Empowering Jordanian women: Addressing labor market challenges

(File photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN Empowering women in the labor market is crucial for Jordan’s socioeconomic prosperity. Over the years, Jordanian women have strived to secure their foothold in the workforce and contributed to the country’s economic growth. However, they face numerous challenges, including high unemployment rates, wage distinctions, and structural barriers that hinder their full participation, potential, and fair treatment.اضافة اعلان

Despite these challenges, various organizations and government agencies have made continuous efforts to address these issues and meet women’s needs by fostering a more inclusive and supportive work environment. Nevertheless, significant efforts are still required to overcome these barriers and ensure that women have equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to the nation’s prosperity.

Challenges faced by women in the labor market
Recent data from 2024 highlights a critical stage in Jordan's efforts to engage women in the workforce. The participation rate of Jordanian women in the labor market remains one of the lowest globally, standing at 15 percent, compared to 65 percent among men. Additionally, a quarter of women in the workforce are unemployed, surpassing the corresponding rate for men, which stands at 16 percent. Women constitute 50 percent of those enrolled in schools and universities, making their exclusion from the workforce deemed as an economic waste, particularly for families that heavily invest in educating their daughters.

This trend is not new. The Department of Statistics (DoS) in 2022, reported a notable increase in Jordan’s unemployment rate among females to 31.5 percent in the first quarter, marking a significant rise from 2022. Furthermore, Jordan’s 2021 status report revealed a decline in women's economic participation, plummeting by 3.3 percentage points compared to the peak recorded in 2017.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on women's economic participation in Jordan, with many experiencing increased tension and psychological strain, leading them to withdraw from the workforce. This trend resulted in the declining rate of women's labor force participation, which dropped from 17.3 percent in 2017 to 14.2 percent in 2020 and further to 13.9 percent in 2022, accompanied by a rise in unemployment rates.

For instance, Fidaa Al-Ali, a 30-year-old woman, found herself compelled to leave her job at a restaurant during the pandemic. The restaurant owner reduced the number of employees; assigned her additional tasks that were previously handled by her male colleagues, extended her working hours, and decreased her salary. This created a significant gap between her earnings and the high cost of childcare for her children. She described the restaurant owner's actions as "A form of slavery and blackmail, aimed at forcing her out of work." She explained that she had previously endured long hours away from her children due to the necessity of earning an income, but the employer's decisions left her with no room for negotiation or flexibility.

Recognizing the urgency, UN Women had called for special measures to support small and medium-sized enterprises affected by the pandemic, with a particular focus on women-owned businesses.

Recently, experts believe that the main factors contributing to the decline in women's workforce participation in Jordan lie in the imbalance between low wages and high expenses associated with childcare and transportation. Additionally, the lack of supported nurseries for working mothers and suitable infrastructure further reduces women's opportunities to join the workforce. Employers are reluctant to hire women due to concerns about leave for illness, pregnancy, childbirth, and other reasons.

Reem Aslan, the Decent Work for Women Program Manager at the International Labour Organization Arab States Office, identified key factors contributing to low women's labor force participation rates in Jordan. She emphasized that unpaid caregiving work, predominantly done by women due to economic and cultural constraints, is a significant obstacle. Aslan mentioned the importance of legislative amendments aligning with international labor standards to increase women's participation rates and reduce the gender gap.

The gender wage gap poses a significant barrier to women's full participation in the labor market. According to the Jordanian Strategy Forum (JFS), this gap persists across various sectors. In the manufacturing industries, for instance, the wage gap between males and females stands at JD183. Similarly, in the education sector, women earn an average of JD321 less than their male counterparts, representing the highest level of wage disparity between genders.

Sociologist Professor Hussein Al-Khaza’I attributed the low women's labor force participation to a high unemployment rate of approximately 31 percent. He noted that about 84 percent of unemployed women hold bachelor's degrees, resulting in stricter employment conditions and preferences. Additionally, low monthly income renders it financially unfeasible for women to work due to associated expenses such as transportation costs.

In addition to Khaza’I’s findings, it's worth noting that in numerous cases, women's salaries fall below the minimum wage, which constitutes a form of exploitation. However, some women refrain from filing complaints due to feelings of shame, a reluctance to pursue the matter further, and a lack of support or interest from their families, despite their income being essential for meeting basic needs.

Suhair Al-Awad, from the SADAQA Foundation, highlighted structural reasons for women's withdrawal from the job market, including the high caregiving burden, lack of nursery infrastructure, and inadequate transportation options. Around 40 percent of Jordanian women refrain from work due to transportation issues. Furthermore, Awad stressed the need to recognize and alleviate the caregiving burden endured by women, advocating for protections against violence and harassment, sufficient social protection, and inclusion in social security.

Furthermore, the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) reported that women encounter hurdles in the informal economy, especially in the agriculture sector, where they face heightened job insecurity and unfavorable working conditions. This exacerbates their economic vulnerability, implying further suffering due to the lack of inclusion in the social protection system, which provides various support programs, including maternity insurance and childcare assistance.

Proposed solutions and initiatives
In 2024, the World Bank launched a $250 million project aimed at empowering women in the Jordanian labor market. This initiative seeks to address the challenges hindering women's participation in the workforce by focusing on several key factors. These include enhancing the legal and work environment to foster empowerment, promoting financial inclusion for women and entrepreneurship, improving safety in public transportation, and expanding access to high-quality childcare services.

Regarding legislative and policy measures, the Ministry of Labor has implemented significant steps to support women's economic participation throughout the years. These measures involve defining flexible work, ensuring wage equality principles, and introducing paternity leave. Additionally, the ministry established the Jordanian Committee for Pay Equity (NCPE) in 2011, which remains active, and introduced amendments to Jordanian Labor Law No. 8 of 1996. These amendments encompass six provisions dedicated to gender equality, with a focus on ensuring equal opportunities and offering support for working mothers.

The ministry has also actively pursued gender mainstreaming efforts, underscoring its commitment to fostering gender equality in the workforce. These efforts include the establishment of a dedicated gender mainstreaming team, the formulation of a comprehensive gender mainstreaming policy, and the review of companies' internal regulations from a gender perspective.

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