The delicate balance between children and careers
- MA Development Studies (Major in Women, Gender and Development and Minor in Child and Youth Studies in Haag)
- Institute of Social Studies, The University in Hague- Holland in 2007-2008
- Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law- Diploma in the Equal Status and Human Rights of women in the Middle East and North Africa in 2006-2007
“When you look at the reports that are published each year about gender, the first thing that is always mentioned is the low level of participation by women within the Jordanian labour market. Women are always criticised for not working, despite being so well educated – and men are criticised for not allowing the women to work,” tells 26-year-old Jordanian feminist, Hiba Kandalaft.
“What’s interesting in all of this is that people continue to point out the problem. They blame the individual rather than looking at the bigger picture with its solutions such as kindergartens and other childcare measures.”
“I myself have two jobs: I am the Executive Director for the International Women’s Forum in Jordan, which is a network for highly influential older women. Alongside this, I also act as a consultant working, among other places, in two government ministries from where I can follow the careers of many different women.”
“Here, I’ve heard typical well-educated women describing how their wages only just manage to cover the costs of day-care institutions. And this makes me ask myself ‘Who is then really supporting these women? Don’t we need children in this society?
“We devaluate the reproductive role of women when we really should be appreciating the fact that some women have children and we should support them in this,” stresses Hiba Kandalaft when asked what she views as the biggest feminist challenges facing her generation in Amman.
Feminist awareness from the age of 17
“When I was very young, my mother told me that I should read the newspaper so that I knew what was going on in the world. When I did begin to read the newspaper, it was the articles about women and feminism that particularly drew my attention. It was at this point that my feminist awareness was awakened.”
“However, it wasn’t until after I’d completed my studies in economics that a department for women’s studies opened at the university. At that time, I considered studying there but I was advised against it by many around me and instead I left to find a job. But the issue of gender was still in the back of my mind. So when the opportunity arose to take a month-long course about gender in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region at the University of Lund in Sweden, I seized it. I was particularly caught by the fact that, for example, they didn’t use the words ‘girls’ and ‘boys’, but used the term ‘young people’ instead.”
“Following the course in Sweden, I realised that I needed more education and embarked upon a quest to find programmes about gender and development. I found two such programmes on the Internet – one in the UK and one in the Netherlands. When I was awarded a bursary from The Hague, it was there I went.”
Young women are constantly under scrutiny
“‘This is your time now and you should grab the chance. We must be supportive of each other – you might be the one having to support me at a later date,’ my fiancé said to me.”
“My family reacted with some confusion when they heard about my impending studies abroad and they asked me if this meant that I was going to leave my fiancé . There was also some anxiety about what others were going to say with me being in a steady relationship and up and leaving to go and study abroad. In general, people prefer short relationships followed by marriage. But we did actually wed in the summer holidays when I was back home from The Hague.” “I didn’t meet much understanding in the diplomat capital of the Netherlands, The Hague, either. Here people said ‘But you are a feminist and so young – You should stay here and continue your research. You shouldn’t go back and get married – you should focus on yourself and on your career. We’ll arrange a PhD bursary for you.’”
“People pretend to be open – both here and in Europe – but when it comes down to it, prejudice is everywhere. It was interesting for me to observe that both in the Netherlands and in Jordan, I, as a young woman, was stereotyped and on the receiving end of many different forms of prejudice. Young women are constantly under scrutiny – not least when it comes to their family lives and working lives.”
Work – a misunderstood concept
“At a political level, we have achieved a great deal of progress; but at a social level, there’s still a great deal to be done. Of course, I can’t speak for all the young women in Jordan, but what I see as being one of the main issues today is the balance between work and family life as many of the women I work with raise this question constantly” stresses Hiba Kandalaft, and continues:“I don’t want to be ungrateful, but when I see the older generation educating the younger generation, the message seems to be that you must work long hours and travel a lot, and I hear many women encouraging other women to be like men. No one is directly saying that you can’t have children, but nor is anyone saying how you can combine family life with your work. And the topic of motherhood is never discussed in older feminist publications.”
“But you can’t force women to do something that doesn’t harmonise with their personal life – as they chose it. Women know what’s good for them. It isn’t the women that is the problem – it is the structures – so solutions must be found.”
“And no real consideration has been given to the role of the fathers. As parents, men participate in a different way to women. Also, with men earning the most, whose problem is it when the woman pulls out of the labour market?”
“Also, it’s normal for working women to be responsible for welcoming all the guests invited home by their husbands – also at the weekend – and be prepared to cook morning, noon and night.”
No one mentions the children
When I was in the Netherlands and Sweden, I realised how much the states there provided in the way of maternity and paternity leave and childcare. Women make choices based upon the living conditions under which they live, their decisions to leave or stay in the workforce is not divorced from the kind of life they lead, what advantages and disadvantages they have.
“The older generation has paved the way and now we have got our education. So now we want gender mainstreaming and mentors – not technicalities and rights – but concrete measures with gender mainstreaming at governmental level. And we want places to collect success stories and best practices which can then serve as role models.”
“We do though have role models, but we’re lacking gender experts and mentor programmes between the older and younger generations through which we can exchange experiences about precisely family life and work life. And perhaps we should also think in terms of life phases, for example establishing programmes for women who have been at home but who now want to re-enter the labour market,” concludes Hiba Kandalaft.