On Facebook, I spotted pictures of my older sister Hannah in the forefront of a peaceful protest to promote national unity and offer political prisoners some support and encouragement, as a large number of them are on a hunger strike. It was a surprise to me, because when I left Gaza years ago she was just a mother with a high school degree. She was caring for three kids and to my knowledge she showed no interest in going back to school or getting involved in political issues. Thirteen years later, she is now working on a degree in Occupational Therapy at a local college and interning for an NGO that works with disabled children, on top of tending to her five beautiful children. She has also taken part in the Palestinian National Initiative platform spearheaded by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the well-known and highly regarded Palestinian democracy activist. I am incredibly proud of my older sister -- the woman who taught me how to read is now joining civil society groups and enriching the voice of Palestinians.
It seems that Hannah is hardly the only woman in Gaza to return to school to make a better future for herself and her family. My other sister Shima, who dropped out of school five years ago, recently went back to finish her degree in education. My sister-in-law Amani is currently doing a Masters Degree in Administration and doing an internship, as well; her own children are at colleges as well. Another of my sisters is working on an MBA degree from the Islamic University of Gaza, where classes are taught in English by American, Canadian, British and Malaysian faculty. She also works for Gaza food import business with their communication. My female relatives are all very competitive students who often brag about good grades and the classes they took.
Ten years ago, those female relatives of mine would have had the title of housewife; my mom is one, but now increasing numbers of Palestinian women seem to strive for more in life. Each of the women on this list has at least four kids of their own, a home to look after and a supportive husband. I am not sure what's the motive behind this, but I am thrilled to see more and more women seeking higher education. I was reminded of a quote by Omar Kader, a Palestinian-American businessman who addressed a room full of young women, "What are you going to do in your life once you are forty and the kids are out of the home?"
The most popular colleges for females returning to school seem to be Al-Quds Open University and Gaza's Palestine University, both of which have attractive majors and have made their schedules more convenient for married women with children. I think the job market has also changed as more companies and organizations stress the importance of having a diverse workforce. It seems that the work of many great NGOs in Palestine has paid dividends. Numerous qualified females receive scholarships and more of them are being hired for their skills.
The literacy rate among Palestinian women is at 93.6 percent, according to The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. This solid rate is three and a half times higher than among males. The percentage of women with an Associate's Degree and above stands at 16.4 percent, and women make up 49.2 of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories. However, despite the rise in female employment in the labor force over the past ten years, the female participation rate remained low at 17.4 percent of females in the labor force in 2012 compared to 10.3 percent in 2001. Palestinian women tend to do better in the public sector, as 40.6 percent of employees were females in 2012 compared to 59.4 percent of males.
Gradually, women in Palestine are finding their own path to freedom and prosperity. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in the fields of violence against women and job creation programs that advise and assist women in achieving career success. I hope that Palestine can soon come to a peaceful solution to its military occupation so that the society can continue to develop and achieve freedom and prosperity. Because such freedom are the first casualties of violence. Just like President James Madison once said, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." Gaza and Palestine are still under a military occupation.