The Jordan Valley Links project aims to improve the entrepreneurial and business acumen of women and youth and reduce both market and socio-cultural barriers to their entry for enterprise development. The project works in three sectors: food processing; community-based tourism; and clean technologies. On a recent monitoring trip, I visited our food processing partner – the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD). They are working on South Shouneh in the Jordan Valley, focusing on technical and financial management training for women entrepreneurs, and linking them to more profitable markets for their processed herbs and pickles. These women have been processing herbs and vegetables since a young age, but very few have the skills and market knowledge to graduate their food processing endeavors into a viable economic activity. The JOHUD-MEDA partnership is accelerating the number of women getting trained and linkages to market created for the aspiring women entrepreneurs.
MEDA and JOHUD have been learning and adapting our programming and activities for women based on feedback from the local communities and market actors. One of the adaptations is the provision of child care. The gender analysis conducted prior to the project activity, identified women’s time use as a constraint to their economic activities, but failed to capture the nuances of how time use affected their activities. Through our numerous focus group discussions with women and men in the communities, participants did not identify childcare as a barrier to training (especially in the summer months) as women were intent on coming to the training whether there was childcare available or not! JOHUD staff noticed that women signed up for the training and brought their children to the training venue, expecting that the children would entertain themselves and sit around the classroom with their mothers.
The JOHUD team quickly adapted and used the training center’s existing daycare facilities (used during school months) for summer childcare facilities for the women trainees’ children. I only learned about the project’s ability to accommodate the women’s childcare needs during my recent visit to the training center, and only in passing. Although I was very impressed with JOHUD’s adaptive thinking to accommodate the women trainees, they were less impressed – for them, it was routine and something they would have always accommodated. This obviously impressed me even more! The JVL project is truly fortunate to be working with local partners that are willing to respond to gender-based constraints, but we need to keep in mind that these responses in themselves may not lead to transformation of gender norms unless we engage with men in communities and households on women’s double or sometimes triple burden.
The double/triple burden on women includes: 1) reproductive work (domestic work, childcaring, adult care, water and fuel related work); 2) productive work (work for income and subsistence, including work in informal sector enterprises either at home or the neighborhood, formal employment); and 3) community work (activities undertaken at the community level around collective consumption and issues).
The importance of childcare to promote women’s entrepreneurship and/or any economic engagement in the labor force (including employment) is widely documented and recognized, yet very few projects actually have solutions for such (see the various resources and weblinks below).
In another example, the Youlead project in Nigeria accommodated childcare needs by covering the costs for young women entrepreneurs to bring their children and a care-giver to the training facilities. This was also a quick adaptation by the field project staff with support from the project’s gender advisor who was responding to feedback from women entrepreneurs attending the project’s training. Both project examples in Jordan and Nigeria reveal the need to accommodate and address gender-based constraints (such as childcare) to improve access to training and opportunities for female clients. It also challenges us to dig deeper within our gender analyses into roles and responsibilities of women and the issues of their time use. In general, I have found that the practical ways in which a project can respond to such barriers are often the easiest to implement, but dependent on the availability of financial resources and management support. Sustainability is also an issue: if the solutions are project-driven and dependent on project resources, partners may have challenges in continuing to provide solutions to women in the long term. Challenging gender norms within the household is one way to address sustainability. JOHUD facilitates dialogue at the community and household levels on how men can better support women entrepreneurs in her daily work activities, including the sharing of childcare. MEDA is fortunate to have partners and projects that are showing a real commitment to addressing barriers for women entrepreneurs; the JOHUD example is just one to share for now!
Selected resources discussing the importance of childcare for women’s economic empowerment:
- SEEP resources, and blog on Why Childcare Matters for Women’s Economic Empowerment
- IDRC POLICY BRIEF: Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women. Access to affordable child care boosts women’s economic outlook”
- The Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) pilot analysis of the conditions that foster high potential female entrepreneurship lists Access to Childcare as key.
- IFC Tackling Childcare and World Bank Mapping the Legal Gender Gap in Accessing Business Environment Institutions: “Women entrepreneurs may also lack access to the resources needed to start a business, such as finance and banking services and have greater need of services such as childcare and education.”
- The Mastercard Foundation Gender and Youth Livelihoods Programming in Africa report recommends that training programs provide childcare accommodations, allow children to attend trainings, and offer flexible work schedules to increase participation.