Closing the gender gap in Jordan

Political commitment is needed to create social change

Muna Abbas (Photo: Jordan News)
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 produced lately by the World Economic Forum, the Middle East will be the last region in the world to close the gender gap after 146 years from now. اضافة اعلان

While globally the gender gap in health and education has been narrowed by 95 percent in education and 96 percent in health and survival, the world is still struggling in the areas of economic participation and political empowerment. Regional and national data show similar percentages with drastic gaps in the economic participation and political empowerment dimensions. 

When it comes to economic participation and opportunities, the average Middle East regional score is 40.9 percent, which is the second-lowest among all regions. Although Jordan is one of the countries that has managed to close their economic participation and opportunity gap by at least one full percentage point in one year, only 15.6 percent of women participate in labor force, which is among the lowest percentages globally. 

The gender gap in political empowerment remains the largest of the four gaps tracked, with only 22 percent closed to date. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1 percent of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6 percent of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. 

The Middle East region has closed only 12.1 percent of gender gap in political empowerment to date, the lowest of all regions. In Jordan, we do not need the Global Gender report to tell us how behind we are when it comes to women’s engagement and participation in political life, not to mention political empowerment. 

There are number of obvious barriers facing women to join labor force, such as attending education programs that are not market responsive, expensive and inadequate transportation services, limited affordable daycares providing quality services for children of working mothers, and work environments that maybe unsafe for women or just not welcoming. 

Beneath these clear and straightforward barriers, there are number of barriers that are rooted in the social values and conceptions that are leading to women withdrawal from being economically and politically active. 

Women’s participation in family income is seen as secondary and they are not required to support their families financially. This fact that reflects traditional gender roles, where men are the bread winners, is automatically placing women as dependents. Therefore, if women are not even allowed to take equal responsibilities so they will not claim for equal rights. 

Making money is not the only incentive for women to join the labor market. Men are placed as the head of the family and the decisions makers. This is reinforced by laws, traditions, and social norms. Being an educated and working woman does not mean that you can’t get a one-sided divorce without having a say in that life decision. Being an educated working woman does not mean that you can get married without the consent of a male guardian from the family. The children of an educated working woman can’t get her nationality. What is the point then of having an education and going to work every day to get a little amount of money if it is not contributing to improving social and legal rights? 

The barriers women have to face to be politically active are further complicated and deeply rooted in the culture while reinforced by laws and policies. The same mindset that believes women’s income is additional and her work is secondary to the family, believes that politics is not women’s business. In universities there is limited female students’ participation in student unions. Women representation in political parties and trade unions are also very limited. When women do not engage in these platforms, where will they have the space to practice politics. 

Many women are not allowed by men in their families to have accounts on social media platforms, and if they do they use fake names and profile photos. When they have the chance to engage on social media platforms, they get harassed and bullied. In such an unsafe environment for women, how would we expect women to have the confidence to join the public arena, express their views, and represent others? 

Women at an early age are convinced and forced to abide by certain gender roles that keeps them less confident in their potential, unengaged in productive activities economically and politically, and therefore unrepresented. Women’s interests are off the table because women are simply not at the table!

Without having a political will and clear vision at the decision-making level to drive social and cultural change by adopting a rights-based and holistic approach to justice for both women and men, the gender gap will keep growing and widening. With the political will, a political commitment is needed to allocate resources and mobilize all community forces to empower women. The lives of women and men will never improve and they will never thrive without the active participation of both as equal human beings and citizens.

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