By Barbara Filaih

The Gaza Strip, dubbed the biggest open-air prison in the world, has been under Israeli occupation since 2007. The longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip have undermined the living conditions of about two million Palestinians. Most of these restrictions, which were originally imposed by Israel in the early 1990s, were intensified after June 2007 following the takeover of Gaza by Hamas. The imposition of a blockade and other restrictions, such as the freedom of movement, have limited access to livelihoods and essential services like housing and medical care.

Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), unemployment rates increased dramatically in 2018 to 52 percent. Women’s unemployment in Gaza was 74.5 percent in 2018, an increase of over 5 percent since the last quarter of 2017. The percentage of women participating in the workforce in 2018 stood at 25.5 percent. As a result, the poverty rate in Gaza has now reached a staggering 80 percent, according to figures released by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

The Federation added that Palestinian workers in Gaza have been living in appalling conditions since Israel began its siege of the Strip over 12 years ago. The siege brought about massive destruction of the economic sector and infrastructure, resulting in the government’s inability to assume its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip.

In Muslim countries men usually go to work, and women stay at home to bring up their families. Many Palestinian men have been arrested and imprisoned without trial. According to a report released by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy, Israel has detained approximately 1,600 Palestinians since the beginning of the year. The report, which was issued to coincide with Prisoner’s Day, also showed that there are 500 Palestinians held in administrative detention without trial or charge. A 2018 report by B’Tselem described how hundreds of Palestinian minors are picked up by Israeli security forces, handcuffed, blindfolded and transported for an often violent interrogation. They are then taken to a military court for a remand hearing, where they meet their lawyers for the first time. Their rights are regularly violated. A new PLO report showed that in 2018 Israel detained some 3,255 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 17. About 70 percent of them were threatened with violence, including rape, castration, home demolition, life imprisonment and denial of food.

Many Palestinian women have taken on the role of head of the household in addition to their traditional role. Unlike their western counterparts, Palestinian women have large families due to a combination of tradition and lack of access to family planning. Unlike in western countries, in Palestine there is no social welfare, and families struggle to make ends meet. Palestinian women lack access to education in technology. Teaching Palestinian women a new skill such as photography can help to give them financial independence, which will in turn help to break the cycle of poverty.

Doaa Eshtayeh, a Palestinian woman from Nablus in the West Bank, has become a successful photographer who supports herself and her family. Despite having a degree in chemistry, she was unable to find a job. After her husband’s arrest, Doaa realised that she needed to find work to support her family. She attended photography training courses funded by an Italian project, which gave her equipment, such as a professional photo printer, and provided her with professional and marketing skills to start her business. She learned that it is very important to know how to present her product by designing original packaging for her photos. Doaa is now a successful photographer who works as a children’s photographer and wedding photographer. She relies on word of mouth and Facebook to advertise her business.

femLENS is in the process of running a fundraising campaign that will enable us to travel to Gaza and teach photography skills to Palestinian women. femLENS has successfully run women-only workshops in various European countries and in Lebanon. The newly trained women go on to form self-learning groups and can pass on their skills to others. It is an amazing opportunity for women to become self-employed and self-sufficient, which will then allow them to work around their families.

On July 18, femLENS’ crowdfunding campaign will match donations for a trip to Gaza, a project many Palestinian families are bound to benefit from.