IGP Stories

Gender, space and the good life in Ramallah in October 2023

Middle East

Reema Shbita

26 October 2023

During our research examining how financial inclusion policies could produce inclusive prosperity, as local researchers we interviewed people about their perceptions of a good life in Ramallah and Al-Bireh. Most of the answers spoke about the necessity of prioritizing basic human needs before luxuries. Many of those interviewed said they did not feel safe due to the presence of the Israeli occupation. Freedom of movement is non-existent due to military checkpoints in all regions. We live in fear of the military invasions of cities, the arrests and the extra-judicial killings committed by the Israeli occupation forces. Israeli settlers have become a nightmarish threat to the lives of the Palestinian population, as they are armed and constantly attack people. Most people interviewed told us there is no good life under occupation.

All of these things described in the previous paragraph were happening before 7th October 2023, when residents of Gaza decided to break out of their open air prison and end the siege they had been living under for more than fifty years of occupation. Subsequently, Israel intensified its brutal attack on Gaza. At the time of writing, Israel has killed around 4,000 civilians in Gaza, most of whom are women and children. The situation in the West Bank has also worsened, with close to 100 people killed by the army and settlers in the West Bank. In Ramallah, where I live, silence and great sadness prevail. Life is no longer the same as before.

What I want to think about is how women experience these conditions. Our research suggests that for most women, a good life is based on security for themselves and their children. In the current period of intensified violence, many women fear for their lives and personal security, for their children and family, The fear of arresting, killing, and wounding male members of the family has several implications for women, the first of which is anxiety and shock from the human loss, and the second is the fear of losing the primary source of economic support since the majority of women in Palestine depend on the males of the family, whether it’s their husband, father, brother, or son.

When the violence intensifies, restrictions on women’s movement outside their homes disproportionately increase compared with men’s. We are told it is not appropriate to leave home at this time. We can see how the restaurants, cafes, streets and public parks that were usually full of both women and men, have become male domains, especially in the evening. Women’s social networks and support systems that are usually maintained by visiting friends and relatives or going to places like the gym, are withdrawn as movement is prohibited. When schools observe general strikes, as they have done since 7th October, women are assigned the responsibility of helping their children with e-learning. With more members of the family at home, housework increases too.

In difficult times, everyday life for women has become more controlled by men in their families. Their options have become narrower and diminished in several areas. This is one of many undocumented effects of violence and occupation.

Reema Shbita is a Palestinian researcher, women’s rights activist and member of the Palestine research team on the ESRC funded project Transforming Financial Inclusion to Finance Inclusive Prosperity in Ramallah, Palestine (ESRC ES/W006863/1).

The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views or position of IGP or UCL.

Image courtesy of Jakob Rubner/UNSPLASH

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