Paying Electricity Bills makes Amjad’s Voice Heard: A Story from Ghour Al Safi
This is my third visit to Ghour Al Safi (South Jordan) to meet the women participating in the Gender Progress Markers (GPM) process (see previous blog on GPM). As in other districts of the Jordan Valley, Ghour Al Safi is an agricultural area in which women are usually working in their family’ farms and men are working either in agricultural careers or they join the military. Unlike the middle and the northern valleys, Ghour Al Safi is a very conservative area and the women there are facing different social and cultural barriers.
However, this time was different – there were so much change and the women’s behaviors were different! They are more open, talkative, their laughter is louder and they look happier. I started my session going through the survey questionnaire that we use to track the progress that women had in four domains:
- Division of Labor and Workload Sharing,
- Agency (household decision making and communication),
- Self Confidence and,
- Recognition by households and community
At a quick glance, I was seeing good progresses, especially in the areas of the agency and self-confidence, but I was more excited for the discussion that usually follows the surveys, which gives the women a chance to talk and tell their stories.
My first questions to them was: “What had changed? You look different!” The women were very excited and started telling stories about how proud they were of themselves and how much their husbands and male family members are looking at them in a different way.
I asked the women how they are spending the money that they are making from their businesses or from working with Jordan Valley Links (JVL) as community mobilizers who do community outreach, spread awareness about JVL activities in the field and do some field research with guidance of JVL partners. One of the women that was very active and wanted to share her story is Amjad - 28 years old- who has completed university studies. She not only helps her family at their farm but, also co-manages with her sister, the only retail clothing shop in Ghour Al Safi that is also owned by her family.
Amjad said: “Two months ago, I returned home and saw two electricity bills on the table with big amounts to pay and I know that neither my brother nor my mother had money to pay, but I have my own money now, so I should contribute”. So Amjad decided to go and pay the bills, and she did. When Amjad returned back home, her family was all together and she informed them proudly that she paid the bills. Her brother asked: “From where did you get the money?”
Amjad responded: “It’s from my work with JVL”.
Her brother asked again: “Are you sure you want to share household spending with us?”
She confirmed: “Yes, why not, I have my own income and would love to share the responsibilities with you”.
Her brother said: “You became a man in this house, now you have a say and your voice is listened to!”
Amjad finished her story and was extremely satisfied of herself because she is bringing money to the family as well as having her voice heard. Amjad told me that since that time, her brother and her mother consult with her on household issues.
Deep inside, I was very much disappointed. Unlike Amjad who thought that she had made a great accomplishment, I was disappointed. Why? Because shared household decision making is still conditional on a woman’s financial contribution to the family, and that women in some communities are considered men if they are bringing money to the family.
Moreover, what makes me feel sadder, is that Amjad was happy and proud of what her brother told her. She doesn’t really mind being called a man and ignored the fact that she can be economically active and be a woman at the same time!
Despite my disappointment, the steps that the women in Ghour Al Safi are taking, and the confidence they are gaining in themselves are their first steps towards Gender Equality , and I really hope that in my next visit to them (after 6 months), Amjad’s family will see her as an empowered woman!
About the Author:
Yasmin is the Gender and Youth Specialist on the Jordan Valley Links project. She has a Masters Degree in Information Technology Management. She is passionate about working with women and youth. She started her volunteering journey in 2003 with one of the national organizations for women and youth, until she became head of the organization in 2012. She has also served UNFPA for about four years as a Youth Program Officer. Yasmin believes that National and International organizations should play a complementary role for the good of Jordanian women, men, girls and boys.