Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 337–350 | Cite as

Of couscous and occupation: a case study of women’s motivations to join and participate in Palestinian fair trade cooperatives

  • Jess Bonnan-WhiteEmail author
  • Andrea Hightower
  • Ameena Issa


Economic opportunities and the status of women are mediated by socio-political structural factors, as well as cultural-specific norms and patterns of behavior. As consumers (and, in many cases, regulators) of resources at the household level, women are integral to the analysis of economic and political development. This paper examines the role of motivation and perception on women’s participation in Palestinian Fair Trade projects. In the occupied Palestinian Territories, Fair Trade projects have been recently introduced by both international agencies and local Palestinian associations as means through which women can earn income, participate in cooperative leadership, and engage at economic and political levels. Current scholarship largely focuses on measuring outcomes of Fair Trade initiatives or the experiences of members after the implementation of a project. However, there is less understanding about factors influencing the recruitment and retention of members into these initiatives. This ethnographic account explores both the motivations of members to join several couscous (maftoul) Fair Trade cooperatives and the members’ understanding Fair Trade goals and the cooperative structure. We examine four Palestinian women’s maftoul cooperatives and their unique challenges and opportunities. This project highlights the lack of detail most women have about the global Fair Trade market, which has a potential to result in decreased recruitment and retention rates. This paper also examines the tensions between product quality and market demands existing within couscous cooperatives and the competing demands of child-care needs, household pressures, and military restrictions on Palestinian movement enforced by the Israeli military within the occupied Palestinian Territories.


Fair Trade Palestinian territories Women’s empowerment International development 



Al Samaa’ Al Zarqaa’


Al Tal Al Kabeer


Beit Al Couscous


Beit Al Maftoul


Occupied Palestinian territories



The authors would like to thank staff and coordinators of Fair Trade cooperatives and associations who were gracious enough to engage in conversations and provide insight at various stages in this project. We greatly appreciate Drs. Laurian Bowles, Melanie Hetzel-Riggin, Bridget Welch, and three anonymous reviewers whose comments strengthened this manuscript. Mention of colleagues, institutions, and organizations do not imply endorsement; opinions and statements made herein represent those of the authors only. This study was supported by a University Research Council Grant from Western Illinois University awarded to J. Bonnan-White.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jess Bonnan-White
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrea Hightower
    • 2
  • Ameena Issa
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social and Behavioral SciencesThe Richard Stockton College of New JerseyPomonaUSA
  2. 2.Global ExchangeSan FranciscoUSA
  3. 3.Nablus, West BankIsrael

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