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Jordan: Women in the Labor Force

Published on 10/20/2013.

I decided that my first blog post should address an issue in Jordan that is often overlooked by the media as it lays in the shadows over 'relatively' more important economic issues that face Jordanians, such as the massive public debt, high unemployment, and staggering growth rates. I want to shed the light on the issue of gender inequality in the labor force, and present some facts and figures that will help shed the light on this dangerous issue.

The only economic term I will use in this post is the Labor Participation Rate. The female labor participation rate is defined as the proportion of the female population ages 15 and older that is economically active. In other terms, it's simply the percentage of women who are able to work that are actually working or looking for work. Given that this is often an important indicator that is used by international organizations to rank countries in terms of economic development, it is natural to have some data on the female labor participation rate in Jordan.

The figure below highlights the data. The red bars show Jordan's rank out of 148 countries (1: absolute best ranking, 148: absolute worst ranking) in terms of the ratio of women to men in the work force. This data is pulled from the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. As you can see, Jordan is falling behind other countries in this category. Jordan's rank in 2013 is 146, meaning that only two countries in the world (Syria and Iraq) are worse that Jordan in terms of employing women according to the World Economic Forum. In a recent article by the Huffington Post describing the best and worst countries in the world for women, Jordan naturally was ranked among the worst 25 countries (13 countries are worse than us in this category) as it placed #121 among 134 countries studied. But 12 out of the 13 countries ranked below us in that article do a better job in employing women that Jordan (The exception being Syria)! This is an extremely dangerous situation for Jordan to be in! The green line in the chart shows the female labor force participation rate as it is pulled from the World Bank. As you can see, the rate is just below 16% in 2011 (with no subsequent data available). This indicates that out of a typical sample of 100 women eligible and capable to work, only 16 of them are actually working! This compares to rates of 58% in the United States, 56% in the United Kingdom, 51% in France, and rates above 80% in some African countries like Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one (yes I do watch the Newsroom). Now that we have identified this as a pressing issue, dialogue needs to occur in order to provide solutions to encourage women to enter the labor force. After all, how can you have sustainable economic development and economic growth if you ignore half of the eligible labor force?!?

The public sector and the private sector must work together to provide solutions to this problem. Basic ideas such as providing a strong public transportation system to help women get to and from their work place, create legislation to mandate a fair maternity (and even a paternity) leave programs in the work place, and provide incentives for businesses to help women with daycare costs (let alone encourage the provision of public and/or private daycare in Jordan). Other common solutions such as providing specialized micro-financing for women in rural areas or specific training centers for women can help. The World Bank wrote an excellent article about this issue which can be found here.