07 January 2009
For many Palestinians living on the West Bank, Israel's separation barrier is as much an economic barrier as a physical one, with wage-earners prevented from going to work and their families feeling the effects.
Living in the shadow of the barrier, mother of eight Amal had a tough time keeping her family afloat. "Suddenly the wall was there and my husband couldn't go to his job in Israel anymore," she explains.
But Amal refused to let her family struggle on without an income. Determined to make a difference, she joined a DFID-backed women's cooperative in Bil´in village, just north of the city of Ramallah. And when she was there, her appetite for hard work rubbed off on the other members.
"We discussed the situation in the village and how we could earn an income for ourselves, and suddenly we realized that what we needed was a grocery shop. None of us would be able to set up a grocery shop alone, but why not set it up and run it together through the cooperative?"
With support and advice from the Arab Centre for Agricultural Development (ACAD), the cooperative made their dream a reality, setting up a shop and starting a system of member shareholders. Now the members use the shop to buy what they need for their families, distributing the profits at the end of the year.
"When I look back," says Amal, "I realise how strong our cooperative has become and how we ourselves have grown. It is our cooperative, and we feel proud and confident that we can build a better future together."
Jasmine Higazi works for the development agency International Service (IS). Supported by DFID, the agency works with local organisations throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, helping women, youths and disabled people to earn an income and understand their human rights.
One of IS's 12 development workers in the country, Jasmine was closely involved in getting the grocery shop off the ground. The focus of Jasmine's role is helping ACAD to support women's cooperatives to manage their local savings and credit funds. For people outside the conventional banking system, these funds are the only source of finance available.
However, even leaving aside the Israeli occupation and social and cultural barriers, projects with women's groups are complex and often fail to achieve long-term results. "It is extremely difficult to make the concept of income generation through women’s cooperatives in Palestine work," says Jasmine.
Bil´in is a success today because Jasmine and ACAD focused on helping the women organise their cooperative properly. They provided training aimed at creating a stable organisation, with proper by-laws, good management and sound financial plans and procedures. Today the women of Bil´in have a business they can be proud of and, as Amal confirms, are in command of skills that should allow them to go on improving their livelihoods well into the future.
Facts and stats
- So far 10 women's cooperatives in the northern West Bank have had financial and human resource training from ACAD. Six hundred and thirty eight members benefited directly from the training.
- The ACAD project is funded by the European Commission.
- The development workers who have been helping the cooperatives are funded through DFID's Partnership Programme Arrangement (PPA) with International Service. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2008.
- DFID funded International Service with £1,470,000 for 2007-8. In 2008-9 funding will rise to £1,514,100.