BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The number of Palestinian women in the labor force remains among the lowest in the world despite an increase during the past decade, a Palestinian research organization reported
The female labor participation rate in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2014 was only 19.4 percent, compared to 25 percent in the rest of the Arab world, a policy brief by Al-Shabaka said, adding that the global average stands at 51 percent.
The low rates come despite high education rates among Palestinian women, Al-Shabaka policy adviser Samia al-Botmeh notes in her report, adding that Palestinian women have higher primary and secondary enrollment levels than males in the entire Middle East and North Africa.
The low rates of participation in the labor force by Palestinian women are also accompanied by increased gender segregation in the field, al-Botmeh argues.
"Over the past 20 years, the share of women’s employment in the productive sectors (agriculture and manufacturing) continued to decline, while their share of employment in services and commerce rose," she writes.
About 21 percent of Palestinian women are employed in agriculture, while almost all the rest, 67 percent, work in services.
"This is particularly significant because it is the productive sectors that generate long lasting growth within an economy," she adds.
Al-Botmeh advises that addressing the many factors preventing Palestinian women from joining the labor work force would better enable Palestinians to counter the detrimental impacts of Israeli occupation on Palestinian economy.
Part of what sets Palestinians behind other Arab women is the continuing Israeli occupation and its "systematic destruction" of the productive sectors of Palestinian economy that make up the labor force, such as agriculture and manufacturing, al-Botmeh says.
In addition to Israeli restrictions, al-Botmeh argues that the low rates of labor participation are also attributable to gender discrimination faced by Palestinian women.
In the Palestinian job market, women have historically gained only 80 percent of the men's salary, and face more obstacles when applying for commercial credit that would be necessary for entrepreneurship.
While 65 percent of Palestinian women are willing to launch a business, entrepreneurship accounted for just 15 percent of women's employment, indicating for al-Botmeh a clear discrepancy between potential entrepreneurship and actual outcomes.
Many women are also excluded from the Palestinian labor law, al-Botmeh arguing that the "law is clearly not sufficiently gender sensitive and does not protect and promote women’s rights."
One of the reasons for gender segregation in the Palestinian labor market goes back to secondary school, where the majority of female students follow the literary track while only 23 percent choose the science sector, meaning that women are more often employed in traditional "women's jobs" such as teaching and nursing.
In order to better benefit from the whole workforce, the report calls on the Palestinian Authority to enhance the production capacity and protection of the local economy.
More so, al-Botmeh writes that despite the negative impact of Israeli occupation on low rates of participation of women in the Palestinian work force, social factors may be worsening the potential for the society to outgrow such limitations.
"Weak economic and social outcomes, including stagnant growth, social fragmentation and gender bias, may undermine the capacity of the colonized population to withstand, survive and resist colonialism," she writes.