While Israel continues to choke the city with a military siege, some women are pursuing their dreams fighting various odds, including the parochial attitudes of fellow Palestinians.
In Gaza Strip, women navigate through a lot of constraints – from concertina wires laid by the Israeli forces to fellow Palestinians telling them what and what not to do.
For instance, women who like to ride horses and become trained equestrians deal with a barrage of criticism each time they step out. "It is not befitting for a girl to ride horses," or "it's not polite for a girl." These notions tend to discourage them from pursuing their dreams, but instead of caving in to social pressures some women move ahead.
"This [parochial attitude] will never stop me," says Amal Abu Shammala, a 19-year-old Palestinian girl from Gaza City who studies engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza.
A passionate equestrian, Shammala started horseback riding after a summer visit to Egypt. When she returned to Gaza, she decided to train more. Her family expressed concerns, telling her it’s not a safe sport. They were also unsure about how the community would respond to her choice.
Shammala's tenacity paid off. The family eventually allowed her to visit the equestrian club in northern Gaza, where people from different ages and genders practice the sport.
Shammala has become emotionally attached to the horses she rides. When her favorite horse, Hektor, died suddenly, she mourned the loss for weeks and didn't eat for several days. She even stopped going to the club where Hektor was bred, switching instead to another one.
"I can't bear going there and not seeing my most beloved creature. He was one of my family members," Shammala says.
Shammala recently participated in a jumping competition, where her family watched her perform for the first time. Several riders fell off their horses, sending a chill to onlookers. Amal surprised everyone, however, completing the rounds unharmed and bagging the first spot.
She believes that a woman’s dreams and aspirations shouldn’t be decided by others. She aspires to become a professional horseback jumper who competes in international competitions.
The siege of Gaza has dried up many essential supplies, including cement. A 23-year-old civil engineer Majd Mashharawi spotted a building one day. On examining it, she found its foundation was weak.
Mashharawi decided to produce bricks – much more durable than the ones they imported. She ensured her production facility was environmentally friendly.
She and her partner Rawan Abdulatif collected tons of coal ash and turned them into what they call "green cakes," an alternative for concrete that costs 25 percent less than normal construction blocks.
Initially, real estate developers and construction workers did not take her work seriously. She grew immune to being mocked, and many called her “the girl of blocks.”
The concrete slabs she produces out of coal ash are lighter and much stronger and cheaper than ordinary bricks.
Mashharawi has won several local and international awards, even winning the Gaza Entrepreneur Challenge competition hosted and sponsored by the UN in collaboration with the Japan Gaza Innovation Challenge (JGIC) initiative.
People are slowly recognising her work. Mashharawi is steadfast in fulfilling her dream of making her "green cakes" well-known the world over.
Rateeba Ahel is a 54-year-old Palestinian woman. She is married and has four sons and two daughters. Born and raised in Syria, Ahel and her children had to leave their home in Al Yarmouk in 2012. The Syrian war pushed them to Gaza, the hometown of her husband. Ahel met her husband while he was studying in Syria several years before the war.
With an over 40 percent unemployment rate in Gaza, the couple struggled in the city. Her sons Mohammed and Motasim would find work for a day and then sit back at home without work for several days. Her husband couldn’t work due to his heart disease.
One day, her youngest son’s school teachers asked Ahel to cook some Syrian food for them, especially dishes like Tabbouleh and Kibbeh. From that day onward, she kept receiving food orders from teachers and people who tried her food. With the help of some friends and a non-profit organisation, Ahel opened a restaurant named Al Sham Al Ateeqa, or the old Damascus.
Salwa Srour, a 52-year-old single Palestinian woman, took up the job of driving kindergarteners. She and her sister Sajeda have been running a kindergarten for about 10 years.
Four years ago, several families complained about the male drivers who drove their kids to Srour's prep school. The two sisters did not want to lose their students, so Salwa became the school bus driver.
As she hit the road, driving a red school bus, she was met with unwanted stares from the people. During the recent gas crisis in Gaza, Srour became friends with several bus drivers at gas stations, who almost always let her bypass the long queues for refills.
When she sits with her tools in the market, people gather around her and watch her with amazement.
Ayisha Hussain, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman, has seven children. Gaza's only female blacksmith, Hussain inherited the job from her husband about 20 years ago.
Not too long ago, her husband fell sick. Hussain became the sole breadwinner in the family. She works out of an old tarpaulin tent. Though the work is hard and back-breaking, she feels accomplished. Her daughters give her a hand once in a while, though she doesn't want her children to be in her shoes.
She wishes to have a workshop one day. Some of her neighbours support her, while others complain about the clanking noise coming out of her workplace. She makes about $5 to $12 per day. Though the money isn’t enough to meet the living expenses, she’s proud of being financially independent.