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

We are pleased to present a new report by the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN). It tells the story of Palestinian women who seem to have been condemned by the system […]

We are pleased to present a new report by the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN). It tells the story of Palestinian women who seem to have been condemned by the system to joblessness—but who refuse to accept the verdict. The report assembles findings from various sources and presents a picture that has never before been seen in its particular perspective. It is a picture of extreme poverty stemming largely from the absence of women in East Jerusalem from the labor market. The report blends statistical data with stories from their lives. The lack of opportunities, as described below, has resulted in a situation where only 13% of working-age women (15–64) have managed to enter the labor market, a state of affairs that perpetuates their low social status. WAC-MAAN publishes the report in order to contribute to the knowledge of civil-society organizations and to find partners for changing the situation. We also hope that it will influence officials in the municipality, the government, and the Knesset to take the needed measures. We believe that the integration of Palestinian women in the labor market is a basic condition for empowering them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, significantly improving conditions in the city.

To the full report

 Summary of the Report

 In East Jerusalem (EJ) live 315,900 Palestinians. They are caught in a violent conflict that began with the conquest of EJ in 1967, soon followed by its annexation to Israel. Since then the Palestinians of the city have lived in a social and economic reality that increasingly verges on catastrophe. One of the most hushed-up and difficult issues in this reality concerns the lives of the women, who are condemned to unemployment, poverty, and lack of self-fulfillment.

For the last decade the average employment among EJ women has hovered around 12%. According to the 2017 Jerusalem Yearbook for Israel Research (presenting data from 2015), the figure stands at 13%. As for poverty in EJ, between 2008 and 2014 it increased from 65% to 82%. Among families of five with a single employed breadwinner (these constitute the average), poverty rose from 66% to 89%.

To get a decent job in a modern economy, one needs an education beyond high school. However, because of the underdeveloped educational system in EJ, the vast majority of its women will not come close to that: 70% of working-age women do not have more than a high-school education—indeed, 44% have not completed 12 years.

EJ women who manage to enter the labor market often find themselves doing hard physical work in temporary jobs under abusive conditions. Apart from the sheer humiliation, such work perpetuates their entrapment in the poverty cycle. Even among jobs in the educational system, health, and care of the elderly, we find deeply entrenched practices of abusive employment.

WAC-MAAN’s field work, along with that of other women’s groups, demonstrates a growing tendency among EJ women to fight to enter the labor market. Take, for example, the Rayan Employment Center in the EJ neighborhood of Shuafat: 75% of those registered there are women (750 out of 1000). Yet their demand to work remains largely unfulfilled because jobs are lacking: placements amount to only 26%. (It should be noted that most of the women at Rayan attend voluntarily.)

From reports spanning many years of WAC-MAAN’s activity in EJ, backed by statistics, we may list the following obstacles faced by EJ women who want to work: (1) In addition to a weak education, there is (2) a chronic lack of day-care centers for their small children; (3) they live far from public transportation; (4) Israel’s Separation Barrier cuts off a third of the EJ population (about 100,000) from the rest of the city; (5) their Hebrew is insufficient; and, as said, (6) the jobs that they can get are usually temporary under abusive conditions.

Despite these obstacles, we can identify a number of processes that indicate a dynamic for change: (1) among EJ women who have joined WAC-MAAN, an impressive group of activists has arisen; (2) there is the aforementioned success of the Rayan Center in Shuafat; and (3) other women’s groups have sprung up during recent years. We need actions to build infrastructure on several fronts: a better educational system, a more accessible job market with fair conditions, and solutions for childcare. Given the strong will of the women, such actions could revolutionize life for the better in East Jerusalem.

The report was prepared by Erez Wagner, WAC-MAAN Coordinator for East Jerusalem


אודות Wac-Maan