BZU releases study on women in the Palestinian economy

A study by researchers at Birzeit University revealed that the poor economic situation in Palestine affects women in the marketplace more so that it does men. Women, the study argues, are “caught in a vice,” which turns them into victims of the economic and social contexts in Palestine. That is exacerbated by the fact that the ratio of women in the workforce in Palestine is one of the lowest in the world, the study claims.

The study, entitled “Women in the Shadow: Women and the Informal Economy in Palestine” and carried out by Emad Al Sayrafi and Nahid Samara, notes that women give up many of their rights because of social mores and praxis, in addition to the political and economic obstacles. Women, the study confirms, find themselves “having to adapt to unsuitable-but-available jobs in the marketplace, and usually have inadequate working conditions.”

The Palestinian economy, the study shows, “makes for a rich environment where the informal economy can flourish,” citing reasons such as the lack of job opportunities in the formal economy. This has led to “the proliferation of women in this unsupervised economy which does not adhere to the rules and regulations governing employment in Palestine, including provisions on minimum wage.”

The jobs that women hold are concentrated in work that is hidden from official economic surveys and statistics, the study reveals. Such working conditions lack organization and legal protections, a situation which creates an environment rife with exploitation and worker-rights violations, including unsustainable work, biological hazards, harassment, lack of benefits such as vacation,  career development and stability, and salaries that are below the legal minimum wage.

The study highlights the fact that there are those who benefit from an informal economy, showing that the formal economy “benefits from an informal economy by acquiring labor, products, and services at lower costs. Most women operating in the informal economy work without pay and are accompanied by their family members. Most of these jobs are associated with the women’s reproductive role.”

There is a noticeable lack of legal protections, the study reveals. Labor laws aren’t applied to many economic activities that occur within an informal economy context. The study confirms that “informal economy employers see no benefit in registering their business with the relevant authorities; instead, they see it as an extra burden. As such, official authorities and the civil society have a responsibility to monitor and encourage the registering of businesses.”

The study concludes by noting that social and economic obstacles prevent women from properly engaging in the economy in Palestine. This reality means that women in Palestine exist in a paradox. On one hand, “the college admission rates of women in Palestine are steadily rising, but on the other hand, the rate of women’s participation in the workforce is still low in the formal economy, the value of women’s participation is still not fully recognized in the informal economy, and their housework is still underappreciated, both financially and emotionally.”