Minding the Gap: Making Progress for Women's Economic Participation in Palestine

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released the Global Gender Gap Report, an annual publication that documents gender equality around the globe- and from the BBC to Buzzfeed, there’s been a lot of chatter about its results. The report measures the gaps between women and men throughout the globe in four key areas: health, education, economics, and politics. The data presented in the report has prompted ample discussion about the best- and worst-places on earth to be a woman, given major gaps in areas like access to healthcare, ability to participate in the community, and rights to education. And while progress has been made over recent years, the Middle East has remained in the ranks of one of the hardest places to be a girl, as the region scored lowest globally in terms of female economic participation and opportunity, as well as female political participation.

The information presented about the Middle East's low levels of women's participation is more than data here at TYO- it's what we see in our daily work with female entrepreneurs to address challenges and barriers that keep them from entering, and thriving in, the workforce. Yet what doesn’t fit into the statistics and percentages are the small moments of change rippling through the Middle East- quite a few of which can be seen at TYO as we move forward with our Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East (FWEME) Project.

So as the less-than-great news is distributed through the report, here's some of the positive indicators of progress that we're seeing in Palestine:

-Individual Coaching: After our initial training of 36 entrepreneurs in August, we've selected 23 entrepreneurs for an intensive phase of individual coaching with the Small Enterprise Center in Ramallah, where women have the opportunity to refine and expand their business plans, while also learning about corporate law, applying for loans, and securing new markets.

Entrepreneur Howaida works out part of her business plan with a SEC trainer.

-Psychosocial Support: As we move forward with these 23 entrepreneurs, we're not just addressing their business plans- we're also making plans with them to address some of the challenges they might face outside of the workplace, like resistance from family members or a lack of self-confidence. This manifests from small levels- like a woman not feeling capable of leading a meeting on her own- to major issues, like a husband who doesn't want to let his wife travel alone. Through both group and individual support, TYO helps women know that these stumbling blocks shouldn't stop them from reaching their goals.

- Innovation: While the Middle East has the lowest levels of women in the workforce, there's certainly not a lack of creativity, innovation, and new enterprises emerging from females in Palestine. From our 23 entrepreneurs, a host of industries and ideas are represented- such as an internet technology program that assists residents of Nablus in finding quality healthcare near them, or a unique, hydroponic method of mushroom farming. There's also a math software that strengthen's children's counting abilities and a pharmacy that focuses on holistic medicine- and as these micro-enterprises grow over the next year, we're confident that women's participation in the Middle East will, too.

Trainers from the Bank of Palestine talk with some entrepreneurs about financial management in startup businesses.

The findings from the Gender Gap Report indicate to us that there is still a long way forward for the Middle East, particularly in terms of women's participation. Yet what we've found through FWEME indicates that progress is being made- particularly during the moments when there's 23 entrepreneurs hard at work in our office.

Cayce Pack is the Women's Empowerment Program Coordinator at Tomorrow's Youth Organization. Above, she cites recent data from a World Economic Forum report that shows the Middle East's low rankings in women's economic participation- and how TYO's FWEME Project is working to change that.