Women in Jordan: The Long Road to Equality

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Jordan aims to close the social gender gap by 2030. But nationwide progress is hesitant. Smaller, privately run social enterprises play a key role.

The Jordanian Queen Rania is considered a supporter of equal rights in her country

If real life were always to follow policy papers, Jordanian women would be paid the same wages as men in less than eight years. They would have the same labor rights and enjoy the benefits of equal integration into the labor market.

That is exactly what the Jordanian government wants to happen, at least, which pledged in 2015 to close the gender gap by 2030 close. In fact, there is still a long way to go.

Jordan is one of the countries with the most female university graduates in the region. At the same time, female labor force participation is among the lowest in the entire Middle East. In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index for 2021, Jordan ranks way down at 131st place out of 156 countries.

But on a small scale, overcoming the gender gap in Jordan is definitely gaining momentum. Socially responsible small businesses could be the key.

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Driver – Jordan's first female taxi driver

Slow progress

Even if there are repeated steps backwards and even frighteningly frequent cases of violence against women: At least on a political and legal level, women's rights in Jordan are making continuous progress. In February of this year, the term “women” was included in the Jordanian constitution. Previously, only “Jordanians” were mentioned there in the grammatically masculine form. Now the constitution expressly states: “The state undertakes to empower and support women so that they can play an effective role in building society; at the same time it undertakes to ensure equal opportunities and protect them from all forms of violence and discrimination protect.”

A law on political parties was then updated in March. It now states that at least ten percent of the founding members of a party must be women. Incidentally, the proportion of people between the ages of 18 and 35 must also be ten percent. Within the next three years, this proportion is to be increased to at least 20 percent.

“The constitutional amendment and the reform of the party law have attracted a little more public attention,” says Magdalena Kirchner, head of the SPD office -near Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Amman. “This is also urgently needed.”

However, the priority is to actually provide women with a work environment that is free of violence and harassment, emphasizes Majd Isleem, contributor to the Gender Equality and Decent Work in Jordan report published by the International Labor Organization (ILO). 2022, in conversation with DW. Gender equality, equal pay as well as maternity and paternity protection are also urgent goals.

However, according to the last Arab Barometer survey from March last year, the Corona pandemic has made life for Jordanian women even more difficult in addition to the existing structural problems.

Making money with handicrafts: a Bedouin woman at work

Many challenges

Other challenges include inheritance law that is unfavorable for women and the dominance of male-dominated expectations of the role behavior of women. The reality in Jordan is that many women continue to be wives and mothers at home instead of pursuing a career, even if they have been trained to do so.

Despite the high proportion of college graduates According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), only 14 percent of women in Jordan are employed. This is the lowest rate anywhere in the region.

“The lack of economic empowerment is one of the barriers to women's participation in public affairs,” Wafa Bani Mustafa, Jordan's justice minister, told DW.

In order to strengthen each other, more and more women are joining privately organized projects. “Women are increasingly represented in Jordanian civil society, especially among the urban elite,” says Magdalena Kirchner from the Ebert Foundation in Amman. This commitment has led to a growing number of smaller social enterprises.

Helping social enterprises

Dutch entrepreneur Sandra Jelly moved to the Wadi Rum desert 14 years ago. There she has made it her mission to fill the role of women with her company 'Lumeyo – Bedouin by Design' strengthen.

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This is how around 35 Bedouin women work fabrics on the floor loom and make bags, carpets and seat cushions by hand.

Jelly sees her task in creating an international demand for the Bedouin handicraft. “Women in rural communities should be able to work from home and support their daughters with their studies,” she tells DW.

Mei Hayashi heads the social enterprise Tribalogy, which is also tailored to the needs of women . She has been supporting refugee women and those from disadvantaged communities since 2013.

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“We offer training and jobs so that the women can earn money and help themselves,” she tells DW. The company sells traditional embroidered products to customers from all over the world. However, she has not yet noticed the impact of the government's measures to close the gender gap in the country, says Hayashi. “I can't see that the government's initiative is helping me because the concept of the social enterprise is still not being promoted here,” Hayashi complained in a DW interview.

This could possibly change as these companies achieve more visible success. Their presence is already growing online and on social media. The platforms Naua and Forsa are particularly popular, and the state-sponsored Impacthub platform is also worth mentioning.

Social entrepreneur Sandra Jelly (2nd from left) with Jordanian Bedouin women

New government plan

At the beginning of June, Jordan's government presented its “vision for economic modernization”. “The Jordanian government has set itself the goal of increasing women's economic participation to 37 percent in the next ten years,” Justice Minister Wafa Bani Mustafa told DW. In this context, the government wants to promote social entrepreneurship more.

So far, the country has only officially registered one foundation as a social organization, the Jordan River Foundation – women are already being supported there. At the end of May, the foundation even received a visit from Queen Rania, who is considered a strong supporter of women's rights. She had a “wonderful conversation” with the “fascinating women” who worked there, the Jordanian queen later posted on Instagram. And added. “I couldn't be prouder!”

Adapted from English by Kersten Knipp.

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Energy-efficient water pumps in Jordan