Published on Arab Voices

Want Jordan to prosper? Engage women!

????? ?????? ???? ?????? ????? ?????? ????? ??????? 3 ?????? 2020. ????? ??? ?????/ ????? ?????? امرأة أردنية تعمل بأوراق القصب لصناعة الورق اليدوي، 3 سبتمبر 2020. تصوير رعد عديلة/ البنك الدولي

Published first on Jordan Times.

COVID-19 is rapidly changing the world of work and the workplace, particularly for women.  In Jordan, where women’s economic participation is already low, advancing the role of women as economic agents is central to the country’s reform agenda and a key driver for a stronger, inclusive, and more sustainable Kingdom post-COVID.

Women’s participation in the Jordanian workforce was already low prior to the pandemic. According to national statistics, only 15% of women were active in labor force and one fourth of women already in the labor market were unemployed. Those that do work are concentrated in the public sector, which accounts for more than two thirds of women’s employment. Statistics are no more promising for women in leadership roles and managerial positions: a mere 3% of firms are led by a female top manager and only 8% of firms are majority-owned by women.

Such an unequal situation is compounded by women’s low access rates to banking and financial services (compared to men) as well as restrictive social norms. According to a 2017 World Bank study, 60% of women wish to work but do not, since their employment aspirations do not align with the expectations of their husbands or fathers.  Lack of childcare services and the absence of safe and reliable transport are also key barriers to women’s participation in the workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified many of the disadvantages that women face. Women in Jordan are more likely to lose their jobs compared to men, while those working in the private sector are less likely to remain employed. More women are likely to exit the labor market permanently by assuming more responsibilities at home and performing unpaid care and household work.  The pandemic has increased the overall unemployment rate in Jordan to 25%. Youth unemployment (ages 16-25) has reached an unprecedented 50%; and three out of four young women are unemployed.

Building a more resilient Jordan post-COVID requires urgent action to address these disparities and ongoing barriers to women’s participation in the labor force. Identifying and addressing demand and supply-side incentives to attract and retain more women in private sector employment—where most growth happens—is crucial, as is strengthening opportunities for Jordanian women in rural areas to engage in income-generating activities.  Job opportunities in the digital and gig economy have the potential to boost women’s economic activity across sectors and occupations. Given that many women in Jordan are highly educated, and seek advanced degrees at higher rates than men, they are well placed to benefit from the growing demand for skilled labor.

Breaking down the legal barriers that hinder women’s rights is also essential to advance their role in the COVID-19 recovery process. While Jordan is one of the top reformers in the latest World Bank Report measuring laws and regulations impacting women’s economic opportunities, there is still a lot of potential for improvements in legal reforms and in ensuring strong implementation of the existing legal framework. Jordan’s labor laws, while allowing for flexibility and remote or part-time work arrangements, needs to be better implemented in practice by alleviating the uneven burden of childcare for women post-COVID-19.

This burden constitutes a significant challenge for women’s entry and retention in the labor market in Jordan, according to a UN study, women in Jordan spend 17 times more time than men on unpaid work which compares to a global average of 3.2 times. Strengthening the labor law mandate for employers to provide childcare support for their workers is essential and can be achieved by investing in public funding and facilitating private investments for ensuring the expanded quality, accessibility, and affordability of childcare services. A legal breakthrough is also needed to address sexual harassment at the workplace.

“Building forward better” in Jordan means addressing the barriers to women workforce participation and recognizing women as equal contributors to the growth and wellbeing of their families, communities, and country. The Government of Jordan has taken significant strides in advancing gender equality and the social and economic empowerment of women, including through the National Women’s Strategy 2020-2025.

But a concerted whole-of-government approach, backed by partners across civil society, the private sector, and the international development community is required to create an enabling environment for women to thrive in, and contribute to, the post-COVID economy. The United Nations and World Bank Group, including through the Mashreq Gender Facility, stand ready to support the Government of Jordan and the people in Jordan in this endeavor.



Holly Welborn Benner

Jordan Resident Representative, World Bank Group

Anders Pedersen

United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator

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