On Monday, 24/10/2016, a press conference was held at Bank of Palestine’s General Management Head Office in Ramallah, where the United Nations Women (UN Women) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced the audit results from a gender perspective, which seeks to strengthen the individual and institutional learning process regarding gender inclusion at the workspace in a practical and affective manner. This is part of a joint initiative between UN Women and ILO “participatory audit in gender quality” and aims to work with the private sector to strengthen corporate social responsibility, increase women’s participation, and provide of equal opportunities in the labour market.

The results were presented in the presence of Mr. Azzam Shawa, Governor of Palestine Monetary Authority, Mr. Hashim Shawa, Bank of Palestine’s Chairman and General Manager, Mrs. Enas Marjiyeh, Director of Programs at UN Women in Palestine, Mr. Munie Qleibo, ILO’s Representative in Palestine, and Mrs. Sama Aweidah, Head of Women’s Studies Center, and certified by ILO to facilitate audits. In addition to a range of partners in community development, as well as journalists and media.

Among the most prominent results indicated by the audit is the confirmation to the Bank’s strategy to strengthen the role of women in the society and economy, and the existence of various practices and methodologies adopted by the Bank’s management within its operations. The results indicated that the Bank’s management is fully convinced that the Bank’s sustainability is linked with the sustainability of development in Palestine, and such sustainability cannot be achieved without investing in all human resources.

The results also clearly indicated to the Bank’s keenness to achieve equality in its policies, most prominently the Bank’s approach to increase the number of female employees to half (parity between males and females), and overcome the limit that prevent women from reaching senior positions. The results also indicated the Bank’s continuous keenness to urge women to access and benefit from the Bank’s services as much as possible, overcoming some of the difficulties imposed by the local law, such as the inability of women to open accounts for children, as well as the provision of loans without guarantees to women, and the offering awareness programs for women regarding banking matters, in addition to the development of their productive projects.

As a result of UN Women’s attention to integrate gender in all aspects of the development sectors, UN Women adopted a participatory methodology to conduct audits from a gender perspective, which is a tool developed by ILO for the companies within the private sector. A joint agreement between UN Women and ILO was signed, and contracted with the President of the national Palestinian team, Mrs. Sama Aweidah, Head of Women’s Studies Center, who is certified by ILO to facilitate audits.

Mr. Hashim Shawa, Bank of Palestine’s Chairman, welcomed the attendees; he expressed his pride for the Bank to be a subject of this audit by an official entity. He added that these results confirm Bank of Palestine’s adoption to a key strategy to support women as one of the most essential policies that perpetuates the Bank’s belief in the role of women and the importance of their participation in the economic and social lives, which in turn will reflect positively onto the Palestinian family, economy, and society as a whole, and alleviates the unemployment within our society. Mr. Shawa emphasized the Bank’s sound approach, in which the results of studies proved that the integration of women within the Palestinian labour market will significantly increase the total local production results. The participation of women within the Palestinian labour force represent only 17%, which is significantly less than the ratio of women’s participation in other Arab countries, which reaches up to 24%, and reaches up to 50% in developed countries. The participation of Palestinian women is supportive to the economy, and is currently underutilized; accordingly, the Bank began to apply this strategy internally and externally.

Mr. Shawa presented some of the activities implemented by the Bank within its strategy to strengthen the role of women internally and externally. Internally, the Bank provides of a comfortable and compatible work environment for male and female employees, including health insurance that includes the family of the employees, as well as children’s allowance. In addition to increasing the ratio of female employees, in which by the end of 2015, they ratio was around 32%, compared to 17% at the end of 2008. The Bank aims to increase the percentage of female employees to 50% and increase the number of women in senior management positions.

Externally, according to Mr. Shawa, the Bank studied the various needs of women in all aspects to gain access to financial inclusion. The Bank developed a group of financial and non-financial products and services that primarily targets women, such as loans without guarantees and gold loans programs; in addition to banking awareness programs, in which the Bank aims to reach 1000 women from all areas and segments on annual basis, and provide training programs that target female entrepreneurs. 

Mrs. Enas Marjiyeh, Director of Programs at UN Women in Palestine, thanked Bank of Palestine’s management for their interest to participate in the implementation of this audit. She praised the role of the Palestinian companies to ensure a better working environment for women. She confirmed that the evaluation of the companies within the private sector is no longer limited to their profitability, as they do not depend on financial status only to build their reputation, in which new concepts emerged that support the establishment of a work environment capable to deal with the rapid developments in the economic, technological and administrative fields.

Mr. Azzam Shawa, Governor of Palestine Monetary Authority, commended the Bank’s initiative to undertake the audit through a gender perspective, conducted by competent international entities. He indicated that that audit reflects the Bank’s interest to strengthen the role of women, enable female entrepreneurs in Palestine, and facilitate their access to banking services. This will gradually reflect onto the stimulation of the national economy, and the development of new projects, as well as enhancing the awareness and benefit from the banking services provides by the banks. Mr. Shawa expressed his hope for the audit operations to expand among banks and Palestinian companies, as it is an indication of the extent of advancement by the Palestinian companies towards progress and development.

Mr. Munie Qleibo explained that the participatory methodology for gender is one of the tools developed by ILO, to promote gender equality and integrate gender in workspace, adopted by UN women under the framework of the partnership between the two institutions; such audits from a gender perspective are categorized under social audits, which differ from financial audits.

The Bank’s management sought to undergo this audit, for Bank of Palestine to be the first in the Palestinian private sector to do so. The Bank’s management expressed their interest in gender inclusion within the Bank’s policies and programs, which reflects the Bank’s senior management’s awareness on the importance of achieving equality based on gender, as a foundation to the sustainability and inclusion of development operations, which is essential for the private sector to achieve their developmental goals. This audit is distinctive and differ from other audits; it was initiated by the Bank’s management, which reflects sound management and policies.

The joint initiative of the audit from a gender perspective is implemented through the activities of the regional program “Women Leap Forward”, funded by the European Union and UN Women.