The AEU is supporting Palestinian women to build their businesses and their economic independence, writes RACHEL POWER.
The AEU is building the capacity of women’s co-operatives in parts of Palestine where residents are facing high rates of unemployment and food insecurity, worsened by the COVID pandemic. With co-contributions from the Australian government and Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA, the AEU has helped 50 women – mostly from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron – develop home-based businesses so they can support themselves and their families.
One of these projects is a baking, pickling and herb processing business in Kafr ad-Dik village in the Salfit district. The other is an organic farming co-op in Deir as-Sudan village in the Ramallah district. Here, the women have been growing organic vegetables, herbs and wheat crops, and are now expanding to growing grapevines, which allows them to sell both the fruit and the leaves. A third food production co-op involving women and men from the deaf community in Ramallah is soon to be established.
A delegation of trade unionists from Queensland and Victoria visited the Deir as-Sudan women in August to see the program in action. Among them was Danae Bosler, Chief of Staff at the Victorian Trades Hall Council.
“Visiting the project outside of Ramallah in the West Bank, which is part-funded by AEU, was the highlight of our study tour,” she says. “The women are so enthusiastic. It was an incredible group – about 15 in total – who’ve set up their own co-operative, growing produce for market.
“It’s such a challenging landscape – very barren and dry and rocky and hilly – and they’ve had to cut into a hillside and construct a tiered structure to create flat spaces, and put in a drip-sprinkler system.
“It’s pretty incredible they manage to grow anything there, it’s so hot and dry, but Palestinians have been growing produce in those conditions for a long time,” says Danae.
The AEU is the single biggest union donor for the co-operatives, which are overseen by the MA’AN Development Centre, a local non-government organisation and training institution based in Ramallah. APHEDA has a long history of working with MA’AN, funding projects in the West Bank with a focus on building women’s economic independence.
“This fits with what the union movement wants to support: projects that are small and practical and on-the-ground.”
“This fits with what the union movement wants to support: projects that are small and practical and on-the-ground,” says Danae. “We are also focused on food security, so this is very much in our wheelhouse.
“We don’t just fund water-pipes. Part of working with MA’AM is receiving development business training – so, help with decision-making and practical skills to make the business viable.”
Danae says MA’AN supports women to overcome logistical challenges, but also any psychological or social barriers that might get in the way of their capacity to build and sustain successful businesses.
“The men in the village were dismissive of their plans at first. But they’ve managed to turn that attitude around within their own families, and their husbands increasingly supported them once they saw that they were serious and that they had gained funding for the project,” she says.
“The only alternative is working in the Israeli system, usually in domestic labour, which comes with its own insecurities and risks, so they’re determined to make their local businesses work. They’re a pretty strong, fierce bunch of women.”
During their visit, the Australian union delegation also met with leaders of the Palestinian Teachers Union – one of the largest unions in the region – and presented them with an AEU flag.