GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Ministry of National Economy in the West Bank city of Ramallah is encouraging women to apply before the end of February for the Food of Our Homes competition.
The competition targets women working in food production in the West Bank, either to apply on their own or as part of a women's group, association or cooperative. The competition aims to support products made by women and shed light on the food production industry.
The technical criteria for selecting the winners will focus on the quality of the product and the method of manufacturing and packaging; samples will be checked to ensure safety and excellence. The results will be announced at an official ceremony in early May.
The competition comes as part of the ministry's strategy to create a competitive Palestinian market, protect and develop national products, and strengthen and empower women financially, particularly in the food sector. This opportunity for female entrepreneurs is significant since unemployment among women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip reached 47.4% in 2018, according to data by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Gehad Jaraysah, head of the gender unit at the Ministry of National Economy, told Al-Monitor, “The competition is part of a strategic approach to support and enhance the role of Palestinian women in all sectors, especially the food sector, and to highlight the obstacles they face in marketing and developing production.”
She said that the competition was launched in partnership with the Grow project funded by the Canadian government for the best food product made by women in all governorates of the West Bank.
Jaraysah noted that the competition also aims to shed light on women working from home, since there are no statistics about this unofficial sector. The competition will help leverage these efforts and provide the necessary support in terms of production experiences and access to consumers.
“Hundreds of women have applied so far and we are interested in developing their efforts. The Palestinian market is able to absorb all national products, especially those made by women. We try to help by giving them market space in all governorates to increase their income so they can support themselves and their families,” she added.
Jaraysah said that the competition will enhance women's leadership, indicating that the ministry will use the results and records of the competition as a reference to launch development programs for women working in the food industry, in cooperation with partner institutions.
She stressed that any Palestinian woman or women's group can apply as long as the applicants have the Palestinian nationality and present a food product that has a positive impact on their family and society. They can only enter the competition with one product, provided that they have not received an award for the same product from another Palestinian institution in the last three years.
“Ten winners will be selected and ranked according to technical standards. The winners will either receive money or equipment that they would use in their work,” Jaraysah said.
Thoraya Radwan, owner of Thuraya Food Production in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor, “I started my project to produce concentrated natural juices without preservatives in 2015, by making carob juice.”
She said, “The demand for the drink has prompted me to make more food, especially after Oxfam [a confederation of international nongovernmental organizations] intervened to develop my project and provide me with some machinery, as part of its project for the equitable development of agricultural production and market regulations in the Palestinian territories."
Radwan explained that her idea stemmed from the deteriorating economic conditions and her desire to help support her family of nine, as well as the lack of such drinks on the market.
“I wanted to make a difference in this field and I have a passion for food production, since I had already produced and sold tomato juice and pickles,” she said.
She noted that she gained experience through practice and relentless efforts to make a high quality product, and that she aspires to increase her production and reach all the governorates through networking with local beverage factories.
Radwan is now promoting her juices in Ramallah and nearby al-Bireh. The 650-milliliter (22-ounce) bottle sells for $4.50, a high price for those in the poorer governorates.
“We are currently working to increase production and reduce the price to reach the largest number of consumers,” she said.
She explained that the financing and marketing of her product and reaching consumers was difficult without professional assistance. She registered the trademark of her project with the Ministry of Economy at the end of 2018.
“I signed up for the Food of Our Homes competition because I believe in the quality of my product and its competitiveness. Winning would allow me to promote my product and underline its quality,” Radwan added.
Fida Abdel Razzak, head of the Women’s Der as-Sudan Charity located northwest of Ramallah, told Al-Monitor, “I launched the Palestinian traditional kitchen project for popular food in mid-2018. Our village Der as-Sudan [in the northern West Bank] is known for some foods you can’t find in the cities — especially the pickled Persian thyme.”
She sells her products to relatives and her network both inside and outside the village as well as at exhibitions the charity participates in.
Abdel Razzak said that she has five cooks who work based on orders, noting that none of them have any administrative and marketing experience.
She added that the project has indeed contributed to improving their economic situation, but it is not nearly enough since production is relatively low. “We do not promote our work enough and we have no headquarters. We also do not have the financial means to establish points of sale outside the village.”
Abdel Razzak said that her charity was encouraged to participate in the competition given the uniqueness of their products. “We would receive a lot of support and the best marketing if we are fortunate enough to win," she noted.
Azmi Abdul Rahman, spokesman for the Ministry of National Economy, told Al-Monitor that the ministry is working to increase the participation of women in economic life by supporting them and shedding light on those working from their homes to encourage them to continue with their efforts.
He pointed out that around 500 women were registered with the ministry's commercial register in 2018, which is a small number compared to the actual number of working women. There are no official statistics on the number of women working from home or in informal sectors, such as food production.
Abdul Rahman explained that the ministry is organizing such competitions to encourage women to register their projects with the ministry in order to provide them with technical support and give them access to a more regulated economic sector.
Female entrepreneurs are facing many obstacles, namely the Israeli checkpoints between villages and governorates that increase the risk of damage to products with a short shelf life, in addition to a lack of experience in marketing, the knowledge of market requirements and planning.
Baker Shtayeh, lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at An-Najah National University, told Al-Monitor that the high unemployment rate among women is due to the limited employment opportunities available to women in the Palestinian private sector and the gender pay gap.
“Civil society organizations must provide adequate training in project management, manufacturing and marketing for women in order to promote the status of Palestinian women and their economic empowerment, as they lack proper experience in the field of feasibility studies and access to finance,” Shtayeh said.
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