In occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt), the gender wage gap remains a persistent issue, with 29% of female workers in the private sector earning a monthly salary below the minimum wage of 1,450 shekels or $390.78 as of 2022. Closing this gap could require more than just financial considerations.
Addressing the gender wage gap in Palestine necessitates a broader conversation. In a positive development, 15 Palestinian companies have signed the U.N.-established Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) as of 2021. By endorsing these principles, these companies demonstrate their commitment to promoting gender equality in the workplace and advancing progress for women. This commitment goes beyond monetary values and reflects a dedication to female empowerment and the advancement of positive change.
The Gender Wage Gap in Palestine at a Glance
In Occupied Palestinian Territory, reports from 2015 revealed that a woman’s median daily wage is 24% less than that of men in the same employment, most notably in the education sector. Women employed in public secondary schools receive $32.40 less per month than men. In contrast, women working in private primary schools in the West Bank receive $160 less per month.
The implications are equally severe. Women-headed households make up more than 11% of Palestinian family units as of 2018, and yet the percentage of poverty among such households comes in at 54% in the Gaza Strip. When compared with the overall percentage of poverty among Palestinians (29.2% in 2017), the extent of the challenges that working women face in fighting to avoid falling below the poverty line becomes apparent.
Addressing the gender wage gap in Palestine is crucial to alleviate the financial and emotional strain that holds back women who are grappling with poverty. They often find themselves struggling against challenging circumstances while witnessing their male counterparts navigate more favorable conditions.
The gender wage gap in Palestine extends beyond just basic salary and becomes evident when considering various forms of remuneration, such as paid leave, allowances, severance pay and other financial rewards. Even in cases where the disparity in wages appears small, the inclusion of family allowances (which only men can claim) and additional benefits like bonuses and health insurance widen the gap significantly. This creates a substantial divide that poses a risk for female teachers and professionals, hindering their financial security and potential.
The current socio-cultural climate backs the working female into a corner, with the current unemployment rate for women in Palestine as of March 2023 coming in at 40%. For comparison, the percentage of unemployed men stands at just 20%. For Palestinian women, it is enough of a battle to even enter the workplace, let alone get paid equally for doing so. An example is Shatha Odeh who spent a year in an Israeli prison under claims of heading up an illegal organization in Occupied Palestinian Territory, when she said they arrested her due to her role as Director of Health Work Committees.
Bridging the Gap
Efforts to bridge the gender wage gap in Palestine appear to rely solely on economic measures, which may be precarious and temporary based on the trends. However, an alternative solution may lie in prioritizing people over financial considerations. In line with this perspective, the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) report that as of July 2023, 20 local Palestinian companies, including the Bank of Palestine, Birzeit Pharmaceutical Company and Vitas Palestine, have committed to promoting gender equality in the workplace by signing the WEP. This signifies a concerted effort by these companies to advance gender equality and empower women in Palestine.
The United Nations (U.N.) unveiled the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) on International Women’s Day in March 2010, aligning with international labor and human rights standards. This global initiative consists of seven principles that provide a comprehensive framework for businesses to empower Palestinian women in the workplace. One key aspect of these principles is ensuring equal pay for equal work, and promoting fair compensation based on the value of the job performed.
According to the official U.N. WEPs brochure, such principals are already making waves. As of March 2021, more than 5,000 companies in 141 countries have signed and committed to implementing the WEPs. This has a cumulative effect of transforming the careers of more than 10 million employees and the families they are working to support.
Vitas Palestine is not only taking steps such as launching its “Vitas Values Equality” initiative, enforcing commitment to embracing gender equality, within its organization, but is also working hard to ensure such commitment resounds through its clientele and beyond.
Through an increased focus on empowering female entrepreneurs, from CEOs to those working in small businesses, Vitas makes its standpoint quite clear. The working woman is a force to be reckoned with, deserving of equal opportunity, equal support and most importantly, equal remuneration.
Vitas’ efforts align with the WEP. The WEP goes beyond being a temporary solution and aims to create lasting cultural change by valuing and empowering women in the workplace. This program is a crucial step toward closing the gender wage gap in Palestine and achieving financial equality. With a strong foundation in socio-cultural transformation, there is hope that Palestinian businesses can bridge this gap and overcome gender disparities once and for all.
– Izzy Grout