PHOTOS: In Gaza, women walk thin line between hope and despair

A boy plays with a ball as Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, walks home from school in Gaza City on Feb. 14, 2019. “Despite wars and the bad economy, we are trying to find some joy,” said Abu Amra, who says she loves shopping and eating fast food in Gaza with her friends. “We know the reality we live in so we do things we love to get out of a bad mood.” (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — 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 toward 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.”

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 that 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 to take care of your needs,” said Lama Rudwan, 22, a media and communications graduate who joined her sister’s cooking-tutorial project after an unsuccessful job search.

Palestinian Sara Abu Taqea, right, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital, and her friend spend time at the seaport last in Gaza City last November. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)

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 nontraditional.

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

Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, seen playing with her sister in their house in Gaza City in February. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)

Yaghi’s party-planning requires her to stay up late at night. She said she sometimes hears some of her neighbors, 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 found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor’s degree in midwifery, but said 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.

Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Rami Ayyub and Mark Heinrich

Photography by Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters


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Palestinian Suad Dawood, 24, rides a horse on a beach in Gaza City on Feb. 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. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra, 17, prays in her family house in Gaza City on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Palestinian midwife Sara Abu Taqea, right, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital, weighs a newborn on Feb. 10, 2019. While Abu Taqea found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor's degree in midwifery, she said that many of her colleagues were not so lucky. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Palestinian women wait for their order at a food court in a mall in Gaza City on Nov. 28, 2018. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Fatma Youssef, 17, a Palestinian high school student, adjusts her helmet as she prepares to ride a horse at an equestrian club in Gaza City on Dec. 9, 2018. “I’m nervous because this is my final high school year, but when I ride my horse I become free of stress,” Youssef said. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Hana Abu El-Roos, 18, a Palestinian high school student, tries on a wedding dress in a store in Gaza City on Nov. 26, 2018. El-Roos 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. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Palestinian schoolgirls take pictures of people enjoying a ride at an amusement park in Gaza City on Nov. 29, 2018. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Nada Rudwan, center, 27, who used to work in digital marketing, looks at videos of herself cooking that were filmed by her sister, Lama Rudwan, right, 22, at their home in Gaza City on Dec. 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. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Saly Abu Amra, left, 23, a student majoring in Sharia Law, looks on as her friend smokes a water pipe at a cafe in Gaza City on Dec. 4, 2018. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Palestinian Sahar Yaghi, left, 28, prepares to serve cake at a wedding in Gaza City on Dec. 2, 2018. Yaghi took up work as a wedding planner soon after dropping out of university to earn income for her family. She said she sometimes hears some of her neighbors, 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 said. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Fatma Youssef, right, 17, a Palestinian high school student and a horse rider, and her friend catch nuts in their mouths at their school in Gaza City on Feb. 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. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
High school student Fatma Youssef, studies for school in her room in her family house in Gaza City on Feb. 7, 2019. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Fatma Youssef, right, stands at the front of the class during an English language lesson at her school in Gaza City on Feb. 7, 2019. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
A view of the neighborhood where Palestinian high school student Wessal Abu Amra lives in Gaza City. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
Nada Rudwan, left, who posts cooking tutorials on social media platforms, takes part in a startup workshop in Gaza City on Jan. 29, 2019. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)
From left: Palestinian Saly Abu Amra, 23, Hana Abu El-Roos, 18, and Wessal Abu Amra, 17, buy snacks from a vendor in Gaza City. (Photo: Samar Abo Elouf/Reuters)

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