Geography Compass

Women and the informal economy – Palestine

Palestinian women knitting skull-caps in Lobban al-Gharbia

by Michelle Brooks

In a recent article for BBC News MiddleEast, Jon Donnison reports on the Palestinian women who hand-sew Jewish kippot to be sold in the markets of Jerusalem. Kippot are the small white skull-caps worn by Jewish men to remind them of God’s presence above. The irony that these highly religious items, symbolic of Judaism are made by Palestinian women across the heavily fortified borders of Israel is not lost in this article. However, the news story does illustrate the prioritising of livelihoods over religiosity and the political lens through which the outside world views all things middle-eastern. This example of activity in the informal economy (Roberts 2009;10) is a strategy of survival of livelihoods through some of the most intolerable and harsh economic and social conditions on the face of the earth. The women in the photo above are representative of the highly gendered nature of the informal sector where women and children constitute by far the largest proportion of workers. There are many reasons for this such as withdrawal of education from an early age, lack of access to skills training especially where mechanisation takes place in for example agriculture, and domestic responsibilities. There has been much work in geography to date on the informal sector especially in the developing world (Lloyd-Evans 2008:1893, Potter et al 2004: 405). However, what is interesting here is the cross-border collaboration that occurs in the face of such a polarised and politically charged region; the women’s hands working and trading through difference and yet unravelling seemingly insurmountable division with every stitch.

read the BBC news story (2010) BBC News Middle-east


  1. Brooks’s insights are absolutely at the heart of politics in Jerusalem. Historically the economy, culture and indeed the DNA of both sides in this continuous geopolitical war are intrinsically coconstituted. This piece is a focus on the micropolitics that are live and unravel the mythologies of separateness of ethnic futures.

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