Gaza waitress - AFP - 1.5.12
Gazan waitress Ranad al-Ghozz Photo by AFP
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A gender barrier has been broken in Gaza in recent days as, for the first time in living memory, a woman has started working as a waitress in a restaurant.

The barrier-breaker, 24-year-old Ranad al-Ghozz from Gaza City, is serving food and drinks at the A-Salam restaurant, located next to the sea.

Gaza media outlets report that al-Ghozz started to work as a waitress three years ago, but only at events attended solely by women. She says she ignores comments made by patrons critical of her status as a woman worker. "I started working in this profession to help my family, after my father became ill," she said. "But from the start I enjoyed the work, and I decided on my own volition to continue in this profession."

She admits the hours are difficult. On some shifts she is compelled to work after midnight, and her family and neighbors are ill-at-ease when she returns home late at night. Yet she remains optimistic, saying, "I hope people will accept this type of work and the long hours I sometimes have to put in."

Many women on the Strip work in the public sector, particularly in the health and education sectors. But the majority of women cannot be found in the workplace - work opportunities in the Gaza Strip are limited, but the main obstacle for women remains familial resistance to the idea of a woman working out of the house.

This cultural inhibition applies particularly to married women. Since Hamas assumed control of Gaza in June 2007, the Islamic organization has legislated bills that curb women's status and rights. Among other things, women are barred from riding bicycles or from getting their hair cut in a barbershop.

Some legal initiatives attempted by Hamas in this field have failed - for instance, it was unable to pass a bill barring women from smoking hookahs in public venues.

Another young woman, Asmahan Nasser, 20, works as a waitress in the Al Deira Hotel, also on the coast. She says she has to deal with disapproving patrons, not only males. In one instance, a woman patron did not allow Nasser to bring her coffee, and left the establishment in protest against its employment of a waitress.

The German government has started to finance a special project for the training of waitresses, slated to work at a Turkish-owned restaurant chain. For now, the Hamas authority is not banning this trend.