Report – Condemned to Unemployment: East Jerusalem Women Struggle for Integration into the Labor Market

More Women Demand Work, Less Enter the Workforce

Given the relative absence of EJ women from the workforce, and the direct link to poverty, WAC has devoted a large part of its resources since 2016 to realizing women’s labor rights both for the employed and the jobless. We have opened a dialogue toward bringing thousands of these women into the labor market.  This dialogue takes place not only with the women, but also in the public sphere (as with the present document). The new emphasis is making its mark: in 2015 WAC assisted with 103 legal cases on behalf of EJ women (26% of total cases), whereas by the end of 2016 the figure had risen to 239 cases (40% of the total).

“The fear of entering the Israeli labor market is diminishing,” says Rania Saleh, WAC-MAAN’s field coordinator and head of women’s activities in our EJ branch. Saleh herself lived for many years on welfare payments. “Although women are still wary of setting out to seek work in the western [Jewish] part of the city, just look at Jaffa Street today—it is full of Arab women! More women want to go out to work and to change their lives, just like me. Also, [in Arab society] the expectation for women to stay at home is changing, and there is more acceptance of their demand to work. We see this among the youth: more and more men are looking to marry a woman who works. This change has also come about because of the widespread poverty.”

Another expression of the thirst for work may be seen in the success of the Rian Center for Job Placement that opened in Beit Hanina, a Jerusalem neighbourhood, in August 2014 in association with the ‘Joint’ and the Ministry of Economy. The Center started with a room at the Community Center, but it was moved because of high demand, mostly from women, to offices in Shuafat. Now it is expanding again, opening another center in Wadi Joz. Among the various employment centers created over the last few years for the Arab population in Israel, the Rian Center is especially successful. When it opened, the Ministry of Economy set a target of 90 participants for 2014, but the final figure was 179. In 2015 the figure was 200. This trend continued in 2016. The Center Director, Wafa Ayoub, reported achieving considerably higher results than the targets established by the Ministry of Economy, which were set at 500 participants, 70% of them women: the Center doubled that to 1,000, of whom 75% were women. Most are between 18 and 24, either unemployed or underemployed.

However, the demand for employment is not fulfilled. According to Ayoub, “Our work placement target is 30% and we at the Center have achieved 37% overall. The problem is when you analyse the placements by gender: the women’s placement figure is 26%, while the men’s stands at 71%. It is easier for men to find work.”

The struggle to enter the Israeli labor market is also reflected by the opening of numerous colleges for completion of the Israeli high school certificates (‘bagrut’), including the mastery of Hebrew.

Obstacles to Participation in the Workforce

1)        Lack of Education

Typically, a Palestinian woman seeking a job begins with a major disadvantage: lack of sufficient education. The axiom that the rate of employment rises with the level of education is very true regarding EJ women, as detailed below. 43.9% of them have not finished 12 years of schooling, and of these only 2% are employed. [13]

Of 60,400 EJ women of working age (25-65) in 2014:

  • 44% did not finish 12 years of school and 2% of them work.
  • 8% finished only 12 years; 11% of them work.
  • 18% earned the High School certificate (Tawjihi or ‘bagrut’); 11% work.
  • 7% hold a non-degree qualification; 42% work
  • 19% have a BA; 44% work
  • 3% have an MA; 77% work

The education report of Ir Amim for 2016, “Five Years Have Passed…,”[14] reveals the following: Of the 128,720 children at compulsory school age, 23,500 (18%) are not registered in any educational establishment, either municipal or “official but non-recognised” or private.

Of the 105,220 EJ pupils aged 3-19 who are registered at the Jerusalem Education Authority, 36% drop out and do not finish Year 12; that is, only 67,340 (52.3%) manage to finish high school. According to the Authority’s calculations, the cost of reducing the dropout rate stands at NIS 15 million. Yet the municipality and the government have decided to allocate only NIS 1.2 million for this purpose (and even this is double previous allocations).

2)        Lack of Jobs

Jobs in industry could partly meet the employment needs of uneducated EJ women. But there is only one industrial zone in EJ, Atarot, which provides 15,000 jobs. In West Jerusalem, on the other had, there are three industrial zones with a total of 58,000 jobs.[15] As we will explain below, transportation to the zones in West Jerusalem is very limited.

WAC’s monitoring of Jerusalem Municipality activities in the field of employment reveals that several programs have been aired for generating jobs in EJ. However, they are far from the implementation stage. Concerning many of them, the argument is made that implementation would involve the use of private land and that the Municipality has not succeeded in contacting the property owners[16].

In addition, local EJ businesses, mostly small and family owned, have been
withering away at a steady rate. Most of EJ has been cut off from the economy of the West Bank by the erection of the Separation Barrier, and so its economic role has been replaced by the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Thus, EJ has become just another neglected peripheral area within the Israeli economy. Traditionally, family businesses provided jobs for women. With the collapse of these businesses, many women have found themselves outside the labor market. Additionally, many of them state that they would prefer not to work in the family business, because pay and conditions tend to fall short of the legal minimum: In family businesses they often lack social welfare rights, maternity payments, termination pay, payment for on-the-job accidents and even registry with the authorities. When the family business is terminated, they have no unemployment benefits. The more aware women become of their rights, the more they want to work in jobs that meet those rights.

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