Since 2011, the European Union opened its market to Palestinian exports, including all agricultural products. For many years, Palestinian farmers have taken advantage of this trade deal by exporting herbs to Europe where the herbs are turned into cosmetics and beauty products. Now, however, women in Gaza have taken it upon themselves to synthesize the herbs into cosmetic products they can sell themselves. In a factory in Gaza city, four female employees are extracting essential oils from herbs, which then becomes the main ingredient used to make beauty and personal care products. The herbs cultivated include rosemary, basil, mint, thyme and chamomile and all originate from women-owned farms.
Oxfam Australia Supports Women in Gaza
As part of its initiative to help countries recover from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Oxfam Australia worked with partners in Gaza and ran listening workshops to understand how the pandemic affected 32 women-led businesses in order to understand their challenges and how to support them.
In a summary of the workshops, Oxfam’s Economic Justice team found that, despite the proliferation of women (60%) working in the “shadow economy” or informal economy, women possess the will to grow small businesses and achieve greater market penetration. But, the pandemic has put a great strain on their efforts, especially the efforts of micro or small women-led businesses as women have had to significantly minimize or halt their production because the required COVID-19 protocols jeopardize the minimum profit gained. Further, the team found that Palestine’s weak market demand and absence of a culture supporting local products add to the burden of small businesses. Ultimately, these findings inspired Oxfam’s support of several women-led businesses in Gaza, including the women-owned cosmetic factory.
The GG Cosmetics Range
With a range of up to 17 products including cleansers, body washes and shampoos, the Gaza cosmetic brand is titled GG stands for “Green Gold,” which is the name given to mint by farmers of Northern Gaza. One of the women leading the business tells Reuters that “When you hold the product, you feel like you are taking something from the earth — with no additives.” So far, 50 stores sell the products, including 30 pharmacies across Gaza. In one of the pharmacies selling the brand, a pharmacist says that she likes the products because “they are natural and have no chemicals in them.”
Sustainable in More Ways Than One
According to the World Bank, about 50% of people in Gaza are unemployed and more than 50% of Gaza’s people live in poverty. Considering these statistics, support from organizations such as Oxfam is essential. As well as encouraging sustainable sources of income for Palestinian women and their children, the GG cosmetic business also promotes plant-based cosmetics, which are far less harsh on the skin than conventional makeup.
Overall, efforts to localize the manufacturing and sale of cosmetics in Gaza are empowering women and creating opportunities for future women entrepreneurs. In this way, women become financially independent and are able to provide for themselves and their families. These efforts, in a time of extreme oppression and strife in Gaza, are helping to “embroider the blueprint for both liberation and sovereignty, for resistance and remedying the aftermath of oppression.”
– Annarosa Zampaglione