AMMAN December 15 – More than 900 young Jordanian women and hundreds of business are taking part in a unique new program aimed at creating job opportunities for women, breaking down stereotypes about women in the workplace, and maximizing potential for economic growth. At the official kick-off of the initiative in Amman this week, participants in the program said they had more job opportunities, increased confidence, and better workplace skills as a result of the effort.
“I am determined to continue improving, building on my abilities and skills, to always be up to the challenges and to give back to my community,” said Heba, a young woman from Amman who credits the program with helping her land a job with a legal aid organization.
Heba was joined at the event by two other young women who told the audience of their experiences. The audience included Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah and Minister HE Jafar Abed Hassan, Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.
Zainab, an accounting specialist from Salt, recently got a job with a health aid organization. At the kickoff, she told the audience her manager was so impressed by her work that he recently doubled her salary.
Young women like Heba and Zainab currently represent only nine percent of Jordan’s economically active population, despite being more educated than their male counterparts.
The World Bank program, known as Jordan New work Opportunities for Women (Jordan NOW), is part of the Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI), a global effort launched by World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick that includes pilot programs in nine countries around the world. Jordan NOW is unique to the AGI, standing out as the only pilot program in a middle income country.
“We believe that economic development is about more than reducing poverty,” said Hedi Larbi, the World Bank’s Country Director for Jordan. “Ensuring equal access to opportunities for women and youth is an integral part of economic development. Improving gender equality and creating opportunities for the youth to be productive citizens are at the core of the World Bank’s work globally and in the region.”
Jordan NOW comprises two major interventions. First, a job voucher program gives businesses a short-term incentive to hire new college graduates while providing the young women with an opportunity to accrue work experience. Second, a job skills training program provides new graduates with the workplace skills identified by employers as lacking in young hires.
Already, more than 170 young women graduates have taken advantage of the voucher to find jobs, and more than 155 businesses have signed onto benefit from the vouchers.
The young women were selected from recent graduates of eight community colleges across Jordan, to ensure fairness and equity in the selection process, according to Tara Vishwanath, lead economist for the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa region and project leader.
“Initial feedback shows enthusiastic interest from both the young graduates and the business community,” said Vishwanath. “Even students who have not been selected are showing up at the training sessions; even more telling is that many are willing to pay for training which indicates that it is filling a critical gap. Likewise, firms are calling in asking for more information on the voucher program and expressing interest in hiring these young women.”
Vishwanath also noted that Jordan NOW will provide unique data to guide the design of future programs so that they translate into sustained employment. This pilot will compare the employment trajectory of three groups of young women: those who received job vouchers, those who received job training and those who received both. The random lottery design used in the pilot also allows comparisons between those who participated in the program and those who didn’t.
“This highly educated young female population of Jordan must be treated as a vast and untapped source of economic growth which, if not properly utilized, will result in a waste of valuable national resources,” said Larbi. “By opening doors to – and encouraging participation of – women in the private sector, we hope to show that together, we can make progress toward a more vibrant and equitable society.”
The program is under the patronage of Queen Rania. Partners in the pilot include the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, the Ministries of Labor, Higher Education & Scientific Research, the Jordanian National Commission for Women, Al’Balqa Applied University, Dajani Consulting and the Business Development Center.
“Jordan NOW is truly a collaborative effort and our rapid progress is testament to the support from all our partners,” Larbi said.