Avoiding the Motherhood Penalty in the Jordan Valley

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What gender-based constraints do women face when accessing training or skills upgrading opportunities? Do training invitations indicate inclusiveness of all women, especially those pregnant, breastfeeding or with children?

The motherhood penalty is often defined as the price women pay for raising a family. In North America, it is focused on systematic disadvantages in pay, hiring, and perceived sense of competence of women with children, as compared to men with the same qualifications.1

In the Jordan Valley, the motherhood penalty is expressed in the lack of access to opportunities, such as training, and control of their time due to gender norms that delegate the reproductive burden on women. The questions (above) highlight key questions that we ask ourselves in the Jordan Valley Links (JVL) project in order to ensure that our work is inclusive to all. And it all begins with the gender analysis, which is process of collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated information in order to understand gender differences.2 This analysis kickstarts the process to understand the different impact of development intervention on women and men that will be part of JVL’s overall gender integration and implementation process. JVL was designed as a gender specific initiative to address critical social, cultural and gender related barriers that women face as economic actors in three sectors: food processing, tourism and clean technologies. To ensure greater inclusion and access to our women clients, it was important for the project to understand and design trainings that recognizes the role of women and begins to mitigate gender-based constraints, like disproportionate burden of care work for women entrepreneurs .3

The gender analysis, conducted on the outset of the project and updated yearly, shares the main gender-based constraints contributing to the motherhood penalty: the gendered division of labour, where men are more involved in productive and political work and women are mostly responsible for reproductive labour (house chores, cooking, and childcare). Women in the Jordan Valley are justified in working due to “financial needs,” but their ability to select work is often restricted by the “appropriateness of conditions” and “nature of the job.” The women interviewed in the Jordan Valley shared that they remain accountable to their household chores, their children and other commitments, even if they have any outside employment, as most men do not help in household work or childcare.

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The motherhood penalty is limiting women’s ability to reach their economic potential. When women have access to affordable and safe childcare, the care burden is reduced. This will allow JVL women clients to be able to concentrate on the content of their technical trainings and ease the internal conflict and worry about the safety and wellbeing of their kids. Our partner, Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, designed “Kid’s Spaces” in Ajloun, one of the cities where JVL operates. They recruited a woman from the local community with a degree in children’s education to sit with the children as their mothers received training, after seeing that women clients were not able to focus and needed this support. Last month, Jordan River Foundation shared how they thought about timing, location, and other gender considerations when selecting a facility for their financial services training. Our partners on JVL now understand the gender-based constraints facing our women clients and are gender responsive by providing childcare facilities on site during technical training. It is great to see our local partners respond to women’s needs, just as JVL’s first key facilitating partner, JOHUD, did in October by quickly responding to the need for childcare with pop-up daycare.

While greater societal change is required to address women’s reproductive burdens, this is a good step to improve gender inclusion in Jordan. This access is crucial for women to be able to participate in income generation activities and business. Below are some gender responsive training tips for other project implementers to consider for inclusive trainings. These have helped JVL to avoid the motherhood penalty and address other barriers facing women in accessing trainings.

  • Training Invitations: Do the invitations strongly encourage women to sign up and participate? Have you obtained parental permission to ensure girls can participate (if applicable)? Are the communication channels accessible to women and girls (media or locations where they typically access information sources)? Does the invitation indicate that the training is inclusive to all women, including those with mobility issues, lower levels of literacy, or those pregnant/breastfeeding or with children?
  • Location and Venue: Is our planned location acceptable and accessible, both for venue facilities and travel distance?
  • Accompanying family member: If session is overnight or far away, does a husband/family member need to join (to reduce suspicion and ensure that the space/training is a safe place)? If so, have you made provisions to accommodate such?
  • Transportation: Is transportation support needed (including subsidy/stipend)?
  • Timing: Is our planned time of year, day and training session length acceptable given the participants’ schedules?
  • Childcare: Should childcare be provided? Snacks, toys? Is there private space for breastfeeding and/or accompanying childcare providers?

1Miller, Claire C (9/6/2014), “The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus,” New York Times.
2Lis Meyers, Lindsey Jones (2012), “Gender Analysis, Assessment, and Audit Manual and Toolkit,” ACDI/VOCA.
3Emeritus Professor Diane Elson of the University of Essex higlights the need for organizational and public policy support in the implementation of recognition, reduction, and redistribution. See Institute of Development Studie’s “Making unpaid care work more visible in public policy” Interactions website

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  • Sara M. Seavey is a Senior Program Manager for Gender in MEDA’s Cross-Cutting Services team and oversees the implementation of gender equality programming, ensuring technical quality assurance, and building internal capacity of staff and partners. In this role, she develops and manages MEDA's gender equality strategies, developing tools and resources for MEDA’s gender programming. Sara currently supports projects in Tanzania, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Jordan, Ukraine, and Ghana. She also supports MEDA’s Vulnerable Populations working group, which focuses on how to increase women and youth in economic development programs. Prior to joining MEDA, Sara managed complex projects, including mobile data for decision making and digital financial inclusion with USAID’s Global Development Lab, and workforce development in Morocco. She has also worked with women entrepreneurs in Cape Town, South Africa and supported international exchange programs between the U.S. and Asia. Sara holds a M.A. in Social Enterprise from American University and a B.A. in International Development from Connecticut College.

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