UN Women Regional Director visits Jordan, charting a path to accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Jordan
Author: Tala Al Shakhanbeh
(Amman and Zarqa Governorate) -- Susanne Mikhail, Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, embarked on an official visit to Jordan from 28 to 30 August 2023, with a focus on advancing Women's Economic Empowerment and strengthening partnerships for gender equality. During her visit, Mikhail joined the UN Women Country Representative, Nicolas Burniat, in a series of meetings and site visits to discuss key priorities and explore collaborative opportunities.
Meeting with H.E. Wafa Bani Mustafa, Minister of Social Development and chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Women’s Empowerment.
Susanne Mikhail's visit commenced with a meeting with H.E. Wafa Bani Mustafa, during which they discussed Women's Economic Empowerment. Both underscored the critical need to amplify women's role in the labour force in Jordan as a means to achieve both greater gender equality and economic growth.
"Our meeting with H.E. Wafa Bani Mustafa was truly inspiring. It emphasized the commitment of the government of Jordan to bolster women’s labour force participation as a catalyst for the success of the country’s Economic Modernization Vision. Women’s Economic Empowerment is a priority for UN Women both in Jordan and across the Arab region and we are committed to supporting government’s effort to make a lasting impact,” said Mikhail.
(From left) Minister of Social Development H.E. Wafa Bani Mustafa, Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail, UN Women Jordan Representative, Nicolas Burniat. Photos: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
Meeting with H.E. Eng. Maha Al Ali – The Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW):
Mikhail also had a fruitful discussion with H.E. Eng. Maha Al Ali, Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women. Their dialogue centered on the government of Jordan’s priorities for the empowerment of women and the enduring partnership between UN Women and Jordan. The importance of advancing women’s labour force participation including through the private sector and UN Women’s work to support the implementation of the government’s Strategy for the Empowerment of Women under the Economic Modernization Vision, including through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) was a central theme of the conversation. They also discussed the ongoing collaboration between JNCW and UN Women to advance the Women, Peace and Security agenda, women’s political participation and gender responsive budgeting.
"It was a deep pleasure to meet H.E. Eng. Maha Al Ali. Our meeting reaffirmed the unwavering commitment of Jordan and UN Women to advancing gender equality. Together, we are dedicated to making a meaningful impact and empowering women in Jordan and beyond through the Green Economy, the STEM Economy the Care Economy, and other sectors in which women are uniquely positioned for upcoming job markets,” said Mikhail.
(From left) Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women H.E. Eng. Maha Al Ali and the Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail. Photos: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
Meeting Maria Selin, Head of Regional Development Programme in Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Embassy of Sweden:
Furthering the commitment to women's empowerment in Jordan and the region, Susanne Mikhail met with Head of Regional Development Programme in MENA, SIDA, Maria Selin. Their discussions delved into joint efforts aimed at empowering women and girls, and the long-term relationship Sweden have with UN Women with shared commitment to empower women and achieve gender equality in Jordan.
"Our meeting with SIDA was a productive exchange of not only the “what’s” but more importantly the “how’s” of surging women employment through positive social norms and through working with men and boys. Our current programme evidences - through closely monitored baselines and endline - the power of positive role models. We are excited to embark on a new chapter with emphasis on scale,” said Mikhail.
Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail and Maria Selin, Head of Regional Development Programme in Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Embassy of Sweden. Photos: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
Visit to Azraq Refugee Camp:
As part of her mission, Mikhail visited Azraq Refugee camp, located some 100km east of Amman near the eponymous town in Zarqa Governorate, where she met with UN Women Jordan programme partners and interacted with Syrian refugee women participating in UN women’s Oasis project.
UN Women opened its first Oasis centre in Za’atari camp in 2012 responding to the urgent needs of around 300 vulnerable Syrian refugee women and girls. The programme has grown steadily since and UN Women currently manages four Oasis centers in Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps, and eighteen Oasis centers in host communities in Ajloun, east of Amman, Jerash, Karak, Ma’an, Madaba, Salt, Tafila, Wadi Seer and Zarqa governorates. The UN Women centre is supporting on average 2,000 refugees and vulnerable Jordanian women daily through a variety of inter-connected services including cash-for-work, vocational training and entrepreneurial support, second chance education, childcare and pre and after school services, leadership and civic engagement training, and protection.
Between 2015 and 2022 alone, the centre has supported close to 70,000 direct beneficiaries and 90,000 indirect beneficiaries.
Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail visiting the Oasis project at Azraq Refugee Camp. Photos: UN Women Jordan/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
“Most of the women I met in Azraq, had spent ten years living in camps in Jordan and it was humbling to listen to their stories, the challenges that they are facing, but also their hopes for the future,” said Mikhail. “As they explained how they had benefitted from our Oasis programme, I could not help but feel grateful for the financial assistance that we have received from our donors over the past decade, including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Japan and the European Union, without whom our work in camps and in host communities would not have been possible. While the world is facing unprecedented levels of humanitarian needs, it is essential not to forget about these women. Ten years after fleeing Syria, they still need our support and we are committed to stay by their side,” Michael added.
Meeting with International Finance Corporate (IFC) Regional Director, Khawaja Aftab:
Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Arab region is a priority of both the IFC and UN Women and the meeting between Mikhail and the IFC Regional Director, Khawaja Aftab, was an opportunity to discuss strategies to increase women’s labour force participation at scale and explore possible partnerships to this effect.
"We know that ODA alone will not be sufficient to significantly increase women’s labour force participation in the region,” said Mikhail. "For this to take place, we need to ensure that private sector plays its role, and we need blended finance, including financing from the development bank, to support economic growth and job creation in sectors for which women are particularly well placed to gain employment. It was wonderful there to hear of the IFC commitment to advancing women’s labor force participation in the region and in Jordan and of their interest in the care sector, which we believe to have tremendous potential," she added.
Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail and Khawaja Aftab, Regional Director of the International Finance Corporation. Photos: UN Women Jordan/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
Meeting with the Private Sector:
One of the highlights of the visit was a meeting with representatives from the private sector. Discussions centered on innovative ways to advance Women's Economic Empowerment through blended finance models, emphasizing the importance of private sector engagement in achieving gender equality goals.
"The private sector's involvement is paramount in driving sustainable change for women,” said Mikhail. “[…] it is at the center of UN Women’s strategy to advance women’s labour force participation in the region and in Jordan. We are particularly proud of our partnerships with the private sector in Jordan which have been developed through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), a programme which supports private sector companies to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community,” she added.
Jordan has the largest number of private companies that have signed on to the WEPs in the region and those companies have taken many steps in recent years to increase the share of their female employees.
Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail with private sector representatives. Photos: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
Meeting with Ms. Leslie Reed, USAID Mission Director:
The visit concluded with a meeting with Leslie Reed, USAID Mission Director. Mikhail and Reed highlighted their commitment to collaborative efforts, with a focus on exploring avenues to strengthen gender programming and joining forces for meaningful impact.
"UN Women and USAID are dedicated to foster collaboration. Together, we aspire to amplify the reach and effectiveness of gender programming, working towards women employment at scale is a critical support we can provide to the Government of Jordan in its aspiration to achieve the Modernization Agenda," said Mikhail.
Regional Director for UN Women in the Arab States, Susanne Mikhail and Leslie Reed, USAID Mission Director. Photos: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
In summary, Mikhail's official visit to Jordan was marked by a series of productive meetings and programme site visits that underscored the commitment to advancing gender equality and Women's Economic Empowerment in Jordan and the wider region. The visit solidified partnerships; identified areas for collaboration; and paved the way for meaningful initiatives aimed at creating a more equitable future for all.
Staff members of UN Women Jordan Country Office and Susanne Mikhail, Regional Director for the Arab States. Photo: UN Women/Tala Al Shakhanbeh
In extending her appreciation to UN Women Jordan Country Office, Mikhail said: “Immensely impressed by the remarkable work of Jordan Country Office; from women peace and security to governance and political participation. From Humanitarian to women economic empowerment. Thank you, Nicolas and every single colleague, at JCO.”