Empowering Women in Jordan

This Saturday, IRI will hold a graduation ceremony for the 2015 class of our highly successful Empower program, as well as welcome the incoming class for 2016.

The Empower program is designed to bolster the civic, professional, and political skills of women from government-designated “poverty pockets” within Jordan. Armed with new skills and a new sense of purpose, traditionally disenfranchised women are now thoroughly engaged in community affairs. They are organizing local governance initiatives, directly advocating for their rights and sharing their concerns with government officials, opening small businesses, and in some cases planning to run for elected office.

Each year of Empower begins with a series of three workshops aimed to lay the foundation for increased confidence and community engagement. The first workshop covers the fundamentals of communication strategies and includes opportunities for participants to hone their public speaking skills. The second workshop focuses on how to be an effective negotiator and includes roleplay exercises in which Empower members practice negotiating with government officials on behalf of their community. In the third workshop, participants learn about political terminology, core concepts of democracy and good governance, and legislation currently pending within Jordan’s Parliament. Notably, this final workshop is delivered by current or former Jordanian members of Parliament who volunteer their time. In addition, past graduates of the program often attend these workshops to offer advice and mentorship to new members.

Often, Empower members don’t have access to reliable childcare and must bring their children to workshops or events. To address this, IRI developed a civic education/gender equality themed activity book for children. With their children safely, and with any luck quietly, occupied with completing the activities within the book, the women can focus all their attention on getting the most from the program.

Empower members then begin meeting with their elected representatives in earnest, the vast majority for the first time ever, to ask questions and advocate for the needs of their respective communities. Common issues raised by the women are the need for safe public spaces in which their children can play (many children have no alternative but to play in the street), the need for the women to have a convenient meeting hall within their city to continue their advocacy efforts, the need for increased education and vocational training opportunities, and the need for increased employment opportunities for women.

This year marked the first time that Empower members joined forces with IRI’s longstanding municipal Citizen Committees to conduct informal, citizen surveys using IRI’s mobile app, Baldytak (meaning “your municipality”). The data derived from the surveys is then presented to local officials, city residents, and citizen activists to better align the allocation of municipal resources with citizen priorities as well as to facilitate constructive debate between elected representatives and their constituents. In most cases, especially within smaller, low-income communities, this is the only numerical data available to municipal governments.

So far this year, hundreds of volunteers have been recruited by Empower members to participate in local governance initiatives. These activities, organized by Empower members, consist of city clean-up campaigns, tree planting drives, and efforts to paint curbs for safety and murals to encourage civic pride and volunteerism. Remarkably, before joining Empower, many of the women rarely spent time outside their homes, but now they are leading good governance initiatives on behalf of their cities.

Planting a tree during an Empower initiative at the municipal library in Sabha, Jordan

 

Posted by

Andy Yates

Resident Program Officer, Jordan