A gender gap exists at all levels of Palestinian society and has widened in recent years in the face of rising levels of unemployment and poverty fuelled by the economic and financial crisis. Access to education, health care, water, sanitation has suffered in both quality and quantity, the situation has been aggravated by the global crisis. The study reviews the economic and social status of Palestinian women, focusing on rights and development.
The first part reviews the changes that have taken place since 2006, when an earlier study was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
The situation of the population in Palestine is determined by a complex set of internal and external factors. The population faces a number of direct consequences as a result of the occupation, including physical and emotional stress at the personal level, and limited economic development and political participation at the society level.
During the period under review, there was a sharp increase in conflict-related fatalities, the consequences of which will be examined later in this paper. The ongoing situation of occupation and conflict has resulted in a continued and increasing dependency of the population on external assistance for the most basic of needs.
The division of the West Bank and Gaza and the increasingly conditioned funding by donors have combined to place even greater stress on the Palestinian population as a whole, and its women specifically.
The second part of the study addresses demographic trends. In contrast to other ESCWA member countries, fertility rates in Palestine remain high and have declined only slightly in recent years. Children and young people continue to represent a major segment of the overall population, which poses additional challenges for development.
In an analysis of the participation of women in the labour force and the economy, the study finds that participation levels remain low compared with other countries, both within the region and globally. Furthermore, it identifies disparity between women in the West Bank, who have higher levels of participation, and those in Gaza, who are more severely affected by the gender gap. Palestinian women are mainly employed in the service sector and education, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains their most important employer.
The extent of the increasing gap between the West Bank and Gaza is particularly evident when analysing data on poverty: while poverty rates in the West Bank decreased in 2007, they increased in Gaza, where half the population was living below the poverty line, and food aid and the provision of aid assistance by international donors played an increasingly essential role for survival. However, the study also reveals a number of positive developments for women in the education and health sectors. Data show that while the overall quality of education available to women in Palestine is variable, access to and participation in education by women is rising.
Indeed, a majority of students at local universities and university colleges are now women, although they remain underrepresented on the teaching bodies of such institutions. The health sector also faces a number of challenges and while child mortality has decreased in the West Bank, it has increased in Gaza, and health-care provision leaves considerable room for improvement.
Political participation by women is also examined in detail and the results are encouraging: there has been a significant increase since 2006, with more women obtaining positions as parliamentarians, prosecutors and judges, thus providing increased female influence in a variety of decision-making areas.
The study concludes with a set of recommendations for decision makers, encompassing a broad range of legal and institutional reforms within a framework of a proposed economic and social policy that is gender-aware, inclusive, conducive to participation, comprehensively applied and to the benefit of all social groups.