Jordan shows remarkable gender equality in health and education. Although women’s life expectancy, literacy, and women’s enrollment in all levels of education have improved dramatically, however, these gains have not led to improvements in women’s economic participation or agency.
A new World Bank Group report on gender in Jordan, Economic Participation, Agency and Access to Justice, looks at this central question and finds that improvements in human development have yet to translate into improvements in social, economic, and political participation. At workshops in Jordan dedicated to dissemination of the report, participants highlighted the constraints women face in relation to employment.
“Pre-school care is costly, domestic helpers are expensive, and public transportation does not exist, combined with a minimum wage of 190 Jordanian dinars [US$270 a month]. Naturally, women feel it is more economically viable to stay at home,” Asma Khader, a Jordanian senator and leading women’s rights activist, told the workshop in Amman on March 10.
Other participants noted that these constraints have driven women to run informal businesses at home, with some negative economic impact for Jordan as these activities are not taxable.
These are but some of the problems discouraging women from participating in the formal economy. The participation of women in the labor force in the kingdom is only 22 percent, versus 87 percent for men. Married women are considerably less likely to participate in the labor force. Young and educated women, ready to join the labor force, face high levels of unemployment. Gender-related bias in the economic structure of employment adversely affects women’s economic participation.
In Jordan’s highly segmented labor market, the limited opportunities that do exist for women are clustered in the civil service, and in particular within the health and education sectors. These sectors have not experienced a high job creation rate in past decades, and consequently women have not benefited much from the country’s overall higher growth rates.
Barriers to economic participation seem to start with women’s education and are negatively impacted by low economic incentives. There remains a clear disconnect between the skills and education women acquire, and those demanded by employers, particularly in the private sector.
Dr. Amneh Khasawneh, Director of the Princess Basma Center for Jordanian Women’s Studies at Yarmouk University in the Northern Governorate of Irbid, which hosted a separate workshop on the issue, said literacy among Jordanian women has reached 99 percent, the highest in the region: “However, the key problem facing women’s employment is the mismatch between their education and the needs of the labor market.”