Although a culture of shame still prevents many Jordanians from working as cleaners, waiters or in other “lowly” occupations, a civil society organisation in east Amman is helping some young people support their families by bucking these societal norms.
“We must work to support ourselves and families. Things are changing as people need to earn money. Being out of work is more shameful than cleaning ,” 20-year-old Sumaya (not her real name), who works as a cleaner for a private company in the capital, told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.
Although Sumaya passed her General Secondary Certificate (Tawjihi) Examination with 81 per cent in the IT stream, her family could not afford to send her to university, so instead, she joined a training programme at the Family Development Association (FDA), based in Jabal Qusor, and learned how to work in the service sector .
The programme, which has trained over 200 young women in the past two years, aims to empower these women by giving them the skills they need to enter the workforce, as well as to challenge stereotypes that discourage young people from working, according to FDA President Muyassar Saadi.
“Our goal is to empower young women from underprivileged backgrounds by giving them training workshops and then helping them secure jobs in the private sector, especially in the services such as hotels, hospitals and catering companies,” Saadi explained.
“We also aim at changing the stereotypical view that working in services is shameful and degrading.”
The project targets women from low-income families, aged between 18 and 40, she added.
The training programme includes units on communication skills, interviewing skills, résumé writing and self-esteem, as well as specialised courses such as housekeeping, cleaning and childcare, according to Amina Yunes, the project coordinator.
“For three months, the participants receive theoretical training and then for a month they do practical training on subjects they learned. Then, they are expected to complete another month of on-the-job training, which we have arranged with companies in the private sector,” Yunus told The Jordan Times.
After trainees have completed the course, the FDA helps them find jobs, usually at restaurants, hotels, or private homes.
“So far, we have 15 women working as domestic cleaners in homes and about 200 working in hotels, restaurants, and catering companies,” Yunus said.
The organisation also secures agreements with employers to “ensure” that their graduates receive the minimum wage and other incentives to which they are entitled, Saadi said.
“We make sure employers pay them decent salaries. During the training period, the participants learn about their rights as guaranteed by Labour Law , in order for them to be able to defend their rights.”
Demand for Jordanian housekeepers is increasing, especially in homes, according to Saadi.
“We constantly receive phone calls from Jordanian families looking for local cleaners to work on a daily or monthly basis.”
She acknowledged, however, that finding Jordanian women interested in working as housekeepers remained a challenge.
The training initiative is a part of the FDA’s Izdihar (“growth”) project, which it launched in 2000.
Overall, the project has trained 560 women, Saadi said, 75 per cent of whom secured jobs in the private sector, while the other 25 per cent started their own projects.
Zahar Arafat, who was trained in childcare through the Izdihar project, used her training to open a small nursery in the Jabal Nuzha neighbourhood in east Amman.
“I developed a stronger self-esteem after doing the course. Meeting with their women helped me feel I was able to do things. After the training course, I applied for a small loan [from another organisation] and started a nursery,” the 30-year-old said.
In the case of trainees who secure jobs with private sector employers, the FDA follows up with them and solicits feedback about their relationship with their employers.
“I feel protected because there is an organisation behind my back. I can report to them on my working conditions and they give me advice when disputes arise with the employer,” Sumaya said.
In an effort to expand the project’s activities to the south, the organisation has also started training women in Maan, 220 kilometres south of Amman.
“So far, we have trained 40 women in Maan, some of whom are university graduates,” said Lana Kuraishan, president of the Anwar Charitable Society , which is implementing the Izdihar project in Maan.
However, she said, it has been difficult to find job opportunities for these women after they complete their training.
Only 15 of the women have secured jobs as cleaners and cooks for private companies that contract with Maan Public Hospital and Maan University College, she added, while five others have started their own projects selling homemade baked goods.
“Given the limited job opportunities available in Maan, it is a challenge to employ all of them,” Kuraishan said.