Three female hairdressers and two barbers will not be able to leave the Gaza Strip to participate in the “Palestinian Beauty and Tradition Spring Fair” in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, not because the military has any security related suspicions against them, but simply because “in view of the current political-security situation, residents of the Gaza Strip are not permitted to enter Israel other than in exceptional humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on medical cases” (Hebew).
The issue is that other individuals, who hardly qualify as “exceptional humanitarian cases” do leave the Gaza Strip, but they are overwhelmingly men. Up to 100 senior merchants are allowed to leave the Gaza Strip every day. In February alone, merchants exited the Gaza Strip to Israel 2,146 times. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) website boasts that 8,411 merchants left the Gaza Strip in 2011.
Permits to exit Gaza are granted only to individuals whom COGAT considers senior merchants, on the assumption that they are essential for economic development in the Gaza Strip. In Gaza, as in the rest of the world, men are more likely to own large businesses, so the result of COGAT’s decision is that women, who mostly own smaller businesses, do not meet the criteria for leaving Gaza for economic opportunities. Women deserve a chance at economic development too, not just for their own benefit, but also for the sake of strengthening the private sector in Gaza as well. Women’s empowerment is of crucial importance for economic development and for the development of a healthy civil society. Israel, as the military and government claim repeatedly, is interested in facilitating this process.
It is worth noting that the hairdressers were not the only ones denied exit from the Gaza Strip. Seven female students from Gaza were denied a permit to travel to Al-Quds University in Abu Dis to participate in an international technology competition organized by Microsoft. They too were told that their reason for travel was not an “exceptional humanitarian case” – another lost opportunity to facilitate economic and professional development for women in the Gaza Strip.
These are just ten women. Ten exit permits that might have improved their lives and the situation of Gaza’s civil society, even if just a tiny bit; but they were not senior enough and not lucky enough to be “exceptional humanitarian cases” – apparently, they are too healthy.