Palestinian women battle to break into business
By Sophia Jones
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - From corner fruit stalls in Hebron to chic Ramallah ballet studios, Palestinian women are making their mark in business, some out of necessity and others looking to break the gender mould and pursue a dream.
For Shyrine Ziadeh, a 24-year-old Birzeit University graduate, that dream was to open a dance studio.
Now the proud owner of the Ramallah Ballet Center, the first in the West Bank, her sunny, top-floor studio is flooded with classical music and mirrors stretching from wall to wall. Little girls plié in pink ballet shoes and jump over fairy wings.
"I want to develop girls," she said. "Ballet helps develop their point of view in life. We need such things in Palestine."
Latest statistics from the International Labor Organization estimated that in 2008-2009, women headed just 5 percent of West Bank firms. Circumstantial evidence suggests the figure has climbed since then, fueled by economic growth and an increasing appetite for bank lending.
However, the deeply traditional, male-dominated society that is prevalent across much of the Arab world, coupled with bureaucratic restraints unique to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, pose particular challenges for women seeking to get ahead.
"Many women in the West Bank want to do things, but they can't. Our culture is generally more of a man's culture. Women are trying to do things, but in small steps," said Ziadeh.
Restrictions from Israel, which controls all entry points to the West Bank, only add to the problems, she said. Continued...