On the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women, Al Mezan highlights the Center’s work with Palestinian rural women in the Gaza Strip and launches the materials from this collaboration, including a photo gallery and a fact sheet. During this collaboration, the rural women told Al Mezan about the interwoven socioeconomic and cultural factors that affect their lives and work, including the repercussions of the Israeli-imposed restricted-access area and the poverty that the Occupying Power’s unlawful closure promotes. The rural women also reported bearing the entire burden of homemaking, in addition to their agricultural work, but still lacking any form of financial control.
Al Mezan began its recent collaboration with rural women through its European Union-funded project that addresses the rights of Palestinians in Gaza. To launch the joint cooperation, the Center held a one-day seminar for 28 rural women, during which the participants identified poverty as the primary cause of the barriers they face—85.7 percent of the surveyed female farmers do not have a stable income, while 10.7 percent have an income under the national poverty line. The Center also led an awareness-raising session about the participants’ rights as farmers, women and occupied persons. The women were photographed during these sessions, including while they made a list of demands and developed ideas to call for their rights.
A video was also produced , in which Iman Al-Hamidi, the Deputy Director of the Wadi Al-Salqa branch of the Rural Women’s Development Society, said “we call for ensuring our legal, economic, and civil protection.” She noted that women represent 6.4 percent of agricultural workers. Her colleague, Suhair Abu Amra, said that “rural women need capacity building and economic empowerment opportunities to enhance their management and marketing skills.” Female farmer, Um Anas, added “I need to be financially independent, and I need access to agricultural products, such as fertilizer and seeds.”
The rural women in Gaza agreed to be photographed at work in their fields, and Al Mezan produced an online gallery of the photos of these formidable women.
A fact sheet was also produced under the European Union-funded project to mark the International Day; it looks at the particular way that Israel’s unlawful closure policy impacts the approximately the over 6,000 female farmers in the Gaza Strip. The brief presents the views and experiences of the 56 surveyed female farmers. They reported that they struggle just to access their lands, particularly in Gaza’s outer limits where Israel has instituted an “access-restricted area” covering 35% of Gaza’s arable land. Female farmers who are in or near the restricted can be shot by Israeli forces stationed at the perimeter fence or during their incursions; one rural woman was shot and killed and three others injured while working their fields since 2015. Fifty-eight female farmers also reported that they incurred financial losses as a result of Israel’s systematic razing and aerial herbicide spraying of their crop.
The surveyed female farmers also reported vulnerability due to their gender, 62.5 percent saying said they’ve been the target of domestic violence (which they said increased during the lockdown) and 35 percent saying that they have been deprived of their inheritance rights; the women also cited early marriage—noting its linkage to poverty and cultural norms—as a crucial barrier in access to financial and personal freedoms.
The fact sheet also shows that the electricity crisis in Gaza impacts the work of female farmers, who are unable to irrigate without electricity or refrigerate their produce. During Israel’s imposition of additional closure measures in August, in which the occupying authority banned the fuel that runs Gaza’s power plant, the Strip received power for only a few hours a day.
The safety measures implemented by Gaza’s local authority to stem the spread of covid-19 further hindered the rural women’s efforts to cultivate their land, and to harvest and market their crops. All markets were closed, and the women were unable to leave their immediate surrounding areas, including to purchase fertilizer or seeds, or have access to a veterinary for their livestock.
Um Mohammed, the 55-year-old female farmer, told Al Mezan that her family had zero income during the lockdown and had to exchange food products with neighbors to survive. She noted that her family was considered well off before the Israeli military bulldozed their fields in 2000. She lost two of her sons in later years to Israeli military attacks and her remaining children have no stable work, despite all being university graduates.
On the International Day of Rural Women, Al Mezan demands the rights and protection of rural women in Gaza, reinforces the need for accountability, and reiterates the women’s calls for support and capacity building opportunities. Thinking of her children, Um Mohammed said, “I wish my children could live in dignity”. In line with the objectives of its European Union-funded project, Al Mezan will continue to combat the violations against rural women in Gaza and call for the implementation of their rights.
 Al Mezan estimated that there are around 6,425 women in Gaza who are work as farmers, either temporarily or permanently, with or without pay.
The contents of this fact sheet are the sole responsibility of Al Mezan and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.