By: Shara Jazzar
Schools and nurseries in Jordan have been closed since early March and the country has been under strict Covid-19 restrictions. For the first 6 weeks, working individuals were requested to do so from home. Therefore, in addition to taking care of their stay-at-home children and other household chores, women also had to work and bear constant interruptions. But the situation became worse when some of them were requested to resume working at their offices, whereas schools and nurseries had not yet re-opened. How are Jordanian women coping with the situation?
What you should know about Jordanian working mothers
Women workers in Jordan have less opportunities to enter the job market than their males counterparts, given the local culture that strongly supports their role as caregivers. One of the main conditions that enable women to work is having a place to keep their children, such as schools and nurseries. Despite the fact that many might argue that these women could rely on their families for support as per the social norms, this is usually not an option, especially in the capital Amman as families often live in different parts of town, or simply because they don’t have the time to care for their young relatives.
Trying to adjust
During the lockdown, some women were lucky enough to have an enabling environment and a gender-sensitive response from the institutions they are employed at, who gave them the option to work from home in order to stay with their children until nurseries re-open or until they feel comfortable to send their kids. This was further leveraged by the ‘remote working system’ developed by the Jordanian government for similar emergency situations, provided the sector women work in does not require their physical presence in order to function. This, however, created multiple roles that they often end up doing in parallel, which imply for instance cooking while attending a zoom meeting, changing diapers instead of taking a coffee break, cleaning the house while on the phone and so on.
It is true that some women have mothers or mothers-in-law who live nearby and are willing to take care of their grand-children and that others can afford a domestic helper in the absence of family support. But such scenarios are exceptional. As a consequence, a number of women struggle on a daily basis in order to try to find a fair settlement between their jobs and their children.
Testimonies of women
A single mom who works in a school’s administration underlined that her boss – who is a woman – required her to be available at all times while working from home, even on weekends and after-hours. This created a more stressful workload than before Covid-19. This mom highlighted that her boss “forgets that I have to take breaks to feed, change and look after my daughter. Thus, it is very difficult to concentrate on one task.” Because this woman cannot afford the extra expenses that would be needed to hire a nanny, the best solution for her would be to send her daughter to the nursery, provided “the number of children is limited and there are extra safety measures,” which is not always guaranteed. This creates an extra burden on mothers, especially in the absence of an enabling environment.
Another group of four mothers came up with a common solution for their children. They decided to use the space one of them has and hired a teacher to take care of their little-ones. A parent must always be present and all costs are shared. The good thing about this solution is that enables children to mingle with one another in small groups, with limited interaction. Such arrangement could work in neighborhoods and are cheaper than having to hire a babysitter and safer than sending kids to a nursery. Similar initiatives highlight the importance of adapting to different circumstances and relying on support groups, in particular amongst women.
Position of the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW)
In an interview on Al-Mamlaka TV, Salma Al-Nims, the Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) - established for the sake of monitoring and evaluating governmental mechanism to ensure gender mainstreaming in all sectors - shared suggested solutions for the issue.
Al-Nims emphasized on “the role of the state in providing social protection for working mothers,” as part of the overall protection of workers. Based on article 72 of the Labor Law, “the Jordanian state can pay for babysitters through the social security’s maternity fund”, she highlighted, stressing that this solution was implemented in a number of countries. She also underscored that this does not only benefits working women with children but also supports young girls and women from local communities in finding employment and a source of income. Furthermore, since hiring them will be made through local councils, this will ensure accountability. Otherwise, unemployed nursery workers can also provide such services. However, in case the company is not registered in the social security, Al-Nims suggested “the establishment of a fund to support women in general – not just mothers. The fund would be funded by international donors and big corporations as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).”
Potential consequences of current situation
Failure to come out with adequate solutions for working mothers, while respecting that some prefer to keep their children at home in the current context, will result in losing their jobs or having to take unpaid leaves. In both scenarios, households will lose the woman’s income and many economic consequences will result from that. Also, some women might choose to keep their children at unregistered nurseries, which are cheaper. This means they would be exposing their kids to potentially unhealthy environments, where the probability of contracting Covid-19 increases. Others, such as a pharmacist, felt more comfortable to take their children to spend the day with them at their place of work.
Furthermore, even though some nurseries started welcoming children early June, not all mothers feel comfortable to send their kids as they worry about them being exposed to Covid-19. On top of that, since the number of children is limited, not all mothers can register their little ones. The point is, since Jordan is a conservative society, women are expected to be the ones making the sacrifice. In other terms, this means that it is usually the wife who takes the unpaid leaves or quits her job in order to stay home with her children; not the husband. This makes us wonder how many Jordanian mothers will have to sacrifice their careers for the sake of their caregiver role.
Most countries are struggling to find an adequate solution to working mothers under Covid-19. Even in countries where schools have re-opened, in many cases children do not attend full-time but rather part-time and often not every day. This is the case in Switzerland for instance.
Perhaps the best solution would be for companies to take the situation of mothers into consideration, on a case by case basis, and come out with an arrangement accordingly. This means that if a woman cannot send her child to daycare, she would be expected to work from home or be given the choice to bring her child with her.
The bottom-line is that no woman should feel forced to leave her job because she has to choose between the welfare of her children and putting food on the table.