Advancing opportunities for people with disabilities in Gaza

Employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Gaza, particularly women, are extremely limited, with many facing discrimination and marginalisation within their communities. Haitham Saqqa, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s Community Programme Officer in Gaza, spoke to Majeda who is challenging the stigma around disability and playing an active role in her community.

The unemployment rate in Gaza is among the highest in the world and continues to increase. Following Israel’s 11-day military offensive in May 2021, unemployment rose by 5.5% and now over half of the population is unemployed. The numbers are significantly higher for people with disabilities, where unemployment stands at over 90%.

Lack of accessible infrastructure, transport, and assistive devices and services in Gaza’s workplaces present huge barriers to people with disabilities. They also face challenges in accessing health and education and are disproportionately impacted by Israel’s repeated violence and the perpetual humanitarian crisis caused by 15 years of illegal closure and blockade. This takes a heavy toll on the mental health and wellbeing of people with disabilities, with women particularly at risk.  

27-year-old Majeda, who lives in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, has a partial visual disability. Majeda is an activist for disability and gender issues. In 2013, she took part in the activities of one of MAP’s local partners, the Nuseirat Rehabilitation and Social Training Association (NRSTA), which equips people with disabilities with the skills and knowledge to advocate their rights and inclusion in society through the ‘community-based rehabilitation approach’.

“I was hesitant to join at first, but my friends encouraged me to build my skills and become a leader of change in society,” said Majeda. “As a result of my participation in NRSTA’s activities – such as designing and leading advocacy campaigns and community initiatives, and providing awareness-raising sessions and peer-to-peer counseling – my knowledge and skills have improved. This has had a positive impact on my personality and my relationship with my community.”

In July 2021, Majeda was offered a five-month job opportunity, which was funded by MAP’s partner Penny Appeal, as an Advocacy Coordinator at the Association of Visually Impaired Graduate League (AVIGL). This experience improved her administrative skills, and Majeda learned to evaluate activities and write reports professionally.

Her supervisor also provided her with extensive training on writing project proposals and designing logical frameworks, and Majeda worked with him to write project proposals for AVIGL. “AVIGL delegated me as its representative to meetings and community activities, which boosted my self-confidence and opened up opportunities for collaboration and networking,” she said.

But no work environment is without difficulties and challenges. AVIGL asked Majeda to record several educational audiobooks for a university student with a visual disability. But due to Majeda’s partial visual disability, she was unable to do so, as it was difficult and exhausting to record all of the books – so she just settled for one. “This challenge provided an opportunity for me because AVIGL discovered that I have an excellent voice for radio and I can use this skill to record radio programmes on AVIGL's radio channel Radio Shams. This broadened my horizons in radio work,” said Majeda.

The job opportunity helped Majeda to share the costs of living with her husband, including supporting  their two daughters, one of whom has a movement disability and walks with an assistive device. Majeda was also nominated by the AVIGL to be the mayor of Nuseirat municipality for one day in December 2021. She worked with the municipality's casework team to solve three problems for citizens, including making streets more accessible for people with disabilities and elderly people.

“I agreed with AVIGL to continue working with them for a month, but due to the lack of funding faced by institutions in Gaza, they were unable to keep me for longer than that. Currently, I do not have any work, but I am looking for opportunities, especially now my skills have developed and my experience has increased,” said Majeda. “I urge MAP to continue supporting projects that empower people with disabilities, particularly paid work, because it allows us to actively participate in our community.”

Please consider donating to MAP to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities in Gaza.

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