An Open Letter to Palestinian Women: Be Bold! When Women Succeed, Societies Flourish

JERUSLAEM – The American Consulate General in Jerusalem conducted numerous activities in the month of March to commemorate the Women’s History Month. Deputy Principal Officer Dorothy Shea wrote this open letter to Palestinian women as a conclusion to those activities.

This open letter was published by multiple Palestinian news organizations on March 31, 2016:

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, I write this open letter to Palestinian women out of encouragement and solidarity. Women make up 50% of the population; we hold up half the sky; we therefore deserve equal opportunity. This is more than just a call for equality, though. When women succeed, societies flourish. All Palestinians should support empowerment for women in commerce, education, and government. And you, as Palestinian women, should be bold and determined as you seek to change things for the better.

In almost two years as Deputy Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, I’ve had the honor to meet so many of you achieving extraordinary things despite daunting challenges. In doing so, Palestinian women quintessentially demonstrate the quality oPM copyf sumud. Hanan al Hroub, born in a Palestinian refugee camp, showed us just this month what women are capable of – winning the Global Teacher Prize with a message of national pride and non-violence. I’ve seen female Palestinian entrepreneurs like Abeer Natsheh who founded My Pink Electronics, building the Palestinian IT sector and creating jobs for other women. Or Amna Suleiman and the women’s cycling club in Gaza – ordinary women who are asserting their right to equality through the simple act ofriding their bicycles.

As a female American diplomat, I know what it means to strive for success in a male-dominated field. Even in America today, women still face formidable obstacles to real equality. You, as Palestinian women face these same challenges, often more so. Palestinian women make up 58% of college graduates, but only account for 20% of the labor force. Women occupy relatively few positions in government leadership or in management of private companies. 70 percent of women-owned small and medium enterprises in developing economies, including in Palestine, are unserved or underserved by financial institutions. That adds up to a $260 to $320 billion credit gap for women alone.

This should not be the case. We know that when women succeed, societies flourish. Women deserve as much opportunity to succeed as men. Women are more likely to invest their earnings back into their family, paying for things like their kids’ education and immunizations. Women entrepreneurs and business leaders also tend to value and hire more women, creating a positive multiplayer effect that leads to further dividends.

At the U.S. Consulate, we are doing our part by investing in entrepreneurship programs in Ramallah and Jerusalem with a focus on women, encouraging Palestinian girls to enter science, technology, and engineering fields through our educational initiatives, or focusing on women’s job creation through a special private sector development program sponsored by the US Agency for International Development ‎called COMPETE.

So, my message to Palestinian women is clear: dare to be bold, dare to dream. My message to young Palestinian girls: I hope your generation will no longer have to distinguish between male- or female-dominated careers. You can be anything you want to be. Yours is not an easy task, but it is an important one. You have before you great models in Palestinian women and women from around the globe. You have support from the international community. You deserve an equal role in society. But, also, Palestinian society deserves the gifts and talents that you bring to the table.