New ILO project supports kindergarten owners

(Photo: ILO)
AMMAN — The International Labor Organization (ILO)  on Tuesday launched a new initiative seeking solutions for female owners of kindergartens and private schools.اضافة اعلان

The initiative, implemented in collaboration with the Association of Banks in Jordan (ABJ) and the Center for Women’s Studies in the Community at the Center for Women’s Studies in the Community at the Hashemite University (HU), comes as part of ILO’s larger project dedicated to decent work for women program.

The initiative involves a survey “to see how COVID-19 had an impact on female owners of private schools and kindergartens,” according to Reem Aslan, Gender Technical Specialist at the ILO. Aslan explained that COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis has disparately affected women who own these schools, because “they have not only financial obligations but also the social stigma that comes with women when they do not succeed with their businesses.”

Approximately 88 percent of workers in the educational sector are women, according to Aslan. “If we support the female owners of these schools, then we can also make sure their workers, who are mainly female, will not lose their jobs,” she said in an interview with Jordan News. The ILO has worked with the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) and the Social Security Corporation (SSC) to advocate for the conditions of educational workers. Additionally, the organization is working with ABJ to identify whether loans and other interventions are viable options for these women-owned businesses.

The new initiative will involve the assessment of 112 women-owned schools, according to Aslan. The assessment will guide a program for further intervention. “Because the interventions that we did (before) are all related to temporary kind of programs by the government, but we need to make sure we’re also looking at longer-term kind of interventions,” she said.

There are a total of around 3,600 private schools in Jordan, including 1,900 kindergartens, which employ roughly 3,700 teachers in addition to other staff. Aslan argued that these schools are crucial to provide childcare for women who still need to work in-person during the pandemic — as long as such programs are deemed safe by the Ministry of Health. “If there is no room for kindergartens to reopen, we are also working on flexible arrangements, when mothers can work from home, at their own pace, at their own time,” she said. “Balancing work with taking care of a child at home is not easy, at all.”

The ILO’s support for private schools and kindergartens will ideally trigger a kind of ripple effect for working women in Jordan. By supporting the female owners of private schools and kindergartens, the initiative will also support the majority female workers at these schools, helping them keep their jobs during an economic crisis. Moreover, the very services provided — care for young children — will help working women keep their jobs.

Jordan has one of the lowest rates of women in the workforce in the world. An ILO report found that less than 15 percent of women participate in the workforce, compared to 60 percent of men. The absence of women in the workforce damages the Jordanian economy: The ILO has previously found that increasing the participation of women could boost Jordan’s GDP by 2 billion USD annually.

One factor impeding the participation of Jordanian women in the workforce is the lack of affordable and accessible childcare. Only 22% of children are enrolled in early childhood development (ECD) programs in Jordan, according to the World Bank. The few childcare centers that do

exist tend to be expensive and limited to urban areas, leaving women in rural areas without access. An IFC report from 2017 found that high-quality centers can cost up to JD3,000 per year, whereas in villages childcare can cost between JD50 and JD100 per month.

“Having kindergartens where you can place your children during your working hours is a right for every working mother, and even for non-working mothers who need some time for themselves,” said Salma Nims, secretary-general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. “Not to mention that the child has a right of being in a place where he can play.” Nims described childcare facilities in Jordan as “weak”, saying that “Kindergartens’ working hours are too short. It is not considerate to people who work on Fridays and Saturdays, and is not considerate for those who work in shifts such as nurses and whatnot.”

Legal protections for access to childcare are limited. Article 72 of the Labor Code requires companies with more than 20 female employees to establish child care facilities or partner with existing facilities. However, two-thirds of businesses in Jordan have fewer than 19 employees and are therefore not bound by the law, according to UN Women Jordan.

“Through the state’s role in providing social protection for working women, which is an addition to what the legislator has provided in the labor law, the state has adopted programs for social protection under the social protection system linked to maternity insurance No. (93) for the year 2020,” said Media Spokesman for the Ministry of Labor Mohammad Al-Zuod in a message to Jordan News. These programs include a monthly childcare allowance for working women and options for women to receive childcare at their homes or at nurseries.

However, Aslan pointed out that many workers, including daily workers in the educational sector, do not receive social security benefits, including those outlined above.

“We’re basically reaching out to everyone we (can) as ILO to make sure it’s a national effort,” Aslan said, adding that the ILO was “trying to get the voices of these women heard as much as possible.”