Volunteer Reflections on Building Women’s Economic Empowerment in Jordan
Émilie MacIsaac, Volunteer with the Women’s Economic Linkages in Employment and Development (WE LEAD) program
Jordanian women hold one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East at 85.9%. Yet women face many barriers to accessing quality training and jobs in Jordan. As a result, the country has the lowest female economic participation rate in the region, with only 14% of women currently working or looking for work.
This reality is what attracted me to my current volunteer position in Jordan as a Gender Equality and Empowerment Advisor with WUSC. I wanted to be a part of the efforts to create opportunities for women to put their skills to use in the workplace.
One of the first things I learned in my mandate was that there are already many initiatives in Jordan that work toward women’s economic empowerment through the development of new training programs across many sectors. WUSC and their partner CLIC, take it further by linking trainees to the market through internships and improving working conditions so that they may find an environment that is more conducive to their success.
With the team in Jordan, I regularly engage with representatives from communities, vocational training centres (VTCs), and the private sector. We work together toward reshaping VTCs’ curricula so that they better reflect current labour market needs. We also develop solutions to the barriers that prevent women from accessing training and employment opportunities, such as safe transportation, affordable childcare, and appropriate and stimulating work environments. The ultimate goal of this effort is to create an environment where women are empowered to build their skills, enter the workforce, and contribute to sustainable economic growth.
I have learned a lot from my colleagues during this experience. When I landed in Amman, I was the first Canadian to arrive. The Jordanian team was small back then, but in the eight months that have since passed, our team has grown in size and in dedication to WUSC and CLIC’s mission. Working with such positive, collaborative, and friendly team members has been one of the highlights of my time in Jordan.
I see my role within this team as one of support. The language barriers often serve as a reminder that I am here to boost the country team as much as I can. I can transfer my technical knowledge and experience in other contexts to the country team, but that doesn’t mean anything if that knowledge cannot persist through the team after I have left. It reminds me that, as an outsider, I am not here to change things but to create platforms that will facilitate that change. After all, isn’t that the very idea of empowerment?
By pushing through language and cultural barriers, I have been given the valuable gift of being able to attribute real faces to the people trying to make a positive difference in the Middle East. My friends and colleagues, may they be Jordanian, Palestinian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Turkish or Syrian, have helped me demystify a region that can often incite a sense of insecurity in ajanib, such as myself. Thanks to them, Jordan has truly felt like home.