Jordanians protest over food prices in 2011. Source: The Guardian.
This blog is the second in a three-part series addressing recent findings of the Arab Barometer, whose objectives include the production of scientifically reliable data on the political attitudes of ordinary citizens. Read the first part, about Iraq, here.
By James Stricker
In Jordan, economic factors have played an important role in political stability since 2011. Jordanians as a whole consider economic rights to be a core component of democracy. This is demonstrated by the fact that most public protests began as a response to economic grievances. The trend corresponds strongly with the Arab Barometer’s recent MENA opinion poll results: throughout the region, Arabs are at least as concerned with securing their economic rights as they are with securing political rights.
As the Arab Spring gained momentum in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, a number of protests sprang up throughout Jordan in 2011. However, the most prevalent slogans were not against the regime itself, nor were they about securing more political rights. Instead, Jordanians who took to the streets voiced their frustrations with price inflation and corruption.
Women entrepreneurs are increasingly important participants in the new global economy. In many emerging free-market economies and newly democratic countries, women comprise a significant — and sometimes dominant — portion of the business infrastructure, not only in the informal and small business sector, but in corporate ranks as well. Yet their participation on the management of business overall and the making of public policy is still hindered by lack of adequate gender representation, legal, institutional and cultural barriers, and traditional societal practices.
For over 30 years, CIPE has been working to strengthen democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market oriented reform. CIPE’s program for women focus on empowering them as entrepreneurs and encouraging their full participation in civil life and policymaking with the goal of building democracy that delivers for all.
In honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, CIPE hosted a Google Hangout with a distinguished panel of women leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss how women’s economic participation could be advanced globally. The panel featured Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI); Lina Hundaileh, Chair of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association (YEA) in Jordan; and Lucy Valenti, President of the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN). Discussant and moderator were CIPE Program Officer Maiko Nakagaki and Research Coordinator Teodora Mihaylova.
Although women represent over half of university graduates in Jordan, they constitute a paltry 16 percent of the workforce. More than 26 percent of Jordanian women with bachelor’s degrees remain unemployed, compared to just 9.1 percent of male graduates. However, women are finding ways to overcome barriers to their economic participation by starting their own businesses. The Jordan Times reported in February that 38% of all Jordanian entrepreneurs are women, exceeding the international average of women’s participation in the field.
Lina Hundaileh epitomizes this entrepreneurial spirit. After the German company where she worked closed down their Jordan office, Lina decided to create her own job by opening a chocolate factory. She was not deterred by her lack of experience in running a business or making chocolate. It did not faze her when others laughed at her plan. She was determined to succeed and did not view failure as an option. And she loved chocolate.
One size does not fit all in economic development, and while the focus in developing countries is often on integrating into the global economy and attracting large-scale foreign investment, it is easy to overlook the potential resources to expand economic opportunity that exist right at home. I’m speaking of creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and the growth of small business. In Jordan, hard hit by the global financial crisis, CIPE’s partner the Young Entrepreneurs Association is leading a drive to lower barriers to entry for would-be entrepreneurs in an effort to expand economic opportunity to a broader cross-section of Jordan’s citizens — particularly its youth, who are increasingly realizing that they will not be able to rely on the state for a job as in generations past.
On November 23, Jordan’s King Abdullah surprised the nation by dissolving parliament half way through its mandate and calling for elections under a new elections law. Jordanians are not new to these sudden changes but as my organization, the International Republican Institute’s (IRI), most recent national public opinion poll showed, only seven percent of respondents were satisfied with parliament’s performance. In addition to low approval ratings, observers speculate a key reason for parliament’s dismissal is belief that some conservative parliamentarians were an impediment to the passage of important free market reforms needed to attract investment during a global economic downturn.
On December 9, the King surprised Jordanians further by dismissing his government and appointing Samir Rifai as the new Prime Minister. In his letter of designation, the King charged the new Rifai government with developing a new election law and organizing parliamentary elections no later than the end of 2010. He also ordered the new government to implement Jordan’s decentralization plan which lays out a new administrative system and elections for governorate (“local”) councils, mayors and municipal councils throughout the Kingdom.
Earlier this week, Jordan’s Queen Rania spoke at the second Arab Substantiality Leadership Group meeting in Amman. She moderated a panel discussion on “Sustainable Development and Youth Employment in the Arab World.” This topic is of crucial importance: the rate of youth unemployment in the Middle East is the highest in the world and the number of unemployed people under 30 could increase from the current 15 million to 100 million by 2020 – a situation described by the Queen as a “ticking time bomb” that has to be defused before it causes social unrest.
Queen Rania urged making school curricula more relevant to the needs of the labor market, encouraging innovative private-public employment partnerships, and offering internship opportunities in order to bridge the “gap between school and work.” The Jordan Times reports,
The Queen said the problem in the Arab world is deficit in critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills and overreliance on the public sector for jobs, adding that it is important to create channels of communication between businesses and the educational system to know what they need and thus tailor the curricula to realise that goal. Her Majesty also emphasised the private sector role, which she said can lead and influence policy in the public sector in the Arab world.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.