"Just two years ago, most of us were dependent on our husbands and families for pretty much anything. But things are different now,"
says Ola Al Hindi, a mother of four who runs a small plumbing business in Jordan. These words, spoken with pride, illustrate the huge progress Ola has made in developing her business, along with a group of other women plumbers from the city of Zarqa in Jordan with the support of the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS).
Establishing a small business in Jordan is especially challenging for women who live in low-income areas. They face transportation limitations, lack of access to finance (many women do not have the collateral needed to obtain loans from formal lenders), little to no market linkages and usually no access to resources that can help them grow and develop their businesses. Many women instead usually try to generate income by running informal businesses from home. This not only limits the growth of their businesses, but also creates an economic problem for Jordan which suffers from very low rates of women’s participation in the economy and a highly segmented labor market where most women work in the health or education sectors.
For this reason, helping women move out of the informal sector and additionally, into new sectors where women’s participation is currently low, is crucial to developing Jordan’s economy and boosting job creation across the country. According to research conducted by the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project, micro and small enterprises (MSEs) owned by women employ 55% of the female MSE private sector workforce even though they only constitute 9% of total MSEs in Jordan. This shows that when women in Jordan become business owners, they almost always employ other women. Consequently, USAID LENS supported Ola and another 19 women plumbers from Zarqa in establishing and formalizing their businesses to become more competitive and able to generate sustainable revenues. Over two years, USAID LENS worked closely with them by funding four consecutive training programs aimed at improving their business and technical plumbing skills.
As a result, they have become the first group of women plumbers in Jordan to achieve an advanced vocational skills certification issued by the Center for Accreditation and Quality Assurance, which is the accrediting body for all vocations in Jordan. The skills the women gained from this training empowered them to move forward with establishing their businesses. Ola is now a partner in a business with Wijdan, another training participant. Before becoming certified as a plumber, Wijdan had operated a catering business from home but had found the financial burden too much.
“I find a lot more financial freedom with plumbing work. One half-hour job in plumbing earns me as much as entire day of making food.”
Wijdan (left) and Ola are now partners in a small plumbing business
Another three plumbers—Amina, Sa’eda and Manal—started a business together in the Russeifa area of Zarqa. All of them now have registered businesses, which just two years ago was a distant dream. Many of them also use each other’s services, creating a strong network of women plumbers who can rely on each other for employment and job opportunities.Others have created market linkages and successfully negotiated contracts with other businesses. Raeda is now providing long-term plumbing and maintenance services to a private school and a real estate company in Zarqa, and Myassar has established a center for non-traditional service delivery for women at a Zarqa-based NGO called “Ahel Al Izwa”, which provides training, capacity building and plumbing service delivery.
In an extremely male-dominated industry, this group of women plumbers have succeeded in not only setting up businesses in this field but challenging societal notions of where and how women should work. They still face an uphill battle with gender bias though, especially with more established companies such as contractors and businesses that release tenders for plumbing and maintenance work.In more socially conservative cities such as Zarqa, it can be particularly difficult to break the mold of gender roles and pursue what are typically non-traditional fields of work for women; family opposition being one of the main factors. This is something that Ola faced frequently and nevertheless persevered in pursuit of her goals.
“My children—especially my eldest son—were ashamed of what I chose to do for a living at first. But as time passed and he saw how I was working hard to generate an income for our family, I managed to change his attitude about everything.”.