Unemployed refugee women face poverty

More than 33 per cent of women in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan are unemployed, according to a study released on Sunday by the Amman-based Palestinian Centre for Citizenship Rights. This represents a significant increase and is almost double the unemployment rate among their male counterparts.

The unemployment rate nationwide is 14.5 percent, the government says. A sluggish economy and an increased cost of living after a recent hike in fuel prices is making life harder for those without work and is having a profound impact on the living standards of refugees.

"Residents of refugee camps are fighting an uphill battle to make ends meet. They are living in a vicious circle; the poorer they get, the less educated they become, meaning they will always struggle to find jobs," said Mohammad Akel, a member of the Jordanian parliament who represents Baqaa refugee camp, 20 km west of Amman and the largest camp in the kingdom.

There are 13 Palestinian refugee camps scattered around Jordan housing some 1.6 million people, according to the United Nations’ agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). The vast majority fled to the kingdom after the Arab Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.

The recent study stated that 31 percent of Palestine refugees live below the poverty line in Jordan.

For women, it is much harder to find work because of social and religious restrictions. Their relatives may refuse to allow them to work in jobs which involve working closely with men. In addition, women are less educated than men because the little money families have for education is typically spent on boys.

"Refugee camps contain some of the brightest women in the country, but with no money they cannot pursue higher education. Many turned to unskilled labour or join an army of unemployed women when they are most needed to help their families," said Akel.

"We need universities or scholarships to improve their chances of getting jobs," he added.

An official from the Jordanian Ministry of Higher Education said the government allocated 200 scholarships annually to Palestine refugees. Akel says this is not enough.

Officials from UNRWA say the organisation has opened its doors to women interested in acquiring skills to enter the job market.

Fuzeih Mohammad, 46, said she purchased a sewing machine last year thanks to a UNRWA microfinance scheme after having completed the necessary training programme.

Fuzeih lives in Wehdat refugee camp in the heart of the capital. She can now make clothes for her eight children and help her husband by bringing in extra money.

Fuzeih hopes her children will get a better chance in life than her.

"I am working day and night to help my family. What to do? This is our destiny. I have to keep on working although I do not see with my eyes like before," she said.

Fuzeih said her greatest wish is to send her elder son, Jawad, to university. "I do not want him to suffer like us. But that is not going to be easy because education costs a lot these days," she added.

mbh/ed