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Fostering Cooperation, Not Competition: How Syrian and Jordanian women could create new, sustainable livelihoods opportunities together

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‘In Syria, we never worked. But now we must, as many of our sons and husbands are injured. Once I worked, I felt like I had accomplished something, so I kept doing it.’ – Fatehieh, a 42-year-old Syrian refugee woman living in Ramtha in the north of Jordan, near the border with Syria

Eight years into the Syrian refugee crisis, the response in Jordan has slowly shifted away from the provision of humanitarian aid towards a longer-term and more sustainable integration of refugee communities into the host economy. As such, the goal of the government and aid agencies alike has been to enable refugees and vulnerable Jordanians to earn an income.

Translating this self-reliance vision into a reality has been less than straightforward in light of Jordan’s pre-existing challenges. Sluggish economic growth accompanied by consistently high unemployment rates for both men and women are major stumbling blocks. The level of women’s economic participation is particularly troubling. Prior to the Syrian crisis, worrying statistics on women’s economic participation in Jordan pointed to the deep-rooted set of cultural and practical barriers that need to be addressed. There is a delicate path to be taken between transforming the crisis response into a ‘development opportunity’ for Syrian and Jordanian women, and transforming these deeply embedded restrictive gender norms.2 Of those surveyed by UNHCR in July in Jordan, only 5% of Syrian refugees expressed intentions to return to Syria in the coming year, with 91% conveying that they had no intentions to return over this period.3 It is therefore essential that programmes to support refugees and vulnerable host communities in finding work opportunities are scaled up and focused around what communities need and want. To do this, collective action is required from government, donors and aid agencies.

This short report explores the question of how both refugee and host community women can further engage in Jordan’s labour market, informed by insights gleaned from focus group discussions with women in the municipalities of Mazar Shamali, Ramtha, Russaifa and Bala’ama in northern and central Jordan, as well as interviews with Jordanian government officials at all levels. Community-based organization leaders, together with development specialists and practitioners from NGO and INGO circles, were also consulted (see Box 1).

By providing a picture of the challenges and opportunities identified by Syrian and Jordanian women in these communities, the MADAD-funded LEADERS Consortium – consisting of ACTED, the Danish Refugee Council, CARE, Oxfam and Save the Children – hopes to assist in shaping future women’s economic empowerment programmes and host government policies. If harnessed, the potential of Syrian and Jordanian women could prompt growth, competitiveness and inclusive development in Jordan.