In Gaza, women walk thin line between hope and despair

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Amid the poverty and deprivation of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian women struggle to find a taste of normality that is taken for granted in much of the rest of the world.

Nada Rudwan used to work in digital marketing, but as her work slowed – unemployment in Gaza stands at nearly 50 percent – she decided to put her tech skills towards one of her passions: cooking.

“It was difficult to find a job, so I thought of doing something I like and that will make me money at the same time,” said Rudwan, 27, who posts cooking tutorials to social media platforms under the name “Nada Kitchen”.

FILE PHOTO: Nada Rudwan (L), 27, a graduate of English faculty, takes part in a startup workshop in Gaza City, January 29, 2019. "It was difficult to find a job, so I thought of doing something I like and that will make me money at the same time," said Rudwan, who posts cooking tutorials to social media platforms under the name "Nada Kitchen". "It is an attempt to beat the physical blockade of Gaza by finding a job that just needs some talent, a camera and internet connection," she added. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian student Saly Abu Amra, 23, a university student majoring in Sharia (Islamic Law) and Law, stands outside her family house before going to university, in Gaza City, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Fatma Youssef, 17, a Palestinian high school student and a horse rider, studies for school in her room in her family house in Gaza City, February 7, 2019. "I'm nervous because this is my final high school year, but when I ride my horse I become free of stress," Youssef said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Nada Rudwan (C), 27, a graduate of English faculty, looks at videos of her filmed by her sister Lama Rudwan (R), 22, while cooking, in their home in Gaza City, December 16, 2018. "It was difficult to find a job, so I thought of doing something I like and that will make me money at the same time," said Rudwan, who posts cooking tutorials to social media platforms under the name "Nada Kitchen". "It is an attempt to beat the physical blockade of Gaza by finding a job that just needs some talent, a camera and internet connection," she added. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Fatma Youssef, 17, a Palestinian high school student and a horse rider, stands at the front of the class during an English language lesson at her school in Gaza City, February 7, 2019. "I'm nervous because this is my final high school year, but when I ride my horse I become free of stress," Youssef said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Fatma Youssef (R), 17, a Palestinian high school student and a horse rider, and her colleague catch nuts with their mouths at their school in Gaza City, February 7, 2019. "I'm nervous because this is my final high school year, but when I ride my horse I become free of stress," Youssef said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Fatma Youssef, 17, a Palestinian high school student and a horse rider, attends a school lesson with a tutor in Gaza City, February 7, 2019. "I'm nervous because this is my final high school year, but when I ride my horse I become free of stress," Youssef said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra (R), 17, walks home from school with her colleague, in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. Abu Amra loves to go around Gaza with her friends, shopping and eating fast food. "We have things that look like famous brands but they are not the same," she said. "Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy. We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood." REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian midwife Sara Abu Taqea (R), 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital, weighs a newborn at the hospital in Gaza City, February 10, 2019. Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor's degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky. "It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian midwife Sara Abu Taqea (L), 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital, speaks with her colleague at the hospital in Gaza City, February 10, 2019. Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor's degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky. "It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: A boy plays with a ball as Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, walks home from school, in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. Abu Amra loves to go around Gaza with her friends, shopping and eating fast food. "We have things that look like famous brands but they are not the same," she said. "Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy. We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood." REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, plays with her sister in their family house, in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. Abu Amra loves to go around Gaza with her friends, shopping and eating fast food. We have things that look alike famous brands but they are not the same," she said. "Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy. We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, prays in her family house in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. Abu Amra loves to go around Gaza with her friends, shopping and eating fast food. We have things that look alike famous brands but they are not the same," she said. "Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy. We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Suad Dawood, 24, rides a horse on a beach in Gaza City, February 16, 2019. Dawood holds a diploma as a medical secretary, but has failed to secure a job for four years. "There are no jobs in Gaza. Whenever I get fed up, I go with my friends to sit on the beach or visit areas with greenery," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, takes a selfie with a person wearing a costume at a public park in Gaza City, February 14, 2019. Abu Amra loves to go around Gaza with her friends, shopping and eating fast food. "We have things that look like famous brands but they are not the same," she said. "Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy. We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood." REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Sara Abu Taqea (R), 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital, and her friend spend time at the seaport in Gaza City, November 27, 2018. Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor's degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky. "It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment," she said. REUTERS/Samar Abo Elouf

Rudwan said she earns income from YouTube proceeds and that several companies in Saudi Arabia recently purchased her videos.

“It is an attempt to beat the physical blockade of Gaza by finding a job that just needs some talent, a camera and internet connection,” she said.

More than 2 million Palestinians – mostly descendants of people who were driven out or fled from territory that is now Israel at its founding in 1948 – are packed into the narrow Gaza Strip, which shares borders with Israel and Egypt.

Israel maintains tight control of Gaza’s land and sea borders, citing security concerns emanating from Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the coastal territory. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

Those restrictions have devastated Gaza’s economy and left many of its women, like Rudwan’s younger sister, struggling to find work after graduating from college.

“It is hard to find a job that will allow you take care of your needs,” said Lama Rudwan, 22, a media and communications graduate who joined her sister’s cooking project after an unsuccessful job search.

DISAPPROVING COMMUNITY

Some young women in Gaza speak of struggles in their personal lives, as well. They say shopping and even getting married is made more difficult by the restrictions of Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas over the past decade.

Hana Abu El-Roos, 18, said she plans to get married this summer but can’t find items she needs for her wedding in any of Gaza’s shops. “I haven’t picked my wedding dress yet,” said El-Roos, who is also busy preparing for her final high school exams. “I am confused. My sisters are helping me.”

Other Gaza women say community pressures weigh on them as they seek to bypass Gaza’s economic struggles by working jobs which some see as non-traditional.

Sahar Yaghi took up work as a wedding planner soon after dropping out of university to earn income for her family.

Yaghi’s party-planning requires her to stay up late at night. She said she sometimes hears some of her neighbours, who view her work as inappropriate, making comments about her.

“I hate some comments. But I love my job and hope to have my own business,” Yaghi, 28, said, adding she wants to become the “first female party planner” in Gaza.

For those Gaza women who do have work, the constant fear of losing their job heightens their sense of insecurity.

Sara Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor’s degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky.

“It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment,” said Abu Taqea, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital.

Abu Taqea said she finds a sense of solace in the Mediterranean Sea, whose waves crash along Gaza’s coast.

“We are lucky to have the sea. The beach is a place for relief, and for meditation, so we can forget about the wars and poverty,” Abu Taqea said.

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