Where are the Women in the Workforce?

If we’re really serious about improving our economy over the long-term, many more women will have to join the workforce.

By Khalid W. Wazani

Women in the Workforce

Although Jordan’s population is almost equally divided between males and females, women are substantially underrepresented in the Kingdom’s workforce.

The main reason for this is the fact that women’s participation rate in the economy has been declining. The latest figures show an overall participation rate of around 13 percent, down from 14.9 percent back in 2010. The participation rate in the MENA region is around 28 percent and 43 percent in countries with a comparable income level to Jordan globally.

However, policy makers, civil society organizations, and even women activists repeatedly push “empowerment” campaigns, which often do more harm than good as they portray women as needing support or sympathy rather than viewing them as a genuine human resource that the country needs to use and utilize in order to improve the economic production base. Such campaigns have done more to boost the workforce and budgets of some NGOs than they have helped finding solutions to the problem of the dearth of women workers.

To this end, policy makers should help induce and boost the economy by designing the right policies to utilize all available resources in the Kingdom; this usually starts by checking on the level of underutilization of human resources in any economy. In the case of Jordan, the most underutilized human resource is women. If policy makers are really interested in revitalizing the economic production cycle, then they need to help move the production function of the country. That production function in an economy is driven by labor intensive sectors, such as services, which are mainly dependent on the level of engagement of the labor force.

However, the labor force in Jordan is underutilized not only because of unemployment but mainly because of full underutilization of almost 50 percent of the human resources in the Kingdom. This means that Jordan’s economy is producing much below its potential output. Therefore a strategy needs to be put in place to explore the way forward to increase the level of women labor force utilization.

This should start by a female resource mapping in order to determine the strong and weak points in the qualifications and capabilities of our women-power. Secondly, the mapped women human resources should be matched with the relevant opportunities or enrolled in some skills transformation programs to match other opportunities that are not relevant to their current skills. Thirdly, job mapping should help determine those women who are interested to create their own jobs but are unable to get funding for it or are in need of some technical capacity building to get started. Fourthly, given that females compose over 51 percent of university students in Jordan, the resource mapping should help revisit the future qualifications and skills for those females by directing them towards the future needs of the economy. Finally, although the 13 percent female participation rate in the workforce is very modest and below all expectations, one cannot dismiss the possibility that a good number of women are either working in the informal economy or are unregistered as a result of receiving below the minimum wage in some parts of the private sector, as in the case of some private schools. But in any case, Jordan needs to consider developing a job map for the coming decade in which empowering the economy is sought through gender equality and proper use of all human resources.