Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jordan: Time For women

By Yusuf Mansur
The problem of lack of participation (one of seven) of women in the labour force in Jordan can only be solved through a dynamic multidimensional policy that recognises the need to include half the population in order to increase the welfare of the whole nation.
The policy response can be neither reductionist (dismissive of all other reasons while focusing only on one factor or cause) nor one dimensional, whereby one cure-all policy is suggested.
The plight of women in general arises from the fact that when they participate in the labour force (work outside the home), they also have to work inside the home and tend to children and a multitude of household chores. This is generally true whether one is looking at Sweden (a very advanced country in terms of women rights and labour force participation rates) or Jordan.
Therefore, time is scarcer for women than for men; women have little leisure time. Hence, policy makers should focus attention on time-saving measures for workingwomen.
The advent of free day care enabled greater participation of women in the labour force. Having public transportation that cut the travel time eased the process of getting to work and reduced the time it took, thus allowing women more time and enhancing their participation in the labour market. Such policies have shown success in a multitude of countries. Both policy actions apply to Jordan.
It was also determined in the literature that allowing part-time work in the formal sector increased women participation there. The part-time aspect allowed married women more freedom in terms of juggling home and outside work. The same applies to policies that allow women to work from the home. Flexibility is a great enabler for women.
In developing countries, however, women face additional challenges, such as lack of control over their own resources (income, wealth, investment and consumption spending). Consequently, women have little incentive to work and earn additional income since they cannot control the way their earnings are spent.
Therefore, policy should empower women to have greater legal control over their resources. While this is guaranteed by the formal institutions in Jordan, social customs and traditions, particularly in rural communities, have placed constraints upon women ownership of inherited land plots, for example.
Men inherit land while women receive much less than adequate compensation for forsaking their lands to male relatives. Hence, greater awareness about rights should combine with a formal policy to preserve ownership and control rights.
In some countries, males are sent to school more than females, since the male is viewed as able to work while women cannot - due to social or economic constraints. Some countries adopted policies that pay families for allowing their daughters to go to school. As more and more females become educated and close the gap in terms of academic qualifications, they are better able to compete in the formal labour market.
In Jordan, women are catching up with men in terms of basic education, but are excelling and surpassing their male counterparts in terms of university graduation rates. However, the participation of women is still below potential. Maybe deduction in public university fees for females would further encourage the participation of women in higher education. Special allowances can also be made for them.
Having quotas for women, in terms of political or economic opportunities, also serves to increase the participation of women in political life and in the formal economy. This policy has worked with great success in the US in past years. Maintaining the quota system for extended time periods allows women into leadership positions; the quality of participation improves over time as more and more women leaders emerge in politics and business.
In short, around the world, many gateways were found to increase the participation of women in the formal economy. Not only is gender equality an undisputed requirement, it also leads to greater development, especially in the globalisation era when no country can afford to waste its resources, particularly human resources.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 21/06/2011

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