Renad al-Ghouz has been working as a waitress in Gaza since she graduated from university but she continues to face many challenges as it is not common for women to work in this industry.
“I got my first degree seven years ago and kept searching for jobs until I found one at Dira restaurant. Although women do not work in this field, I worked at Dira for two years. Then I started work here at al-Salam restaurant after getting my second degree. It is really hard to find a job, so I will never leave this line of work,” she said while taking orders from diners.
The 24-year-old, who serves customers at al-Salam restaurant in Gaza City, says she ignores negative comments from some members in the community, but most diners at the restaurant have become used to seeing a waitress attend to them.
“It is hard for a woman to work in this field. But now people are used to seeing us and it is OK,” said Ghouz.
Asmahan Nasser is another waitress who has learned to shrug off criticism.
“In the beginning I had problems. When I used to take orders from an all-male table they would make fun of me and my job. I would listen and then forget about it,” said the 21-year-old waitress.
Both women say they work to support their families. Women in Gaza have traditionally worked as fruit and vegetable pickers in family farms. However, Ghouz represents a new group of women are taking on jobs usually reserved for men in the conservative enclave. Female professionals are predominantly employed in the health and educational sectors but they say jobs opportunities in general are increasingly limited. Analysts say conservatism and traditionalism in the Middle Easter is the primary reason women lag behind men in such fields.
The General Director of al-Salam restaurant, Salah Abu Hasira, says hiring female tourism graduates allows them to work in a relevant field.
“Having women work in the tourism industry enables them to be gainfully employed. At the restaurant, a tourism graduate will offer her woman’s perspective in work towards clients, also women dressed in Muslim attire can feel more comfortable,” said Hasira.
Women like Ghouz earn about 1,000 shekels ($260) for 26 days of work. Waleed Kiddeh, a member of the Association of Tourism Services says the company has seen an influx of work-related requests from local women seeking employment in fields similar to Ghouz’s.
According to the United Nations, 40 percent of the population in Gaza is unemployed while local officials estimate 96 percent of women are unemployed.