wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
2008-05-19 13:01:00
Embassy Amman
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable
DE RUEHAM #1523/01 1401301
R 191301Z MAY 08
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 AMMAN 001523 



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: Significant financial, cultural, and social challenges
face women who seek employment in Jordan, resulting in less than 15%
of Jordanian women being active in the formal economy. Traditional
roles within the family heavily affect a woman's decision to work.
Many businesses and human development organizations, however, have
found ways to provide women the support and resources necessary to
overcome these challenges. The progress that has been made through
labor legislation, and the development of government strategies to
promote female employment, suggests that the environment for the
Jordanian working woman will be more supportive in the future. In
addition, trends in Jordan's economy have made it imperative that
women begin to work, leading to a necessary change in perception
towards the role of women as they enter the workforce. END

Employment Stats for Women: Room for Improvement



2. The 2007 Department of Statistics employment survey shows that
only 14.7% of women over the age of 15 in Jordan, compared to 64.4%
of men, are economically active. NOTE: "Economically active" is
defined as those who are currently working, or are unemployed but
seeking work. END NOTE. In comparison, economic activity rates for
women in the region neared a 33% average, with Kuwait leading at 49%
according to the UNDP 2007 Indices of Human Development and the
International Labor Organization's (ILO) 2008 "Global Employment
Trends for Women" report. Out of the economically active women,
25.6% are unemployed, compared to only 10.3% of men. Among
economically inactive women, one-fourth cite cultural and social
challenges as the main reason for not participating economically,
while others believe there is no work available or they are not
qualified to work.

3. Women who have entered Jordan's workforce come from all
socio-economic classes and from both urban and rural environments.
DOS statistics show that women work across industries, the top three
being education (40.9%), health and social work (15.1%), and
manufacturing (8.1%). While they also dominate the "informal
sector," meaning businesses in or related to the home, there are
many successful women making their marks in male-dominated sectors
as well, such as information technology, government, and finance.
Entrepreneurship among women is low, with women-owned businesses
accounting for only 4% of all businesses.

Effects of social and family attitudes


4. Employment challenges facing Jordanian women appear to be
largely based on social and family attitudes regarding gender roles.

Jordan is traditionally a patriarchal society, in which men hold
the power in the workforce and in the household. Arije Al-Amad,
General Manager for Microfund for Women (MFW), pointed out that the
ability for the woman to go out and seek employment is ultimately
the decision of her father, husband, or even brother. There is also
a tendency in this culture for the woman to be regarded solely as a
homemaker, with the husband acting as breadwinner. In fact,
according to a recent study by the National Centre for Human
Resources Development (NCHRD), women tend to predominate in jobs
that are closely associated with their more traditional roles in the
household, such as sewing, food production, or "care" provision
jobs, such as nursing and teaching.

5. Dr. Musa Shteiwi, Director of the Jordan Center for Social
Research, explained to emboff that socially, the daughter is a
protected entity. Many families follow their daughters through
schooling, employment, and marriage, making the daughter's decisions
for her along the way. According to Shteiwi, the desired result is
that the daughter gets married and takes care of the family. There
are laws and regulations that preserve this cultural norm, such as
the Passport Law No. 2 that women cannot obtain a passport without
the expressed consent of her guardian. Even with the current
Provisional Law No. 5 that allows women to obtain a passport and
travel without this consent, a recent report by Freedom House
asserted that the government still honors the old law, making it
difficult for women to travel freely. Doha Abdelkhaleq, Founder and

AMMAN 00001523 002 OF 004

CEO of ESKADENIA Software, stated that these old laws act as a
barrier to a woman's entry into the workforce, by forcing women to
take jobs that are socially acceptable and pass up potential
opportunities. She remarked that an overprotective society holds a
woman back from being truly successful in business.

6. Many employment programs are looking to the family dynamic to
create positive perceptions of women working. One such project is
USAID-Siyaha, a project that develops awareness for the tourism
industry and positioning it as the premier sector for employment,
especially among women. According to official figures, only 10% of
all tourism employees are women, mostly due to the fact that the
tourism industry often requires women to have direct contact with
male hotel guests and restaurant clients, something that is socially
unacceptable for a significant segment of Jordan's population. In
an effort to bring more women into this industry, Siyaha invited
rural and urban students and their families to information sessions,
which included visits to top hotels. After the event, 90% of the
families positively supported their daughters' interest in entering
the field. Today, 83% of students enrolled in vocational training
courses in hotel and tourism programs are women.

High Turnover Among Married Women


7. It is difficult for women to overcome certain gender-specific
perceptions, such as the alleged "unreliability" of married female
workers. It was found that most women do not sustain long-term
careers, with the majority of the female workforce under 29 years of
age, and 48.3% of working women being single. Therefore, it is a
common perception that women are disloyal employees who will quit
when they get married. 68% of employers demonstrated a marked
preference in the NCHRD study for hiring unmarried female workers
specifically due to this reason. The study also stipulated that
there is discrimination against married women in terms of promotions
due to the general belief that they will not be as committed to
their jobs as married male employees. The study asserted that as a
result, employers offer lower wages to women than men for the same
jobs, a move that deters women from entering the labor market.

8. High turnover among female employees, who leave the job once
they become engaged or pregnant, has been a complaint of garment
factory owners in the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs), where
women represent over half of approximately 15,000 Jordanian
employees. Many of the QIZ factories have tried to recruit more
unskilled female workers from rural areas but have found it
challenging. Cultural norms again play a strong role, with some
families not wanting their daughters or wives working in a factory
environment. Factories have tried to use current female employees
in recruitment activities to ease families' concerns. Additionally,
many of the QIZs are located far away from the villages, and despite
factory-provided bus transportation, the travel time and distance
from home are a deterrent. In order to overcome these challenges
and encourage more female employment, the Jordanian government and
private sector have embarked on a new initiative to set up satellite
factories in rural areas of high female unemployment.

Lack of Access to Benefits and Capital


9. Jordanian women have suffered from inequality in access to
social security and pension benefits. As the 2005 World Bank study,
"Economic Advancement of Women in Jordan," pointed out, pension and
social security rules do not provide the same benefit structure for
working women as they do for men. For example, male employees are
eligible for family tax allowances regardless of whether their wives
work, whereas female employees - despite contributing at the same
rate - must demonstrate that their husbands are deceased, old, or
incapacitated to qualify for government benefits. Furthermore, men
can pass on their pensions to their families upon their death, while
women cannot. The study mentioned that this inequality in
employment benefits not only acts a deterrent for some women to get
a job, but also devalues the importance of the woman to the

10. Another perception relates to women as entrepreneurs. Many
women need to stay in the home, creating an opportunity for these

AMMAN 00001523 003 OF 004

women to start businesses, which could require significant funding.
Many banks, however, regard women differently because of their lack
of access to collateral, something that differentiates them from
men. Suhair Al-Ali, Minister of Planning and International
Cooperation, noted at a recent conference promoting female access to
capital that banks are reluctant to lend to women because they
believe they lack managerial and business skills and experience.
She also noted that women are viewed as high risk borrowers, due to
their dependency status. As a result, many banks require a male
guardian's guarantee before a woman can receive a loan.

11. To overcome these challenges, Jordan has several microfinance
institutions that cater to a woman's financial needs. One such
institution, MFW, is a microfinance institution that provides women
entrepreneurs with sustainable financial and non-financial services.
MFW currently has 35,000 active clients, 97% of which are women.
In total, they have disbursed approximately $32 million in loans,
the average loan per business being $600, which can be renewed. MFM
boasts a 99.6% payback rate, and an 83% retention rate of its
clients. Other institutions with successful micro credit programs
for women are the Jordan Micro Credit Company (JMCC), the Middle
East Micro Credit Company (MEMCC), and the Ahli Micro Credit Company
(AMCC). Many of these programs began with USAID-funding and have
since become self-sustainable. Women have received over 50% of all
microfinance loans distributed in Jordan since 2005.

Trying to Find Jobs that Accommodate Work and Career



12. Given the social challenges and traditional gender roles in
Jordan, many women aim to work in the public rather than private
sector. The Jordanian civil service tends to offer competitive
salaries and better working hours, giving women enough time to take
care of the family and maintain a fulfilling career. Public sector
jobs also offer maternity benefits, which act as an incentive for a
woman to return to work after a child is born. Socially, the public
sector careers in the "care fields," such as health care, education,
and social sciences, are regarded as better for a woman, as the
interactions with society follow a woman's traditional role.
Shteiwi points out that the social sciences in Jordan's universities
are "feminized and ruralized," with 90% of his students being women
from the rural areas, where gender roles are maintained.

13. Other women choose to operate businesses from home, again
factoring the family needs into economic decisions. 63% of informal
sector businesses are owned by women. Many of these businesses
focus on the home and include food production, handicrafts, or trade
of clothes and goods. According to Winkie Williamson, Strategic
Advisor to the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD),
however, there is a 50% chance of business failure for these women
within six months. In addition, she mentioned that the handicraft
market is oversaturated, with a high supply and limited numbers of
tourist customers. This makes fewer opportunities for women to be
successful in the handicraft trade in Jordan.

Promoting Women in the Workforce


14. Software entrepreneur Abdelkhaleq believes that there are no
barriers to women in business, but rather a lack of points of entry.
Many women think that they cannot succeed in the private sector due
to family concerns mentioned above. She opines, however, that the
main reason for women not entering the private sector has to do with
the lack of positive female role models, already successful in
business. Many organizations, such as CISCO Systems, have
recognized this and have implemented programs that mentor women in
underrepresented job fields. With the help of the United Nations
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), CISCO created an Information
and Communications Technology (ICT) Academy specifically targeted to
high school and college age women. This academy provides field
training and mentor encouragement, and provides each student with a
certification in CISCO computer systems upon graduation.

15. With inflation increasing the prices of basic commodities in
Jordan (ref A), all interlocutors recognized the growing importance
of a woman's income to her family. Because of the rising cost of
living, the tendency to view a wife solely as a homemaker and mother

AMMAN 00001523 004 OF 004

is changing. Recent survey research indicates that young people are
increasingly concerned about economic pressures and how to make ends
meet on just one salary. The 2005 World Bank study points out that
"young men realize that they are less able to afford marriage and,
thus, seek wives who can earn an income."

Visit Amman's Classified Website at: