On September 23, the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a discussion, “From Vision to Reality: Politics and Gender in Jordan's Tourism Sector” with Minister Abu-Ghazaleh. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Abu-Ghazaleh introduced the topic of women in the tourism sector in relation to the various milestones, internationally and regionally, that have aimed to improve gender equality. She highlighted the Beijing Conference of 1995 and the resulting document, the Beijing Platform for Action, as the single most significant factor in shaping women’s rights in the MENA region as well as worldwide.
Abu-Ghazaleh continued to discuss the representation of women in the tourism industry internationally and in Jordan. While women make up a large proportion of the tourism sector, nearly twice the average of other sectors, she said they work mainly at the service and clerical levels, not operational. In 2010, only 4,100 Jordanian women were employed in this sector, making 10 percent of the tourism labor force female. According to Abu-Ghazaleh, cultural norms and values partially account for this low participation rate as they project a negative image onto the tourism sector as a career choice. Additionally, many potential female employees doubt the compatibility of the harsh working conditions of the tourism industry, citing the long hours and harassment, with family life.
These fears are not unfounded as many companies lack the required infrastructure and resources to handle the perceived financial burden presented by some female workers, Abu-Ghazaleh explained. Due to factors such as maternity leave, many companies are hesitant to hire married women. In fact, 60 percent of Jordanian tourism employers report difficulty finding women with the “required skills” and 50 percent believe that hiring women creates organizational problems.
Abu-Ghazaleh highlighted the efforts of the “National Tourism Strategy (NTS)” undertaken by the government in cooperation with the World Bank and USAID’s Jordan Tourism Development Project, Siyaha. The NTS has successfully increased female participation in the workforce to 10 percent and by 2015, it projects 15 percent. It also combats the negative image of the sector, addresses the shortage of skilled labor and career progression as well as the inadequate institutional infrastructure of employers, and fights the rampant discrimination and harassment female employees face. The NTS works toward these objectives through tourism awareness campaigns, field visits for families and students, scholarships, industry-specific programs, and structured internships and mentorship to new employees from senior-level women.
In addition to focusing on women in Jordan’s tourism industry, Abu-Ghazaleh also discussed the current situation in the country and the role of women. She noted that Jordan is a stable and secure country, but the impact of the uprisings in the region has been negative in the tourism sector. The Minister concluded by pointing out the difficulty of exporting democracy and human rights into the MENA region and the necessity of contextualizing gender relations with respect to the local culture. She specifically spoke to the need for a comprehensive approach to work with women within their communities.
By Tara Dewan-Czarnecki, Middle East Program
- Special Representative to Civil Society for the League of Arab States Secretary General