The maternal wall: the motherhood penalty teachers pay in Jordan

middle eastern pregnant teacher in private school , hyper realistic, highly detailed, sharp focus, cinematic shot, 4k, 8k, 128k, Wide Aspect, Cinematic, Backlight, Wide Angle
(Photo: AI-Generated)
Two years ago, eight-month-pregnant Eman applied for a position teaching Arabic at a prestigious private school in Amman. Eman was called for an exam which she passed with distinction, making her a likely candidate for hiring – that is, until the teaching supervisor met her in person, noticed her growing pregnancy bump, and informed her that she would not be hired because doing so would not be in the school's best interests. The supervisor suggested that Eman might try to apply the following year. While Eman didn’t accept this extremely disappointing and problematic treatment, it came at the cost of losing the opportunity she very much needed. اضافة اعلان

When Rana, a teacher at a small private school, decided to start her IVF (artificial fertility treatment) journey last year, it led to a major standoff with the school’s administration, which threatened to dismiss her on the pretext of poor performance.

This year, at another private school, Haya was already in employment as a teacher when she discovered the joyous news of her pregnancy. When word reached the principal, Haya was unfairly notified that they won’t be renewing her contract.

While Eman, Rana, and Haya have never crossed paths, they all have paid the penalty of daring to become mothers. What they have been subjected to is recognized world-wide as “Pregnancy Discrimination” or “Maternity Discrimination” which manifests itself in a variety of ways, one of which is the denial to her maternity leave following childbirth.

Setting conditions
Female teachers in private schools in Jordan are no strangers to unwarranted disciplinary actions and exploitation under regular conditions, let alone through pregnancies and maternity. This exploitation drew added attention in the wake of an official end-of-year memo that was circulated within a private school, which was leaked by one of the teachers.
We are often afraid of taking action once we realize our rights are being compromised
The memo requires female teachers to undergo family planning and birth control to align and time their births with the annual three-month summer break. Stranger still is the school's official response following the leak, which claims that the memo was never intended to be implemented, that its content is unacceptable, and that an investigation will be launched into the matter.

"Such a memo is hardly considered an isolated incident because - despite violating international standards regarding maternity protection, particularly Convention No. 183 of 2000, as well as Convention No.111 regarding discrimination in employment, both of which Jordan ratified in 1963 and were stipulated in the Labor Code as Article 27 – setting conditions on women's employment due to marital or parental status is a prevalent reality in the Jordanian labor market," said Emy Dawud, the founder of “Feminist Movement Jordan”.

The memo which blatantly violates women’s personal freedoms and choices and constitutes psychological, physical, and financial discrimination against them, amounts to a violation of women's bodies' autonomy and reproductive liberty.

All of that flagrant and unsettling entitlement compelled us to dig deeper into this issue. When we asked the teachers why they believed that private schools were taking such measures, the majority of them stated that maternal leave was the main factor. This is because schools would not be obliged to grant teachers maternal leave for 70 days while also hiring and paying a temporary teacher to fill in during the leave period. The perfect scenario of a teacher spending her maternal leave while also enjoying her already-paid summer vacation, with no need for someone else to fill in? Two birds with one stone!

In response to the incident, the Ministry of Education (MoE) swiftly released a statement denouncing this arbitrary and inappropriate memo. A spokesperson stated that the ministry views this memo as an individual act rather than a systematic one.

 “It is true that the MoE promised to act in response to the incident, but this pledge was not meant to be a deterrence; in our opinion, it is merely a soporific measure until the public are numbed and the incident is forgotten. Complete legal, social, political, and economic equality between male and female citizens is necessary for labor market reform. Only then can this pervasive gender discrimination come to an end,” Dawud explained.

A confirmation of prevailing views
Yet, the prejudice against female teachers in private schools neither starts nor ends with maternity leave. It has been reported for years now that in an occupation where women make up 80 percent of the workforce, the facets of discrimination extend to wage gaps and refusals to pay the minimum wage. According to ‘Stand Up with the Teacher Campaign’, a collective of female teachers speaking up against the private schools violations, over 67 percent of female teachers receive their salaries in cash, not via bank transfer; allowing school owners to underpay the teachers while avoiding accountability.
It is true that the MoE promised to act in response to the incident, but this pledge was not meant to be a deterrence;
Eman and Rana inform us they were in dire need of an income and the schools, knowing this very well, bullied them into silence. Teachers often cite fear of retaliation as the main reason for not reporting the discriminatory treatment or raising complaints to Ministry of Labor, even if they were confidential. “We are often afraid of taking action once we realize our rights are being compromised,” said Eman. That, coupled with the absence of a strong union, put end to any hopes those teachers may have had, giving private schools a sense of impunity to do as they saw fit.

Several other teachers cited less obvious reasons as restrictive, paternalistic, and protectionist policies where administration would claim were for the safety of the pregnancy, as well as the presumption that all pregnant women are unfit to teach or are less committed to work.

Dawud described this state of affairs as, “a confirmation of the prevailing view towards women that they are hatching machines as if the choice of pregnancy and childbearing is not a decision related to their reproductive and general health and directly linked to feelings of love, willingness, and readiness; as if a woman's right to make this choice is not already taken over by their spouses and families.".

It is Dawud’s and other Jordanian activists’ view that the fight is far from over in a society that fails to offer women meaningful political interventions and that women who plan to have children or become pregnant remain vulnerable.

Disclaimer: All names and identifying details have been changed and altered to protect the privacy of individuals.

Read more Features
Jordan News