On 15 January, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) finally managed to celebrate the graduation of 700 students from its Young Women Leaders Programme (YWLP). This winter, a total of 1,421 students graduated from the programme, funded by the Norwegian and Basque governments, but the third ceremony was delayed due to the rough weather and flooding that shook Gaza in December. The delay only made the celebration more important, and 300 people – including representatives of partner community-based organizations (CBOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UNRWA staff attended the final ceremony.
The YWLP was first launched in 2011 to provide young women with the skills and capacities needed in Gaza’s competitive labour market. The programme was designed to advance their knowledge and skills of decision-making processes, self-development, conflict resolution, organizational management and communication. In 2013, the training also incorporated components of marketing skills and business start-up advice. Four hundred of the participants had the opportunity to take on work placements in a wide variety of professions such as design, research, law, social work, psychology, engineering and teaching. The work placements are identified to complement the participants’ educational background and allow participants to gain experience and skills in relevant fields.
At the ceremony, graduates performed theatre and dabke, and recited poetry they had written about their female Palestinian idols. The Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Scott Anderson, told them: “Dear graduates, take great pride in yourselves today. You know better than anyone that success does not come without hard work … You are the future of Gaza and your leadership is needed in building a nation that provides opportunities for all youth of Gaza, including women.”
Rana Quffa, 21, delivered the graduate’s speech. She said: “We must get rid of the image of woman as only mother or wife … For me, the most important thing in my life is to live it and not to give up or to try to be something that I'm not.”
As the situation in Gaza remains challenging, women bear much of the burden. Gaza’s unemployment rate has reached unprecedented levels, and particularly among young women, of whom 89 per cent are unemployed. Targeted interventions such as YWLP form a crucial response to the challenges the people of Gaza encounter today. The Agency is devoted to continuing this work. The UNRWA Gender Initiative, through unique partnerships with CBOs, has focused the Agency’s efforts towards this goal.