Published on Arab Voices

Women, work, and equity: social insurance reform in Jordan

Image Imagine you are a young woman in Jordan, deciding how to balance your work and family life, and thinking about the immediate present and longer-term future. You learn the government has introduced a law addressing a number of employment issues. A friend has told you about it, but you need to understand it better to decide how you and your family could benefit from it.

In 2010, the Jordanian government introduced a law to make social insurance financially sustainable, improve social justice and gender equality, and expand social protection. This new law embodied policy changes designed, in part, to improve women’s chances of employment. Maternity insurance was brought in, for example, to reduce bias against hiring women.

A recent World Bank study conducted with over 100 Jordanian women and men—employees, employers and opinion leaders—and comprising both individual interviews and focus groups, considered awareness, knowledge, and perceptions of the new law and its provisions. The study found those most affected by the new law remained largely uninformed about it. Those aware of it had heard of the law through extensive government mass media campaigns, but their understanding of it was often inaccurate or incomplete because it came by word of mouth. “We heard about [the new law],” one woman said, “but didn’t understand it much.” This lack of a sound understanding of Jordan’s new social insurance law may become an impediment to its implementation.

Imagine you are an employer. You have heard about the law but not in detail, so it remains confusing to you. You want to do the right thing for Jordanian women but are concerned about whether you will be able to implement the law.

Employers were divided in their perceptions of the usefulness of the law—perhaps the result of the fact that few of them had been consulted during the formulation of it.
While many employers were quite positive about its potential impact on Jordan, even some who understood its provisions well expressed doubts about knowing how to carry it out. Many also worried that the added cost (for employers) of paying 0.75% in payroll tax for each employee towards maternity insurance might have a negative impact on job creation in the short-term.
Those employers who support the law suggested it would have a number of benefits. One employer, who runs a large firm, said in his view, it would encourage more female employment because, under the new law, Social Security will pay for a woman’s maternity leave, leaving her employer to cover only the salary of the person who (temporarily) replaces her.  
Whoever you are in Jordan—employee or employer—imagine that you want to do the best you can to help labor equity in Jordan. You have heard there are factors that facilitate the law or, conversely, challenge it. You have no direct control over some of them, but believe they should be explained better, discussed openly by the public, and addressed by decision-makers.

Among Jordanians who were aware of the details of the law, most viewed it positively and believed that if other circumstances were supportive—including the nature of the job and changes in the mindset of employers and family members—the law could increase the number of jobs open to women in Jordan.

Most people interviewed (either alone or in groups) believed that changes in the way maternity benefits were to be paid would be a step towards creating equality for women in the labor force. But they also believed the law was likely to fall short of its potential were there not also policies and programs in place to address barriers beyond it, such as the lack of childcare in Jordan, socio-cultural stigma concerning women’s employment, and insufficient public transport.   

They said important changes had taken place in Jordan that would help the entry of women in the workforce. These included better transport, telecommunications, and a stronger sense of personal security, due in part to improved public safety and a strengthened legal environment. Most importantly, they said social norms were changing in ways that improved women’s chances of taking part more fully in society. These included a reduction in the number of early marriages and more respect for working women.

In our study, Jordanians value the concept of social insurance, including pensions, maternity and unemployment benefits. State maternity insurance “reduces the possibility of an employer not hiring women because of having to pay the maternity benefit,” said one participant in the survey. It is also valued by families as “100% important” because it wouldn’t put women off working who wanted to get pregnant.

Jordanians believe that although the new Social Security Law has made a difference, there could be more progress to ensure it is implemented efficiently and facilitates equal job opportunities for women in Jordan. They believe that the government and civil society should encourage initiatives that promote gender diversity in the workplace, and that evidence-based media campaigns are needed to change people’s perceptions of women in the workplace to help address obstacles to labor equity for women. 


Dr. Irene Anne Jillson

Professor at Georgetown University

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