Gazan women walk thin line between hope and despair
GAZA - Amid the poverty and deprivation of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian women struggle to find a taste of normality that is taken for granted in much of the rest of the world.
Nada Rudwan used to work in digital marketing, but as her work slowed - unemployment in Gaza stands at nearly 50 percent - she decided to put her tech skills towards one of her passions: cooking.
"It was difficult to find a job, so I thought of doing something I like and that will make me money at the same time," said Rudwan, 27, who posts cooking tutorials to social media platforms under the name "Nada Kitchen".
Rudwan said she earns income from YouTube proceeds and that several companies in Saudi Arabia recently purchased her videos.
"It is an attempt to beat the physical blockade of Gaza by finding a job that just needs some talent, a camera and internet connection," she said.
More than 2 million Palestinians - mostly descendants of people who were driven out or fled from territory that is now Israel at its founding in 1948 - are packed into the narrow Gaza Strip, which shares borders with Israel and Egypt.
Israel maintains tight control of Gaza's land and sea borders, citing security concerns emanating from Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the coastal territory. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.
Those restrictions have devastated Gaza's economy and left many of its women, like Rudwan's younger sister, struggling to find work after graduating from college.
"It is hard to find a job that will allow you take care of your needs," said Lama Rudwan, 22, a media and communications graduate who joined her sister's cooking project after an unsuccessful job search.
Some young women in Gaza speak of struggles in their personal lives, as well. They say shopping and even getting married is made more difficult by the restrictions of Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas over the past decade.
Hana Abu El-Roos, 18, said she plans to get married this summer but can't find items she needs for her wedding in any of Gaza's shops. "I haven't picked my wedding dress yet," said El-Roos, who is also busy preparing for her final high school exams. "I am confused. My sisters are helping me."
Other Gaza women say community pressures weigh on them as they seek to bypass Gaza's economic struggles by working jobs which some see as non-traditional.
Sahar Yaghi took up work as a wedding planner soon after dropping out of university to earn income for her family.
Yaghi's party-planning requires her to stay up late at night. She said she sometimes hears some of her neighbours, who view her work as inappropriate, making comments about her.
"I hate some comments. But I love my job and hope to have my own business," Yaghi, 28, said, adding she wants to become the "first female party planner" in Gaza.
For those Gaza women who do have work, the constant fear of losing their job heightens their sense of insecurity.
Sara Abu Taqea said she found temporary work in a Gaza hospital after finishing a bachelor's degree in midwifery, but that many of her colleagues were not so lucky.
"It is a six-month contract, with no guarantee of further employment," said Abu Taqea, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital.
Abu Taqea said she finds a sense of solace in the Mediterranean Sea, whose waves crash along Gaza's coast.
"We are lucky to have the sea. The beach is a place for relief, and for meditation, so we can forget about the wars and poverty," Abu Taqea said.