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Jordan Labor Watch: Working environment for women is not empowering and needs to be rebuilt

On the occasion of International Women’s Day and in collaboration with the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Jordan Labor Watch (a Phenix Center for Economic Studies program) has published a position paper examining women’s economic participation in Jordan. The paper argues that the majority of male and female workers in Jordan experience poor working conditions – in particular, many workers in Jordan suffer from low wages.

The paper noted that women who withdrew from the labor market during the COVID-19 pandemic generally did not return to the labor market, as the female economic participation rate declined by 0.4% during the third quarter of 2021.

On 8 March 2022, International Women’s Day is being celebrated under the theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.

This celebration comes two years after the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, during which women and the most vulnerable were more likely to be disproportionately impacted by the socio-economic effects of the pandemic, according to the paper.

According to the paper, the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum has found that Jordan has reduced its Economic Participation and Opportunity gap by 1.2%, ranking 131 out of 156 countries and the fifth in the Middle East.

The paper emphasized that there are many obstacles and constraints that lead to gender inequality in the world of work, where social and legislative barriers stand in the way of women achieving active economic participation in Jordan.

As a result, many women turn to work in jobs within the informal sectors, which are often home-based and are excluded from the social protection frameworks.

The position paper indicated that despite efforts to bridge gender gaps in the labor market, women were the first to be forced to give up their jobs due to the uneven domestic work and childcare burdens. Additionally, there is a cultural perception that women’s need for work is less significant than men’s need to work. Since their re-entry into the labor market is more difficult than their male counterparts, women still have a high unemployment rate of 30.8% (as of the third quarter of 2021).

The revised economic participation rate for females declined in the same period to 14.5% after 2020, indicating that women who withdrew from the labor market during the COVID-19 period did not return to the labor market, unlike their male counterparts.

The paper showed that the lack of progress towards increasing women’s economic participation in Jordan is mainly due to the disempowering working conditions experienced by the majority of men and women working in Jordan, as well as low wage levels. Additionally, women are more likely to suffer violations of their labor rights, particularly because thousands of women are forced to work in the informal economy. The paper also noted that women with disabilities face double challenges in the Jordanian labor market.

The paper showed that in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic, as work-from-home arrangements became more common, presenting new challenges to working women.

The availability of decent working opportunities, which are stable and productive, is critical from a gender equality perspective.

In this regard, the paper stated that increasing women’s participation in the workforce by only 25% will increase GDP growth by 10%. Empowering women to obtain paid employment will reduce poverty and expand the middle class by increasing the number of dual-income households in Jordan.

From a legal standpoint, Jordan has not yet ratified the International Labour Organization’s Violence and Harassment Convention (No. 190) and Recommendation (No. 206). Most businesses lack gender policy and anti-harassment policies with clear reporting and complaint mechanisms. Additionally, Article 29 of the Labour Code deals with cases of sexual abuse by the employer or his representative only, despite the fact that sexual harassment can occur from colleagues or customers.

The position paper recommended a revision of various strategies and programmes aimed at strengthening the role of women in the labor market set by governmental institutions and/or civil society organizations.

The paper stressed the need to improve working conditions in Jordan in general and for women in particular, at the policy and ground levels, and to enable all workers and workers in Jordan to enjoy their essential labor rights in line with decent work principles.

With regard to organizing and supporting women’s work from home, the paper called for the establishment of a comprehensive entity that would be tasked with regulating at-home businesses established by women, that would also provide them with support and training opportunities in order to stimulate their economic participation.

The paper also emphasized the need to revise recent amendments to the Labour Code and the Social Security Code. These laws should be amended in order to improve working conditions, as well as to promote and expand social protection. In particular, Article 69 of the Labour Code should be amended, allowing women to choose what type of occupation and working hours they wish to pursue, provided that the article contains provisions that provide the necessary protections for all male and female workers during the night shift.

Finally, the paper highlighted the importance of improving the public transportation system. Women in Jordan should have an accessible, reliable, and safe option to commute to their workplaces. Additionally, the cost of utilizing the public transportation system should be designed to suit the wages of working women, many of whom make below the minimum wage.

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