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Women’s stories about work

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.10.2013:

The following are a series of stories of women from the Bethlehem countryside (villages and camp). Made for an AEI project about women’s rights in 2012, they give a idea of the social situation of many Palestinian women. The focus here is on labour.


A divorce in case of work

A girl graduated from an Iraqi university with an oral translation degree. She found many chances for working. When she got married, her husband didn’t allow her to work, telling her “if you want to work, I am going to divorce you.” At the end, she preferred to get divorced rather than to sit at home surviving a man with such mentality.

No work allowed with men

A woman from Artas said, “I studied business administration at the university, then got married to a man from Al Walajeh. After some years, I decided to start working but my husband prevented me as companies and institutions are the only fields relevant to my certificate. There it is common that men and women work together and he didn’t encourage mixing between the sexes. So I lost my chance to work and be financially independent.”

My husband refused night shifts

I am Sarah from al-Walajeh village. I studied nursing at the university and then started to work at a hospital, but when I got married, my husband refused me having night shifts… So I was obliged to resign and stay home.

Not leaving the kids at a nursery

Su’ad from Al-Walajeh: “Before marriage, I used to work at school and I was happy. I got married and I was busy raising my children. After a while, I thought of applying to some schools but my husband told me that he was not going to accept the idea of leaving the kids at a nursery. On the other hand, he said he would sacrifice everything for me and our kids to live a comfortable life. Therefore, I stayed home with the kids, and postponed my work and development to the future.”

Sexual violence at work ended in pregnancy

At Dheisheh camp, a woman narrated the story of a 17-year-old girl, who was mentally backward. The girl used to work in a factory and her employer harassed her sexually for a long time. She wasn’t aware of it. As a result of that harassment, abnormal signs appeared such as a large abdomen and pain. Her mother realized that her daughter had to be taken for medical examination as soon as possible. She discovered that her daughter was pregnant. After this enormous shock, the mother asked the doctor to carry out an abortion for her daughter so as to avoid any public scandal. The mother didn’t complain as she thought she didn’t have proof for what happened and no one would believe her in any case because her daughter suffered from mental backwardness.

Accept no contract, or leave

Raja’ from Al-Walajeh village narrated her story with pain: “I applied for a private kindergarten to work there as a teacher. At the beginning everything went well but when I asked them about signing a contract, the principal told me that they were not used to sign a contract with employees. She said that if I was not willing to work under their conditions, they could find job seekers who would accept their conditions.”

No rights for cleaning lady

My name is Halima, 45 years, from Artas. I didn’t continue my education because I got married at an early age. My husband was unemployed since the beginning of our marriage which forced me to work as a cleaner at houses. I worked serving a lady in Bethlehem for 5 years without signing a contract. Then I took a vacation because of my children’s disease as they suffered from genetic diseases. When I finished my vacation, she didn’t welcome me at her house. She told me that she hired another woman. When I asked her about my rights, she answered me that I had no rights.

Exploiting a volunteer

“My name is Najieh, 50 years, from Dheisheh camp. After the graduation of my daughter, she worked as a volunteer in one of the government institutions. The agreement was that she would be paid a small amount of money for transportation. She worked hard as they used to assign the difficult assignments for her until she was totally exhausted. Despite all that, they didn’t give her any money and refused to issue a reference letter for her.”

Coordinator is cheating

My name is Fida’, 45 years, and I am from Artas. I am an activist in both social work and volunteering. Recently, I worked as an assistant to a project coordinator in one of the institutions which support small businesses. The project was preparing pastries that could be sold at schools. Sales proceeded very well, but the coordinator used to tell us that “the project was not successful and we are losing so much.” One day, the coordinator was absent because she was sick. I checked the sales and discovered that there was a good profit at the end of the day. I immediately warned the rest of the working ladies and revealed the situation. Then we notified the project’s directors. They gave us all our rights and fired the coordinator for her cheating.

Contract salary differs from real salary

My name is Amnah, 35 years old, from Artas. I work as a cleaner in one of the institutions. My employer asked me to sign a salary contract (pay slip) of 2500 NIS, while my real salary is 1500 NIS. I refused to sign the contract and asked for a clarification. His response was that it was a mistake. He promised to change the contract. However, I was shocked to detect that the contract’s language was changed from Arabic to English so that I would not to be able to understand it. I asked them to have a copy of it, read it later then to sign it. I signed it but told them, “I know what you are planning to do: You take more money from the donors.”

Salary at an unspecified time

“I am Ahlam from Dheisheh camp. I worked for 4 years in a private institution as a cleaner on an annual contract. After those years, I submitted my resignation because I wasn’t paid for several months. Unfortunately, it is hard for me to survive without my salary. At last they claimed that their financial situation was too bad to pay me, and that I would receive my payments at an unspecified time.”

Father demands all the income

A girl from al-Khader: “We are 13 daughters with an unemployed father. He doesn’t only deprive us from the right to learn at schools and universities, but he also forces four of us to work as servants at houses and give him all the money we earn from work. We are left with no money…. “

Learning about labor rights

While discussing women’s rights in the labor market, Fatima (40 years) from Al-Walajeh talked about her husband. He used to work in a resort without signing a contract that ensured all his rights. He used to work continuously without taking a vacation or annual leave or anything. One day, he fell down and got hurt at work. He didn’t get any right because there was no contract. When Fatima attended the workshop about rights in the labor market, she went home to convince her husband of signing a contract and she explained each and every advantage and disadvantage of having such a document. He immediately demanded from his employer to sign a contract for him.

Vacation not a right

Manal (29 years) from Dheisheh camp told us about her husband’s work: “My husband works in one of the markets as a vegetable seller without a contract. He doesn’t know any of his rights. He works from 3:00 AM until 20:00 PM and his employer considers this period as one day without overtime. A month ago my husband applied for a vacation. To his shock, his employer didn’t agree and said that that was not one of his rights… Despite the fact that he was there working for a long time and never applied for a vacation. What should we do?”

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