Arab NGO Network for Development
Monthly Newsletter

August   2015

Jordanian Women: Reality and Challenges



Amena Al-Zoubi - Jordanian Women's Union​ - Jordan


Jordanian women began their struggle and organized work in order to gain their rights and achieve participation and equality, believing that the cause of women is an issue of society and that national issues in various fields are also their own, until many achievements are realized in their own progressive process, thanks to the combination of several factors. Women were not far from the fields of work and production; they were present at the different stages. They took the initiative early thanks to a political will, their own realization of their role in their country and society’s belief in their rights, especially the right to education. The state provided all requirements of education and opened schools’ doors to women on an equal footing with men. Women enrolled and excelled in educational institutions and achieved the highest female literacy rates in the region; this was the key to cross into all areas of achievement, production and creativity. However, despite all achievements realized by women, they still face many challenges:


The First Challenge: Legislative Challenge


1. Jordanian Constitution: According to Article VI of the Constitution: “(i) Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination among them as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion. (ii) Defending the homeland, its land and people’s unity and maintaining social peace are sacred duties of every Jordanian. (iii) The government shall ensure work and education within the limits of its possibilities and shall ensure a state of tranquility and equal opportunities to all Jordanians. (iv) Family is the foundation of society. It is founded on religion, morals and patriotism. The law preserves its legal entity, strengthens its ties and values. (v) The law protects motherhood, childhood and the elderly, cares for youths and the disabled and protects them from offense and exploitation.” Despite repeated feminist calls to include sex in the grounds of discrimination, recent constitutional amendments did not include this amendment.


2. Personal Status Law: Despite amendments to the Personal Status Law, many provisions continue to discriminate among their targets, women and men. Examples include a husband’s failure to inform his first wife before marrying for the second time and only having to do so afterwards. A woman loses her right to custody of her children if she married another man. A mother is denied the right to have her children visit her at her new home if her second husband is not accompanied by a mahram to her children. If a woman is granted divorce upon her request or because of discord or disagreement with her husband, she is obliged to give back to him the dowry or the amount judged by two referees before a court issues its decision.


3. Nationality Law: The nationality law sees women as second-class citizens; a woman is Jordanian because she is the daughter of a Jordanian man or the wife of a Jordanian man and hence is deprived of her right to grant nationality to her husband and her children. Discrimination against women is seen in the fact that the law stipulates that Jordanian citizenship be restored to a woman who gives up her citizenship because of her marriage to a non-Jordanian only if she is separated from her husband in divorce or death. No conditions are imposed on a Jordanian man who wants to regain his Jordanian citizenship after abandoning it for any reason.


4. Penal Code: Article 308 constitutes a flagrant violation of women’s rights because it terminates prosecution against and/or allows for not punishing perpetrators of rape and indecent assault offenses if they marry their victims.


Crimes wrongfully called “honor crimes” still constitute a legislative challenge with the survival of Article 340 without any modification, and with the absence of a text barring the acceptance of reconciliation as a mitigating excuse in this type of crimes.


5. Law on Protection from Domestic Violence: Although this law was promulgated in March 2008, it is still not enforceable because enforcement mechanisms have not yet been produced. The law in itself does not provide effective protection for women because it restricts enforcement to the family home and defines family members as people residing in the family home; this excludes from the scope of enforcement many cases of violence.


Furthermore, the law did not include a definition of domestic violence, leaving this for the determination of the Penal Code and the discretion of judges about the acts they consider violent.


The law gave priority to “family accord commissions” to look into claims of domestic violence before any protection measures are taken. This means women are left without protection as long as these commissions debate claims of domestic violence.


The Second Challenge: The Right to Work


The right to work is a basic human right adopted by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which requires that the Jordanian state commit itself to respecting, protecting and ensuring that everyone has a chance to work to earn a living, and to ensuring for everyone the freedom to choose and accept work. In this context and on the level of legislations, the new Jordanian constitution provides for the right to work and education for all citizens within the limits of the state’s possibilities. These texts stress that work is a right for all citizens and that the state shall provide work opportunities to Jordanians by managing the national economy and raising its standards. The state shall also protect labor and enact labor legislations based on a set of principles. Laborers should receive wages commensurate with the amount of work, weekly working hours should be determined, and workers should be given weekly and annual paid rest days. Particular compensations should be given to workers supporting families and workers in the conditions of layoff, illness, disability and emergencies arising from work. The conditions of work for women and juveniles should be specified, healthy conditions should be available in factories, and free trade-union organization should be allowed within the limits of law.


In this context, one can say that the majority of improvements introduced ​​during the past few years to laws, regulations, instructions and decisions related to work were closer to suiting international conventions, both the ICESCR and International Labor Organization (ILO) treaties.


Discrepancies in Jordan’s labor law give narrow space to official (government-recognized) labor and union mobility compared to the space of labor and union mobility needed by various sectors of Jordan’s society. Large swathes of laborers deprived of union organization created groupings and commissions outside officially recognized unions. When the legal framework is too narrow for social movement, society creates its own laws. That is what tens of thousands of workers did: they organized themselves in trade union frameworks outside the framework of official trade unions and carried out 829 workers’ protest in 2011.


Concerning the right to social protection, the Jordanian Social Security Law provides a set of social security benefits, including aid to work-specific injuries, disability, old age, inheritance and maternity. However, the law does not include health and unemployment insurance, hence failing to meet international standards addressing various social security issues included in five agreements not yet ratified by Jordan. On the other hand, provisions of the Jordanian labor law do not discriminate in basic labor rights between the sexes (male and female), but some instructions issued by some official institutions include some discrepancies; for example, driving training centers do not allow women trainers to train men.


Several reasons prompted worker protests, including demands for higher wages, objections to layoffs, demands for establishing new trade unions and combatting corruption within the Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, and demands for improving the work environment in general. Protests demanding higher wages were 46% of total protests. The vast majority of these protests took place in the public sector, such as the sit-in of municipal workers and protests by workers in independent institutions and bodies. Protests demanding higher wages took place in a number of economic sectors, most notably municipalities, the health sector, the textile sector, the industrial sector, the water sector, day laborers, and electricity and services sectors. Protests demanding higher wages reflect difficult economic conditions experienced by large swathes of workers in Jordan in light of large and sustained hikes in the prices of basic goods and services. These hikes were mainly caused by the economic liberalization policies of successive Jordanian governments, which led to high hikes in prices. Meanwhile, wages were relatively stable due to weak trade union organization and the poor participation of women in labor organizations. This created imbalances in labor relations for the benefit of employers.


Women in the Jordanian labor market face disproportionate challenges compared to men, which adversely affect their entry into the labor market. There is also a lack of a decent work environment, especially in the majority of small and medium private enterprises. Official figures indicate that the revised rate of Jordanian women’s economic participation in the first half of 2012 (the ratio of women’s labor force to the total population of females who are 15 years old and above) is still very low (about 14.1%), compared to about 61.7% for males. Economic participation of women in Jordan is among the lowest percentage in the world, and Jordan ranks last among 139 countries according to the Global Competitiveness Report for 2011.


This is mainly attributable to a number of factors contributing to low rates of women’s participation in economic life. On one hand, work conditions are generally indecent in the Jordanian labor market, especially in medium and small private enterprises. The same applies to the informal sector, which is unfriendly and repellent for women who want to work; it does not encourage them to take or sustain a job there. On the other hand, women face disproportionate challenges compared to men in the labor market, which adversely affect their entry into the labor market; women do not have equal opportunities regarding taking senior positions, promotion and access to training inside and outside Jordan.


Worth mentioning here is the fact that the rate of economic participation of women in Jordan is affected by women’s social conditions, the number and ages of their children, and the availability of services related to working women, especially nurseries. The size of the female labor force is largely influenced by the age of working women and their marital status; the withdrawal of women from the labor market directly increases with the increasing number of married women, and with the increasing number of childbearing working women.


In addition, figures from the Public Institution for Social Security for the year 2011 indicate that female members of the organization are about 25% of total members. This percentage is very low if we take into consideration that working women are one third of the total workforce in the public sector (the government) and half of the total workforce in the private sector.


Working women also face negative discrimination regarding wages compared to men. At the end of 2010, the wage gap between the sexes in favor of males amounted to 44 dinars a month (the average male wage in Jordan reached 403 dinars a month, while the average female wage amounted to 359 dinars a month). The gap between male and female wages in the public sector was 54 dinars a month in favor of males (the average female wage in the public sector was 403 dinars a month). In the private sector, the gap was 33 dinars a month, with the average female wage reaching 315 dinars a month, and the average make wage amounting to 348 dinars a month. Available data indicate that women working in the informal sector are exposed to more violations than their counterparts in the formal sector; these violations include low wage rates, sometimes lower than the minimum wage; they are also denied membership in the social security system and forced to work for more than eight hours daily.


The weakness of women’s participation in economic life


Jordan attaches great importance to advancing human resources in its development efforts, believing that humans are its most important resources and the main driving force for development in various fields, particularly the economy. Over the past three decades, promoting the role of women in various aspects of economic activity was considered one of the most important development priorities, thanks to Jordan’s recognition that women represent half of society and a key and vital part of its human resources. Policies seeking to enhance women’s economic participation were advanced in line with global trends calling for more women-oriented development programs as part of the global approach of Women in Development.


This was expressed in successive efforts to enhance women’s effective economic role and participation by amending legislations, repealing discriminatory clauses, developing national strategies, plans and programs to boost economic chances for Jordanian women, developing vocational education programs, enhancing rural women’s income-generating capabilities, providing women with soft loan programs, and carrying out suitable economic projects in the countryside and the desert. These national programs and plans did not overlook the need to strengthen the capacities of women with special needs with activities focused on outreach, capacity building, networking and building partnerships with stakeholders.


Stakeholders also recently embarked on the consolidation of the idea of gender mainstreaming in the labor market. This was expressed in the development of national strategies for women and the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals focused on the economic and political empowerment of women. The result was a number of concrete albeit limited achievements in recent years. However, one must point out that these efforts did not prevent the decline of Jordanian women’s economic standing, compared to other countries in the region and the world. The unemployment rate rose among females compared to males to approximately 2.1 times, reaching 21.7% for women and 10.4% for men. The rate of economic participation by Jordanian women was relatively stagnant over the past 20 years; it did not increase as expected; it increased very slowly (only 2.4%) during the past 10 years. The revised rate of female economic activity, which expresses the rate of women’s economic participation, did not exceed 14.7% in 2010; it was close to the average rate of 2000 (12.3%). This raises legitimate questions about the actual progress in the levels of economic participation of Jordanian women over the past 12 years. The gender gap, which reached 48.8% in 2010, shrank only slightly during the same period. This underscores the large disparity between the sexes in many respects, including inequality in pay, the concentration of women’s work on specific sectors, especially education and health sectors, and women’s early entry to and exit from the labor market compared to men. All of this represents real problems in Jordanian women’s participation in the labor market.


Concerning global indicators, Jordan ranked 129 out of 134 countries in “The Global Gender Gap Report” of 2010 in terms of economic participation rate, which reached 32% in favor of men. This means that women’s participation was very low compared to men’s, according to the equality index. The indicators also suggest a direct relationship between women’s economic activity and educational level, meaning that the education level is relatively high for both employed and unemployed women alike. Other characteristics of female employment in Jordan is the relatively high economic activity for unmarried women (19.9%) compared to married the (12.7%).


The low level of women’s economic participation is one of the main obstacles facing economic development efforts in Jordan. It means that much productivity needed in development is wasted. Concerning dependency, women amount to 70% of dependent citizens in the working age in Jordan, which means that Jordan’s investment in teaching girls has low revenues for families and society. Women’s participation in the labor market and their economic empowerment are the best way to invest in women’s competences and capabilities. It helps women to leave the dependents category and join economically participating citizens (breadwinners). This choice is indispensable to boost economic activity, enhance Jordan’s development process and achieve prospective levels of wellbeing for society and individuals. Women usually spend on education, healthcare and wellbeing; hence, the more women are empowered, the better is family and society.


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