ConclusionsThis chapter has addressed only a small part of the data on Palestinian women generated by the FAFO survey. Nevertheless, a few overall conclusions may tentatively be drawn from some of the issues treated.
The issues covered provide different types of clues for building an overall picture of women's living conditions in the occupied territories. On the one hand, there are various economic indicators that suggest the degree of women's access to and control over economic resources. There are also women's assessments of their economic roles. On the other hand, there is a range of indicators of the various social dimensions of women's lives: marriage as a mechanism of empowerment and/or constraint, and the differing degrees of social regulation of women based on age and marital status. There are also women's assessments of the various social constraints and values assigned to them by the larger social context.
In terms of the economic indicators, it is quite clear that women have relatively
few independent economic resources. Further, their access to such resources
is overwhelmingly tied to the mechanism of marriage. In light of the low
participation of women in the labour force, the overall economic picture
for women is bleak if analyzed as separate from spouses or families. What
this means is that women's standard of living seems largely to be determined
by either the spouse or the family - they are, in other words, overwhelmingly
economic dependents. However, because divorce is very uncommon, this dependence
is mitigated by the apparent strong social rejection of divorce. Thus, despite
economic dependence, there is a strong degree of security for women within
the structure of marriage, based on social taboos against divorce. However,
this overall structure means that women rarely have the financial independence
that allows for independence in decision making.
On the social level, it is apparent that there is a range of constraints on women's lives. Although there has been an overall steady growth in women's age at marriage, women would still prefer to marry at ages later than what seems to be the current social norm. The vast majority of women do not find their own marriage ages acceptable, but would prefer their daughters to marry at ages substantially higher than the current mean. Simultaneously, the majority of women feel constrained in their ability to move freely in their community. It is clear that young unmarried women are the most constrained in their mobility.
While there is a lot of unity in the overall social and economic dimensions of women's lives, factors such as age, regional residence, education and marital status show that there are often differences in how these dimensions are experienced and assessed. Perhaps the greatest differences between women's experiences and perceptions seem to be a product of age difference. In general, older women (post menopause) are allowed more social freedom than are younger (especially teenaged women) and, perhaps as a consequence, older women are more free to criticise the present and desirous of change when compared to women in their thirties and forties. Women in the youngest age categories seem to have suffered the most serious social constraints. This young age group seems to have a generally more conservative stance to a range of issues related to women's freedom and choice. Women in their twenties have had relatively better access to education and relatively less experience of social constraints than any other age group of women. They seem to make up the age group with the most liberal social views towards the range of women's issues addressed.
Married women fare better in terms of independent economic resources, and in their ability to be mobile, than unmarried women of all ages.
There is no systematic evidence that women living in urban environments enjoy higher degrees of social freedom or access to resources than women living in rural or camp environments. The data suggests, however, that while women living in Arab Jerusalem and West Bank towns may fare better, in Gaza women living in Gaza City and other Gaza towns tend to fare worse, especially on the social indicators, than their counterparts living in camps.