Courtesy of Zeina Cooperative Association for Handicraft
and the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS)
The United Nations Development Programme/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP/PAPP) and the Government of Germany, through KfW Development Bank, strive to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development in the Gaza Strip through their partnership in the Investment Programme for Resilience (IPR). The IPR team has been collaborating with non-governmental organizations to improve the living conditions of economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized Palestinian families and strengthen community resilience.
One of the IPR’s key initiatives is the social cohesion plan prepared by the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) in Gaza that aims to address the high unemployment rates in southern Gaza. The plan calls for enhancing the personal and vocational skills of youth and marginalized groups, particularly of women whose access to vocational training programs continues to be restricted due to social conservatism.
Another recipient of KfW funds, the Zeina Cooperative Association for Handicraft, works with Bedouin women in the impoverished northern Gaza Strip. Zeina’s aim is to empower women through tailoring and carpentry labs that help them obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to compete in the local market.
The IPR team facilitated a partnership between UCAS and Zeina that held three training sessions, one in December 2022 and two in February 2023. The objective was to increase the employability of marginalized women by enhancing their capabilities and focusing on their vocational skills. Trainers from UCAS contacted the women who wished to participate in the training and devised a 130-hour curriculum that included sixty hours of carpentry, sixty hours of sewing, and ten hours of marketing training.
As a result of this collaboration, the number of women working in carpentry and sewing at Zeina has increased from 23 to 40, thus enabling an additional 17 women to become qualified and potentially gain employment. To ensure a high-quality output, the UNDP supplied the tailoring lab with two sewing machines.
Expert Rami Al-Sharqawi delivered a thirty-hour training course to women on using carpentry machines, while instructor Mohanned Lubbad developed a thirty-hour training program on the design and operation of CNC routers* and laser machines. Both trainers acknowledged the significance and value of this experience in empowering and enhancing the employability of marginalized women in the Gaza Strip.
According to Lubbad, it was one of the most complex and challenging training experiences due to the nature of this target group that included women of varying ages and educational levels. “Because they reside in the most disadvantaged and impoverished areas, most of them lack digital knowledge and have no experience with computers and various programs,” he explained, adding, “However, despite all of these obstacles, the passion and tenacity I witnessed in this group made me even more determined to achieve the greatest possible benefit, and so we adopted new training techniques that were more straightforward.”
Similarly, Aziza Musabbeh, the sewing instructor, identified the need for a sixty-hour professional sewing course for 25 women, 14 of whom were already employed at Zeina and 11 of whom were secondary-school dropouts. Musabbeh distributed pre- and post-assessment questionnaires to measure the women’s progress. The results were remarkable: one of the recipients, for instance, improved from a pre-test score of zero percent to a post-test score of 90 percent.
The collaboration between UCAS and Zeina Cooperative Association, arranged by the IPR, has improved the living conditions and employment prospects of marginalized women in the Gaza Strip. In addition to providing vocational training and employment opportunities, the program promotes social cohesion and community involvement. The KfW-funded construction of an additional floor of the Zeina Cooperative Association’s facilities will furthermore increase women’s employment opportunities in the community.
Amal, one of the training recipients, stated, “I used to believe that my life lacked significance, but afterward, I became obsessed with achieving my goals. I am proud of my sewing and design accomplishments and of the skills and creativity I gained through this training. So I informed the village housewives that I can design and manufacture any garment they desire.”
The success of the program is measured not only by the number of employed women but also by the enhancement of their life quality, the empowerment of their communities, and the reduction in poverty and vulnerability.
Ghadir, another training recipient, said, “I have always looked for a chance like this: to demonstrate to myself and my family that I am capable and strong and can do what is necessary to achieve my goals. My most profound appreciation goes to this invaluable woodcraft training. Now that I consider myself a competent individual, I am confident that I will be able to find a job that will provide an income for my family and me.”
In order to achieve sustainable development and build resilient communities, it is necessary to empower marginalized groups, such as women. The IPR program exemplifies how community engagement and collaboration can result in significant and long-lasting change. Women who have participated in the program will be able to contribute to the development of their communities for many years to come. The partnership between UCAS and Zeina Cooperative Association is a prime example of how effective collaboration can empower marginalized women, boost their employability, and promote social cohesion.