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Designing Safer Livelihoods Programmes for Women Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Gaza

territorio Palestino ocupado
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Livelihoods are an essential way for crisis-affected people to cope with and recover from shocks. However, humanitarian activities can unintentionally increase risks associated with livelihoods activities, including the risk of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Gender risk analysis can inform programme design so that safe livelihoods initiatives can be supported by humanitarian actors.

In March and April 2019, Oxfam conducted a Cohort Livelihoods and Risk Analysis (CLARA) in the Gaza Strip in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The CLARA study in Gaza is primarily intended to inform Oxfam’s understanding of the gender risks associated with livelihoods, risk mitigation and prevention strategies, and the needs and opportunities of women who are survivors of GBV in Gaza. Interviews were conducted with 70 women who are survivors of GBV, and additional focus groups were held with adolescent girls and boys from the women’s households.

The analysis found that women’s livelihoods have been severely impacted by the current crisis in Gaza1. Almost 76% of women reported that their livelihood or the livelihood of a spouse or family member has been affected by specific shocks within the Gaza context. Among those who reported that their livelihood has been affected, the majority said the primary impact is from the Palestinian Authority (PA) restrictions in 2017. The most prevalent way that the women survivors of GBV interviewed meet their basic needs and access money is through support from others, including food assistance, support from relatives or charity. Women interviewed practice a range of livelihoods activities; these are mostly highly gendered strategies based around activities that are typically done by women, as these are more permissible in the context.

Women survivors of GBV interviewed said that their livelihoods activities are often risky, and this risk has increased significantly as a result of shocks in the context and the Gaza crisis. Some 39% of women interviewed said that their current livelihoods activities make them feel vulnerable or unsafe. By contrast, only 7% of the women said that their livelihoods activities were unsafe before the crisis in Gaza. The primary threat women said they experience now is due to economic vulnerability – the effects of being unable to meet basic needs of the household due to low wages and limited income opportunities. They live on charity and debt, can’t find income opportunities, and fear falling into further destitution.

Women feel at greater risk of GBV or other harm due to their current livelihoods strategies, for reasons including working in male-dominated spaces like markets, having to walk long distances or spend long periods outside selling goods, or working in private homes. They also feel vulnerable due to humiliation and loss of dignity caused by their food security and livelihoods strategies. Women reported experiencing humiliation in part because they have had to take on responsibilities to provide for themselves and their families, and in part because the strategies they have to use to get food or income are not considered decent or respectable. Women also said they experience intimate partner violence (IPV) due to their economic situation, which some linked to stress around survival and providing for the family.

The women survivors of GBV proposed a range of activities to improve their own livelihoods and income. Women are particularly interested in starting market-based businesses, particularly related to sewing, embroidery, crochet or dressmaking. Other popular areas of interest are in education and childcare, opening grocery stores or produce stands, and starting or expanding businesses to make and sell cleaning products. In order to start or expand their livelihoods activities, almost all women said that they require capital or financial support. The large majority also said they would need at least one additional type of support in the form of goods and materials, equipment or tools, training/guidance and/or a location to work from.

However, the large majority of respondents said there are potential risks from starting or expanding their livelihoods. Risks identified include robbery or fraud, violence from intimate partners or other relatives, and exposure to GBV, humiliation or economic abuse from a husband or family member. Women are also concerned about the risk that their business may fail, mostly due to the economic situation caused by the current crisis in Gaza. A small number of women raised concerns that they could be exploited by the organizations seeking to support them and their livelihoods.

More than half of the women survivors of GBV interviewed said that members of their community engage in sex work as a means of livelihood. In about 41% of the cases mentioned, women and girls are forced to sell sex for money by a family member. The most common situation described by the respondents is women being made by their husbands to engage in sex for money, and the next most common situation is girls being forced by a parent (usually her father) or other family member to have sex for money. In some cases, women or girls decide to exchange sex for money or food, sometimes called ‘survival sex’.

Adolescent girls are not able to work outside the home according to cultural norms in Gaza, which has had a protective effect on their education: unlike boys, girls are not removed from school in order to participate in livelihoods activities. However, the economic crisis in Gaza has impacted households’ ability to pay for both girls’ and boys’ school expenses and can contribute to difficult home environments. Adolescent girls are at increased risk of early marriage because of the lack of money to continue their education and their inability to work outside the home.

Despite the cultural restrictions, adolescent girls identified a number of permissible livelihoods opportunities along with the types of support they would need, though risks of engaging in these strategies include sexual harassment, domestic violence, and violence/threats from non-family members. A broader range of permissible livelihoods opportunities were identified for adolescent boys, although these also come with potential risks including verbal or physical abuse, theft or fraud, sexual harassment, and exploitation. Some types of risks that were identified for adolescent boys were not raised for women or for adolescent girls, including recruitment by Israel as a spy.

As the findings of this analysis show, there are significant needs related to livelihoods – and significant risks. The large majority of women survivors of GBV interviewed (74%) said that they do not currently utilize any strategies to prevent or mitigate risks in any current livelihoods activities. However, the women interviewed and the adolescent girls and adolescent boys who participated in the focus groups identified a wide range of potential prevention and mitigation measures that should be incorporated into any future livelihoods support activities. These prevention and mitigation strategies are broken down by cohort and by risk, and presented in Section 5 of this report. Examples include identifying safe workspaces such as women’s centres and cooperatives, linking with formal financial services, sensitization and outreach to change attitudes towards women working outside the home, training in business skills including negotiation and invoicing, and utilizing existing referral pathways to obtain legal and other services when needed.