Female youth face discrimination in accessing study programs in four higher education institutions in the Gaza Strip

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Female youth face discrimination in accessing study programs in four higher education institutions in the Gaza Strip.

Although women and girls face many hardships and gender-based discrimination in Palestine, education is an area where girls repeatedly distinguish themselves. Between 2007 and 2018, the success rate of girls at the secondary school exam was much higher than for boys[1]. In 2020, there were 28 girls among the 34 top students that obtained the highest grades in various sections of the secondary school exam (literature section: 10 girls; scientific section: 7 girls, 3 boys; entrepreneurship section: 5 girls, industrial section: 2 girls, 1 boy; Islamic religion section: 1 girl; domestic economy section: 1 girl, technology section: 1 girl; hostelry section: 1 girl; agriculture section: 1 boy)[2]. The secondary school exam is a turning point for Palestinian youth. Having good grades at this exam is extremely important, as it determines Palestinian students’ access to universities and colleges, and the possibility to pursue their chosen career paths. The more a study field is complex, valued and highly sought after, the higher the grades required to register in it. For example, only excellent students can apply to study medicine at a Palestinian university. It should be a given that girls and boys have equal access to higher education studies. Yet in 2020, three Gaza universities have set higher grades thresholds for girls than boys for acceptance in a number of fields of study, and one offers numerous study programs for an intermediate diploma or a vocational diploma for male youth only. At the universities that set different grades thresholds for male and female applicants in certain study fields, the difference in grades required to access these fields vary from 1 to 10 points. Al-Azhar University requires higher grades for female youth to access medicine and pharmacy studies[3]. The Islamic University requires higher grades for female youth to register in six study fields, including medicine & surgery, IT (two specializations) and English (three specializations)[4]. Al-Aqsa University, which is a governmental university, requires higher grades for female youth in eight fields of study[5]. Furthermore, at the University College for Applied Sciences – Gaza, 26 study programs are only available to young men (water desalination, air conditioning and refrigeration, land surveying and civil engineering, medical devices, electronic appliances and solar systems technology, filming & montage, electricity, organization’s security, GIS, smart devices maintenance, computer and internet networks, etc…), while 7 study fields are only for young women (midwifery, secretariat and medical records, fashion design, cosmetics & hairdressing, sewing & embroidery, child education, making children’s toys)[6].

Higher education institutions should respect and fulfill the right to equality and non-discrimination enshrined in the Palestinian basic law and international human rights conventions in their education programs. The vast majority of Palestinian universities and higher education colleges uphold this right, but not in the Gaza Strip. Among its numerous priorities, the Palestinian Education Sector Strategic Plan 2017-2022 includes “Reinforcing technical and vocational training and education, university and other higher education, as well as adult education and training, with special attention to gender equality. This necessitates the need to remove gender-based barriers and barriers affecting vulnerable categories”. Fostering greater access of young women to more varied fields of study, particularly vocational and scientific/technological fields, has been a part of public policies for many years. It is high time that all higher education institutions comply with these policies. 

The Committee for the Defense of Graduates, a movement of youth activists fighting for young graduates’ right to work and integration in the labor market in the Gaza Strip, denounced the continued discrimination against female youth in their access to higher education. Iyad Abu Armaneh, expressed the Committee’s position on the matter:

“We affirm that such university policies constitute improper barriers to education and are a cornerstone of gender-based discrimination. We reaffirm our unwavering adherence to equality and justice between male and female students and their right to freely choose the study fields they wish to join without discriminatory terms. We demand a prompt intervention by the Ministry of Education to stop such practices and policies at any university in Palestine. We call upon student representative bodies and community groups to express their views on this issue. All new female students must stand side by side to obtain their rights to freedom of education and choice. We also urge human rights and educational organizations to take action to stop these incompatible university practices.”

In the impoverished Gaza Strip, where half of the population lives under the poverty line and almost half the labor force is unemployed, there are already numerous financial and social obstacles that may prevent students, especially young women, from pursuing a higher education and choosing their fields of study. Many families cannot afford for their children to complete high school, let alone pay for their higher education studies. For female youth, social pressure and stereotypes about “acceptable” areas of study and work can also be a major factor limiting their education and subsequent life choices. Yet it is women’s higher concentration in a more limited number of fields of study, particularly “traditional” fields such as education and humanities, and feminized occupations, that constitutes one of the factors that negatively affect their ability to find jobs once they graduate. In this context, it is important that all discriminations against girls/women in access to study fields in higher education institutions are removed, so that the focus can be placed on addressing systemic discrimination in employment and occupation, and bridging the gap between women’s high educational achievements and low integration in the labor market.

[1] http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/General_Certificate_Exam_SuccessRates_2007-2018_E.html

[2] Wattan News Agency, 11/07/2020, “Names of the ten top students at secondary school exam (tawjihi)”, https://www.wattan.net/ar/news/314100.html