Huda Abdo has a big job. She is an employment expert at the ministry of labour, covering the Badia region and rural areas.
Around 80% of Jordanian territory is within the Badia region. With more than 300 urban communities, it also contains important grazing lands – essential to the way of life of the Badia Bedouin people.
Though rich in natural resources, including oil shale, phosphates and other minerals, economic activity is limited. Serious issues with employment and poverty have prompted the Jordanian government to prioritise development and economic sustainability in the region.
Key focuses include diversifying sources of income for people living in Badia and encouraging greater participation of women in the workforce.
Jordan, in common with many Arab countries, has very low women labour market participation – 14% despite an economy crying out for workers with employable skills.
Many reasons are cultural: there is an expectation that women will raise children, care for the family and at best practice home-based handicrafts.
Others are more socially habitual: educated women hold administrative jobs in urban areas but politics remains a largely male preserve. Policies to encourage women’s labour market participation have not been a priority – until now.
‘We are keen to decentralise vocational education and training (VET) and involve women more in the municipalities,’ Ms Abdo says, noting the German International Development Agency (GIZ) project encouraging more women to enter municipal politics, VET and the labour market.
As part of the Ministry of Labour’s decentralisation approach, women’s participation in the workforce is also a key aim, with workshops underway to raise awareness.
‘We wish to improve the participation of women in local councils by supporting decentralisation and taking the gender concept into account in the transition to decentralisation.’
Governorate Councils are local government bodies that consist of the regional governor, district administrator and manager of local government departments.
Bringing women into the workforce is not only of importance for Jordanian women: the influx of an estimated million or more Syrian refugees to Jordan, has put huge pressure on employment and training services and policy formulation.
‘Women among the Syrian refugees are going to work and taking up many opportunities, especially in agriculture and in rural regions.’
That is not necessarily a bad thing, as Mohammad Al-Ssoub, director of Jordan’s National Employment and Training Institute, observes: ‘I think that accepting this number of refugees – if they work – will be positive in economic terms although there are some tensions as they are perceived to be taking jobs from local workers.’
By the ETF’s roving reporter Nick Holdsworth
Public Policies that Work is the topic of a panel discussion featuring Nobel Peace Prize winners, policymakers and an economist, at the upcoming Torino Process conference, June 7-8. Check out the action-packed agenda here.