Living in Gaza: Palestine refugee women bring human face of conflict to Brussels

12 April 2011

April 2011
By Miriam Aced

“They say Gaza people can cope with everything. But why do we have to? We just want to lead a normal life.” Medical doctor Ghada Al-Jadba is one of the three Palestine refugee women working for UNRWA and living in Gaza who came to Brussels two weeks ago to help us understand what daily life is like in Gaza.

Since 2007, Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants have been affected by a land, air and sea blockade, which seriously restricts movement of people and goods. Over one million of them are Palestine refugees who were displaced following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and who receive education, health and social support from UNRWA, the UN Agency for Palestine refugees.

The delegation, consisting of Dr Al-Jadba, Ms Saher Salem, a communications officer and teacher, Mrs Siham Abur Nasr, education and health support officer and accompanied by Ms Rebecca Dibb, gender officer, came to present the human face of the crisis by sharing their personal stories of how the repercussions of the blockade and of the recent conflict have affected the population.

Increased domestic violence

The Gaza women gave a compelling and touching insight into how life in Gaza affects its female population: with a 40 per cent unemployment rate after the blockade and an almost non-existent private sector, many men have not been able to work. This has had a direct effect on the increase of domestic violence in the area.

The women explained how UNRWA has taken several steps to mitigate this; gender equality and the professional and educational development of women and girls has always been a main priority. In the 1960s, UNRWA’s school system became the first in the Middle East to achieve equal enrolment of boys and girls. Even today, the majority of those in higher education are women. According to Ms Dibb: “If you invest in women, you invest in the entire population.”

UNRWA’s gender programme also includes working with local community-based organisations, providing educational support to women and girls, literacy, language and computer lessons, leadership courses and domestic violence protection and prevention. Since Gaza has the world’s highest fertility rate, the issue of family planning is also a priority.

Family planning

Workshops with men and women, and with the help of religious and community leaders, aim to inform women, men and families on family planning issues. One important point is that family planning is not about religion or politics, it is purely a family matter.

“We are grateful for the international support, but what we need so as to live a normal life is an end to the blockade so that the economy can recover and we can take the lead for our own future,” said Siham Abu Nasr.

They also optimistically shared their hope that the situation would improve in the future and lead to better living conditions and restore dignity to millions of Palestinians, stating that this is the message they wish give to EU policy makers. Saher Salem, 24 years old, urged listeners to “keep the human approach when you listen, when you speak and when you decide.”

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