and provides a cash-for-work subsidy in return. For women like Iliana seeking financial independence, the programme is particularly empowering.
The local women’s centre connected Iliana to the JCP, securing her three employment opportunities over three years with the Araqa Women’s Embroidery and Craft Initiative. Launched in 2010, the project employs the traditional skills of West Bank women to build sustainable sources of income. With her diploma in fashion design, Iliana now designs embroidery products for the Initiative, which are then sold by other women – providing additional income for the community.
More than just a short-term income generator, the JCP also provides career-relevant training for its participants. For Iliana, that means workshops on topics from communication skills to design.
“It helped me to develop my ideas and broaden my skills, as well as my academic knowledge,” Iliana says. “It has helped me to overcome crisis, and has boosted my self confidence and character. And I am now able to fulfil the basic needs of my family.”
The 2012 theme of International Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”. The JCP has sought to do just this by providing more than 7,100 jobs per month in the West Bank. Female participation in the programme has exceeded expectations, with an impressive 41 per cent of beneficiaries being women.
Funded through generous contributions from Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, the United States, and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Department (ECHO), the JCP works within 317 municipalities and villages across the occupied Palestinian territory.
As job opportunities for women still fall far below demand, UNRWA also addresses other underlying barriers to women’s employment: breaking down gender stereotypes and changing attitudes regarding the kinds of positions women are considered suitable to fill. Although a long process, the Agency’s gender education initiatives and partnerships with local authorities make the future look promising.