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Jamela, Palestinian Female Cement Worker

Photographer: Ali Ali


The cement plant on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip is no place for the weak-hearted. Its back breaking work for any man, let alone a woman, carrying bags of cement weighing 20 kilograms to and fro. But that is the life of 35 year old unmarried Jamela. Her days are long and her shifts are variable, subject to the demand and timing of order. This is no new career for Jamela, for she started at the factory in Beit Hanoun when she was fifteen. Her arrival first raised eyebrows amongst the all-men staff but her ability to work bag-for-bag, shoulder-to-shoulder with her male counterparts earned her respect and their acceptance.


For her labors she is paid just 10 shekels (around 2 euros) for each one ton of cement she transfers in bags for customers. Jamela is tied to the job – not through choice but through necessity. She comes from an impoverished family with her mother disabled – and unable to walk because of her age – and father of an elderly disposition, both of whom she has to support financially.


Her dreams of finishing her education in order to get a better job were never realised, as situation she is forced to accept. Occa-sionally she is able to supplement her meager in-come by working for her boss who owns a farm ad-jacent to the plant. There is no leisure time for Jamela. After a day’s work she has to tend to the needs of her parents, doing their shopping, cooking and cleaning.


In her world there is no room left for plans for the future.