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Demographic and social considerations in Palestine


2.3. Demographic and social considerations in Palestine

A discussion of demographic and social characteristics might provide a better understanding of the Palestinian community. Population trends, education, poverty and unemployment are indicators that can provide a general view of the Palestinian community and the Palestinian labor market.

2.3.1. Population trends

Youth comprise one third of the total Palestinian population (PCBS, 2014), however, the rise in this age group possesses a major challenge throughout the country, which is faced with the necessity of providing education and employment to large cohort of children and youth.

Growth in this age group is also attributed to high fertility rates among women (Palestinian National Authority & PCSB, 2010).

According to results of the Family Health Survey 2010, the total fertility rate in Palestine declined to 4.1 births during 2011-2013 compared to 6.0 births in 1997 (PCBS, 2014). Females aged 25-29 years are the highest contributors to the birth rate representing 26% of the total fertility rate in Palestine (PCBS, 2014). In spite of this decline in fertility rate, it remains among the highest in the world (PCBS, 2013; ESCWA, 2009). The decline in fertility level might be attributed to improvement in reproductive health care and increase in the use of family planning methods (ESCWA, 2012) or to the fact that, for the modern generation, living in the light of economic and political crises, increasing awareness, reduced opportunities for jobs and livelihood security distract from frequent child birthing.

The phenomenon of early marriage is widespread in Palestinian society, however the increasing level of educational attainment has increased the average age of marriage (Social &

Economic Monitor 2011) as better educated women are more likely to get married later (ESCWA, 2012). Recent data indicates that the average age of marriage has increased to 20 years by the year 2011 compared to 18 years in the year 1997 (ESCWA, 2012).

According to PCBS statistical data of 2012 concerning households, 9.6% of households were headed by females in Palestine with 10.4% and 7.9% in the West Bank and Gaza strip,

respectively. The size of female-headed households was relatively small, with an average size of 2.9 persons compared to 5.9 persons for families headed by males (PCBS, 2013).

These demographic trends drive policy makers to support employment creation as part of any strategy to address the slow economic recovery that the country is experiencing. Hence, population growth has significant effects on the social and economic development of the country (ESCWA, 2012).

2.3.2. Education

Education is an important social factor in the development of any country. Under occupation, with lack of natural resources, Palestinians’ only asset is human capital (Tarazi, 2014). Palestinians, in general, place great importance on education. All through their modern history, Palestinians have always valued education highly (United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization UNESCO, 2007), not only as a means to increase employment opportunities and living standards, but also to confront Israel's attempts to destroy Palestinian identity and culture(United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 2012). Thus, the focus on education in Palestine is due to a need to preserve Palestinian identity by investing in human resources instead of land in the hope that education can be used in a positive way to fight the occupation (Nicolai, (UNESCO), 2007).

Enrolment in higher education has increased significantly; these enrolments have grown 4.5 times over between 1993 and 2009 (Al Subu’, 2009). About one-third of the Palestinian population is made up of students at all levels of education (UNESCO, 2007). Enrolment rates amongst Palestinians are relatively high by regional and global standards. According to a youth survey in 2003, 60% between the ages (10-24) indicated that education was their first priority.

Youth literacy rate is another indicator to ascertain the high value of education in Palestine, these rates comprise 98.2% between the ages (15-24), while the national literacy rate is 91% (World Bank & Bisan Center for Research and Development, 2006). Over the past decade, there has been a remarkable improvement in the educational level of Palestinians aged 15 years and over.

Considerable progress has been made in illiteracy rates that have dropped from 15.7 % in 1995 to 4.1 % in 2012 and to 3.7% in 2014 (PCBS, 2014). And a considerable progress has been made in female literacy; PCBS (2011) estimated the illiteracy rates of women at 7.4%, compared to

20.3% in 1997. However, this educated workforce is not correlated with economic productivity;

there are important mismatches between education profiles and the labor market, with substantive gender differences (Al-Botmeh, 2013).

Palestinian women make up almost 50% of Palestinian population. Female’s presence has increased at all levels of education. They comprise a large numbers of students enrolled in primary level (49.5%), in secondary level (54.2%), and a major female presence in higher education (57.2%) in the year 2010-2011 (PCBS, 2013). A significant progress has also been seen in educational attainment for women who gained a bachelor degree or above which increased from 2.5% in 1995, to 10.9% in 2012 and to 11.6% in 2014 (PCBS, 2014).

More generally, higher female enrolment rates in tertiary education-vocational or academic- does not seem to help these women in the labor market, partly because their education choices are limited to a few domains such as humanities, social sciences and education (Al-Botmeh, 2013). Palestinian women’s job opportunities are poorer than those of men also perhaps due to the overall patriarchal nature of the society, the fact that labor markets continue to be dominated by men, and for cultural reasons (Raheb, 2011).

However, as the number of educated females receiving education increases, so do their awareness, demands and ambitions; this has definitely altered the traditional role of women in urban areas but this may be not happening at the same pace in rural areas (Velloso, 1996).

2.3.3. Poverty

Palestinian society faces significant levels of poverty and unemployment with the weakening economy leading to a decline in living standards and threatening the ability of some Palestinians to fulfill the needs of their families (United Nations New Services, 2007). The poverty rate among Palestinian individuals was 25.8% (17.8% in the West Bank and 38.8% in Gaza Strip), according to PCBS (2013). Data on consumption levels revealed that 12.9% of individuals in Palestine were suffering from extreme poverty in 2010, with 7.8% in the West Bank and 21.1% in Gaza Strip (PCBS, 2013).

There is a gender gap in poverty rates. One study has pointed out that poverty is more widespread in households headed by women and those dependent on a single breadwinner; in 2012, it was reported that women who live in deep poverty accounted for 13.3%, compared to 12.4% for men (ESCWA, 2012). In this respect, the creation of more job opportunities would contribute to poverty reduction (Aweidah, 2010).

More than a quarter of youth in Palestine suffered from poverty during the year of 2011, as tightening of Israeli policies pushed the Palestinian territories into poverty, restricted access to resources, low wages, and the reduction in employment generation in both public and private sectors (PCBS, 2014). In addition to unstable and declining employment opportunities in Israel as well, by the year 2011, this situation provoked a sharp drop in foreign aid, which for years had provided vital support. This dimmed any hope of progress for even the longer term (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2012).

Due to the unstable situation of the political issues between the two parties, the Palestinians and Israelis, closure and movement restrictions imposed by Israel either limited or prohibited access for Palestinian people to the Israeli market or other supplies and services.

These policies led to the decline in job employment opportunities and also to the loss of many jobs for a number of Palestinian workers in the Israeli labor market. This situation added to the drops in foreign aid reduced the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to provide the necessary job employments opportunities and salaries to its employees.

The Palestinian society relies on external financial aid more than on its own resources.

Threatens of cutting these financial aids and loans in response to the political instability put the Palestinian Authority at the mercy of others and mortgage all of the Palestinians issues to the international community.

2.3.4. Unemployment

The Palestinian economy has suffered from very high rates of unemployment for a long time. Particularly, the Israeli closure policy and a long legacy of dependence on the Israeli labor market have led to the suffering of the Palestinian labor market. Restrictions on the movement of people not only resulted in unemployment for a large number of Palestinian workers by

preventing access to work but also led to fewer employment opportunities by slowing down economic activity in the Palestinian market (UNCTAD, 2012).

Using ILO standards, the highest unemployment rate by the year 2012 was 35.6% among youth aged 20-24 years. The unemployment rate among females with 13 years of schooling or more was 42.6% (PCBS, 2012). A woman’s job opportunities have thus obviously diminished, and are not enhanced by education and training (Raheb, 2011). In 2012, the corresponding overall unemployment rate increased from 21 to 23 per cent, reaching 32.9 per cent for women and 20.6 per cent for men (ILO, 2013; UNCTAD, 2012).