Water Scarcity in Jordan
Despite regional turmoil, Jordan enjoys relative stability compared to its neighbors in the Middle East. However, the Kingdom’s long-running issue of water scarcity, which ranked second globally, could threaten that continued stability. Water scarcity exacerbates existing systemic issues such as poverty and public health crises, which Jordan currently contends with. The Kingdom is suffering from an unprecedented youth employment rate of 48.1% as of November 2021 and is struggling to meet the pandemic-induced public health demands. As the effects of environmental changes continue to develop, Jordanians may increasingly feel the impacts of water scarcity in Jordan in the next decade.

7 Facts About Water Scarcity in Jordan

  1. Critical Water Insecurity by 2030: According to a March 2021 research study that Jim Yoon led, more than “90% of Jordan’s low-income population” will endure severe water insecurity by 2030. This water scarcity in Jordan will equate to impoverished households receiving less than 40 liters of water per capita per day.
  2. Demand is the Issue, Not Supply: About 93% of Jordanians have access to a safely-managed water source, according to UNICEF, reflecting adequate infrastructure. However, in 2017, Jordan’s yearly water supply equated to “less than 100m 3 per person, significantly below the United Nations’ threshold of 500m3 per person, which defines severe water scarcity,” reflecting the inability to meet population demand. This issue has worsened in recent years with the large influx of Syrian refugees.
  3. Rainfall: Jordan gets 110 mm of rainfall a year and ranked ninth in the top 10 countries with the lowest rainfall in 2017.
  4. Groundwater: Groundwater makes up 54% of Jordan’s water supply. There are 12 groundwater basins in Jordan. According to a 2021 research article by faculty members of Jordan-Jerash University, these basins experience overexploitation past their annual replenishable capacity. About 77.5% of the nation’s conserved water goes to the agricultural industry, which contributed only 5.6% of the country’s GDP in 2018.
  5. Treated Wastewater as an Alternative: Since building wastewater treatment plants in the 1980s, more than 64% of the population gained access to sewage systems, improving the overall sanitation level of the country. Jordan has a minimum of 26 wastewater treatment plants to treat and reuse raw wastewater. Projections have stated that the expansion of wastewater treatment plants will potentially offset the industrial demand for freshwater caused by water scarcity in Jordan in the Amman, Zarqa and Aqaba governorates.
  6. Mismanagement of Surface Water Resources: About 37% of Jordan’s total water supply comes from surface water resources. There are three major surface water sources in Jordan — the Jordan, Zarqa and Yarmouk rivers. Israel and Syria’s “upstream diversion and over-pumping” of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers are drying up Jordan’s access to their stream due to the lack of regional environmental cooperation. Meanwhile, the Zarqa River is severely contaminated due to overflow from wastewater treatment plants and sewage leaks.
  7. Pollution: Pollution is exacerbating water shortages. The overflow of wastewater pumping stations, leaks from sewage systems and exposure to industrial and commercial waste are polluting Jordan’s surface river sources. This has resulted in nitrate and phosphorus contamination of water supplies. Researchers point to improper industrial discharges and lack of regulation as the leading cause of water pollution in Jordan.

Looking Ahead

To continue as an oasis of peace and stability in the Middle East, Jordan must address its long-standing water scarcity crisis. Investment in strategies, such as the effective use of recycled wastewater, will help improve the country’s capacity to meet its booming population’s demand.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping to improve water scarcity in Jordan with its operations in Jordan beginning as early as 1949 — three years after the nation’s independence. In 2020, USAID “installed 8,500 kilometers of water piping and 120,0000 high-accuracy smart meters” while securing “leak detection equipment and vehicles” for the nation and upgrading “water monitoring and control systems” across the country. Through these measures, USAID was able to save sufficient “water in 2020 to supply more than 215,000 people” in Jordan annually.

In addition to technological solutions, Jordan is pursuing regional diplomatic efforts, such as the water-for-energy deal. Signed in November 2021 by Jordan and Israel, the deal will see Jordan export 600 megawatts of solar energy to Israel in exchange for 200 million cubic meters of Israel’s desalinated water.

This deal, and other efforts, could make way for sustainable, regional improvements in water conservation and accelerate the development of renewable energy infrastructure.

Majeed Malhas
Photo: Flickr

The Madrasati Initiative
Education is integral to the eradication of poverty. Once people have access to a good education, they are capable of pursuing opportunities that can lift them out of poverty and improve their communities. As such, numerous nonprofits and global organizations are working to provide academic opportunities in less developed countries. The Madrasati Initiative, or the “My School” Initiative, is one of these organizations. Its mission is “to improve the physical and educational environment of Jordan’s most neglected public schools.” Since its creation in 2008, the organization has worked to provide better opportunities and education for children in Jordan, especially those living in poverty.

Public Education in Jordan

While schools in Jordan enjoy “nearly universal primary enrollment and gender parity,” schools still suffer from underdevelopment. As a consequence, students underperform in schools and many students struggle to continue their education once they fall behind.

For example, every student across 338 public schools in Jordan failed the public secondary school examination in 2015. These schools mainly fall within impoverished, rural areas and these statistics indicate “an urgent developmental and humanitarian need” to reform the education system and create new avenues for success.

New factors, such as a significant influx of young refugees and the school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbate issues that the public education system faces. As the pressure mounts, schools need better resources and more assistance.

The Madrasati Initiative

Queen Rania Al Abdullah, the queen consort of Jordan, launched the Madrasati Initiative to support education in Jordan back in 2008. The nonprofit organization initially centered on the needs of 500 public schools by operating new programs and partnering with numerous other nonprofits, including the Queen Rania Foundation.

The Madrasati Initiative encompasses several programs. These programs renovate schools, promote social cohesion among refugee students and create additional learning environments, including student clubs and music courses, among other goals.

Madrasati’s Accomplishments

The Madrasati Initiative made significant accomplishments over the years. Since its beginning in 2008, Madrasati served well over the initial 500 public schools, moving on to assist 830 underperforming schools throughout Jordan. In total, Madrasati has reached roughly “360,000 students, 17,500 teachers and 800 volunteers.”

As hundreds of thousands of refugees trickle into Jordan, the Madrasati Initiative creates new avenues for refugee children to advance their career prospects. Madrasati worked under the PROSPECTS program, a global partnership that the Dutch government leads, to address poverty and education issues that refugees face. On May 29, 2021, the Madrasati Initiative, the Ministry of Education and the International Labor Organization hosted an event in Amman, Jordan, to provide career guidance services for 3,000 learners, including Jordanian and Syrian refugees. The event is just one of Madrasati’s many efforts to best uplift refugee children.

Beyond its local impact, the Madrasati Initiative also fosters open dialogues about education in Jordan with students and teachers. For example, on July 4, 2021, Madrasati and other partnering organizations and governments mobilized hundreds of students and teachers in Jordan to support academic activities focusing on “promoting youth’s engagement, leadership and active contribution to advance gender equality and the role of women, particularly young women, in peace and security” in Jordan.

Addressing Ongoing Concerns

In addition to these recent accomplishments, the organization, along with its parent institution, the Queen Rania Foundation, adapted to continue its work under new parameters during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a start, the Queen Rania Foundation’s website features educational resources ranging from simple parent guides to “toolkits” that summarize education research on effecting teaching strategies.

In 2020, the Madrasati Initiative also integrated the Jordanian curriculum into online learning services like Noorspace and Kolibri as students switch to remote learning. This allowed more than 4,000 Jordanian and refugee students to continue their education through online classes.

Through the combined support of teachers, international organizations and the Jordanian government, the Madrasati Initiative can continue its efforts to improve education standards in communities and schools with the greatest need. Though education in Jordan may not be perfect, the Madrasati Initiative continues to give students an invaluable opportunity to look toward their futures.

– Lauren Sung
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Jordan
After years of combined government and NGO measures to eliminate child labor in Jordan, the country noted a rise in child labor during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, Jordan’s National Child Labour Survey revealed that about 76,000 children were involved in some form of economic activity. About 60% of these children performed dangerous labor including mining, blacksmithing and repairing automobiles. Jordan Labor Watch finds that the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has led to an increase in child laborers, mostly due to the increased economic hardships of families.

How COVID-19 Contributes to Child Labor in Jordan

The World Bank predicts that poverty rates in Jordan would reach as much as 27% due to the onset of COVID-19. As with other countries, COVID-19 has led to widespread job losses and reductions in income as some businesses shut down and others struggle to stay afloat. Due to a lack of robust social programs and safety nets, Jordanians struggle with little means to provide for their families. Jordan Labor Watch explains that “As the unmet financial needs of families in Jordan rises, the chances of children working to contribute to their family’s income also rises —  no matter how modest this added income might be.”

In April 2020, a UNICEF assessment found that 23% of “vulnerable households in Jordan” lack internet access. Amid pandemic-induced school closures, children who cannot transition to remote learning are more susceptible to child labor. Parents often push children who are not receiving an education into child labor to add to the household income. This is a common reality in spite of children facing exploitation with low wages, hazardous job conditions and possible sexual and physical violence.

The Characteristics of Child Labor in Jordan

The 2016 National Child Labour Survey reveals specifics on child labor in Jordan. About 43.2% of the 70,000 child laborers ages 5 to 17 work in the agricultural industry while 42.6% work in the services sector and 14.2% work in industry roles. Jordanian children account for about 80% of all these child laborers while Syrian children account for 15%. The latter mostly consists of refugees with few protective barriers guarding them and limited access to education. Furthermore, almost 90% of these child laborers are boys.

Within the services sector, many children engage in hazardous labor such as repairing vehicles and “scavenging scrap metal.” Other children working in this sector wash vehicles, care for animals that transport tourists and complete domestic duties. Child labor within the industry sector primarily consists of mining, quarrying, carpentry, blacksmithing, manufacturing and construction.

Though Jordan has made moderate efforts to eradicate the worst forms of child labor, extreme forms of child labor still exist within the country. The two worst forms of child labor in Jordan are forced begging and soliciting minors for paid sexual activity, sometimes a result of human trafficking.

Efforts to Eliminate Child Labor

Over the last decade, Jordan’s government has taken a variety of measures to end child labor within its borders. By 2016, the country established a database on child labor within the Ministry of Labor. The nation also adopted the National Framework to Combat Child Labor in 2011, a comprehensive child labor policy that “aims to tackle the issue throughout the Kingdom through systematic monitoring of child labor and collective action by key stakeholders, mainly the ministries of Labour, Education and Social Development.” Additionally, Jordan established apprenticeship programs for youths, a training manual for school counselors and more anti-child labor efforts targeting Syrian refugees.

How UNICEF Has Taken Action

UNICEF began a 2021 program to tackle child labor in Jordan in partnership with the Rowad Al Khair organization. The Jordanian government and authorities support the program, which intends to assist “families who are vulnerable to economic shocks, including the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Qualified social workers will “work directly with families and communities to identify, prevent and manage the risks of child labor and tailor a response specific to their needs.”

According to UNICEF, “400 of the most vulnerable child laborers, boys and girls, of all nationalities, aged 6-18 years will receive psychosocial support and help to access education, life skills, entrepreneurship opportunities and training.” Vulnerable households will receive “specialized support,” such as cash assistance and education on the detrimental consequences of child labor.

Tamkeen is a local organization within Jordan taking a stand against child labor, among other issues. This NGO is dedicated to raising legal awareness on labor issues while promoting human rights and fighting human trafficking with particular emphasis on the rights of migrants and refugees. Tamkeen also publishes papers on issues like child labor, workplace safety and the working conditions of migrant workers in Jordan.

The Future of Jordan’s Vulnerable Youths

Though child labor is rising in Jordan, the government and NGOs are taking action to quell the illegal practice, improving the lives of children. The nation may feel the impact of COVID-19 for years to come, but Jordan’s ongoing efforts to combat child labor will eventually lead to a decline in the number of child workers.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in JordanForearms of Change Center to Enable Community (FOCCEC) is an NGO based in Amman, Jordan, working to help people with HIV/AIDS in Jordan. Through collaborative efforts with several Jordanian health service providers and partners, FOCCEC provides HIV-positive people with access to treatment and care resources. Through a variety of services, FOCCEC aims to support an often underserved and stigmatized community.

HIV/AIDS in Jordan and the MENA Region

With an HIV prevalence rate of 0.1%, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the fewest HIV cases per capita in the world. In Jordan specifically, this rate is less than 0.1% and the new case count is fairly low. Between the beginning of 2020 and February 2021, Jordan reported 21 new HIV cases. HIV cases do not occur evenly among populations in the MENA region. Sex workers and people who use injectable drugs are at an elevated risk of contracting HIV. However, the total case numbers are low compared to other regions.

While HIV impacts few people living in Jordan, those who are HIV-positive often experience stigma and lack access to proper medical treatment. A survey of Jordanian women found that more than 70% would not want to purchase vegetables from someone with HIV. Instead of receiving medical care, solitary confinement is common among incarcerated individuals with HIV/AIDS in Jordan who are not Jordanian nationals.

Non-citizens may be less likely to seek treatment because of legal concerns. Jordanian healthcare providers are required to report the HIV status of patients to the Jordanian government. The Jordanian government typically deports non-nationals who test positive for HIV. Jordan’s deportation policies impact asylum seekers needing HIV treatment. In early 2020, an HIV-positive Iraqi refugee did not seek treatment because he feared deportation.

FOCCEC Supports HIV-Positive People

FOCCEC works to help people with HIV access testing services and assists in navigating the treatment process. The organization travels outside of Amman to regions of Jordan such as Irbid, Mafraq and Zarqa to increase people’s access to HIV testing services.

Following individuals’ diagnoses, FOCCEC provides treatment and counseling services. It also helps patients with other sexually transmitted diseases. FOCCEC strives to ensure that refugees and non-Jordanians can access HIV treatment services. It also offers monetary support for patients with financial barriers to treatment as a way of making healthcare accessible and affordable.

Preventing HIV Transmission in Jordan

Historically, most cases of HIV/AIDS transmission occurred in other countries. However, local transmission is increasing, particularly among people 20-24 years old. New HIV/AIDS cases are also common in people aged between 30-39, representing 25% of new HIV/AIDS cases in Jordan.

FOCCEC implements programs to improve HIV awareness in Jordan, an initiative that could help reduce local transmission rates. A survey of young adults in Jordan concluded that only 25% of respondents knew that condoms help prevent HIV transmission, suggesting that young Jordanians could benefit from better education on HIV transmission and protection.

FOCCEC is a change-driven organization working to create a world where vulnerable communities in Jordan can access the resources needed to meet their medical and social needs. Through its efforts, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Jordan can reduce even further.

Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid in JordanThe U.S. provides foreign and humanitarian aid to countries around the world. In the country of Jordan where more than one million of its people live in poverty, humanitarian aid goes a long way. Providing aid from the United States means stronger U.S.-Jordan relations. Of the top 10 countries that received the most aid from the United States in 2019, Jordan was ranked at number three. Without a doubt, the U.S. provides for the overall well-being of this crucial ally through humanitarian aid in Jordan.

The Importance of Humanitarian Aid

The U.S. provided $1.5 billion worth of humanitarian aid to Jordan in 2020. The U.S. has additionally provided $1.7 billion to specifically help Syrian refugees in Jordan from the time the Syrian crisis began. This aid has been extremely crucial considering that many Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan in search of safety. Some of the aid contributes to updating medical facilities and enhancing critical infrastructure, which helps support the refugee crisis.

The U.S. and Jordan are also part of a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding that both countries signed in 2018. Under this Memorandum, the U.S. will provide $6.375 billion worth of assistance to Jordan over a span of five years. Much of this assistance helps improve infrastructure and contributes to the construction of schools across Jordan. The United States has also trained Jordanian citizens in various skills in the U.S. itself. By doing this, the U.S. is giving Jordanians a chance to take the skills back to their own country to start businesses or to apply for higher-skilled jobs in Jordan, which will all stimulate the economy of Jordan.

An Increasing Population

The humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance that the U.S. provides to Jordan are important for a variety of reasons. Jordan has also become home to refugees that have fled from conflict in Iraq. In just the last 20 years, there has been a population increase of 10 million within the country. Such a large increase in population in just a short time has raised the cost of living within Jordan. The healthcare system of the country has been stressed along with the education system and the available water supply due to this intense population growth. Humanitarian aid in Jordan is all the more important because it helps alleviate the strain.

How Providing Aid Benefits the US

Humanitarian aid in Jordan helps the U.S. in several ways. Both countries have similar values and goals with regard to peacekeeping, such as a positive Israel-Palestine relationship. Additionally, both countries want “an end to violent extremism that threatens the security of Jordan, the region and the entire globe.” Jordan’s commitment to bring lasting peace between Israel and Palestine and eradicate terrorism in the region assists broader U.S. interests. The reason Jordan is so invested in the Israel-Palestine relationship is that Jordan is home to many Palestinians, most of which are the descendants of Palestinian refugees. Therefore, Jordan feels a deep sense of responsibility to the Palestinian people.

U.S. humanitarian aid in Jordan has far-reaching benefits. Aid is vital to the well-being of the Jordanian people, its Syrian refugees and the broader relationship between the U.S. and Jordan.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

refugee work in Jordan
In a message to his donors, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) CEO Javaid Siddiqui stated, “We are committed to extending a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in need around the world and hope you will continue to be our partner in this journey of service to humanity.” Though the organization has worked in more than 85 countries, Helping Hand has consistently engaged in refugee work in Jordan. Its work in the country is not only admirable but also a reflection of its impactful, long-term service to all of humanity.

In 2013, HHRD established an office in Amman, Jordan as the headquarters for HHRD-MENA. HHRD-MENA is a branch of Helping Hand that focuses on providing relief to the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, Helping Hand has provided clean water, proper food, education, development programs and stable homes for different Syrian and Palestinian refugees throughout Jordan.

Refugees in Jordan

Surrounded by countries suffering from conflict and disaster, Jordan hosts the second-highest number of refugees when comparing population sizes. Since the Syrian war in 2011, it has almost 1.4 million Syrian refugees. As of 2019, around 650,000 of them still have refugee status. Though most of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan have received citizenship, 370,000 are currently living in refugee camps in different parts of Jordan. The remaining 84,000 refugees currently living in Jordan are from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

Most of the Syrian refugees live in urban areas and 85% of them are living below the poverty line. Many of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the city are not only suffering from poverty but also psychological trauma and lack of educational opportunities. Around 10,000 Syrian refugees are between the border of Syria and Jordan. They live in informal settlements, where access to basic needs and services is minimal and relies on humanitarian aid.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Abdullah Sheikh, a participant in Helping Hand’s annual Youth for Jordan trip, described the different refugee situations he witnessed during his 2018 visit. “There are various camps, like the organized ones run by the government, which are usually huge. The camps we went to were people who would cross the border and then prop up a makeshift tent. And when I say tent I mean like a towel or a big blanket and a pair of sticks or something.”

Building Temporary Homes

According to Abdullah Sheikh, part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves providing decent shelter to refugees living outside the organized, official camps. During his visit, he assisted in the establishment of what Helping Hand calls a “micro-home.” These caravans replace the handmade shelter of the refugees, providing them with a temporary home until they are safe to return to their homeland. Within the micro-homes are two rooms, a small kitchen, running water and a toilet. Each home costs $5,000.

To install the homes, the team uses a crane to lift the micro-home out of the back of a truck. Then, all the members work together to place the home on rocks to keep it stable. Since the start of the project in 2016, Helping Hand has established 1,000 micro-homes. These homes have benefitted more than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan as well as Lebanon.

Supplying Food and Water

When describing the food situation for the refugees, Abdullah Sheikh noted that it was “different depending on the camp.” He explained, “The [unofficial camps] in the desert, they really just rely on whatever people give them. [The refugees] just have a big tank of water in the middle of the camp and Helping Hand comes and refills it. And the food, Helping Hand would just bring them bread, oil and other things they can use to make food.”

Helping Hand’s food refugee work in Jordan also includes a Ramadan Iftar Tent. There, it provides Iftar meals for families every year. In 2020, it provided 160 families with proper meals. Besides the Iftar Tent, Helping Hand also distributes food packages and donated meat to refugees throughout Jordan all year round. In just May 2020, the team distributed a total of 3,000 food packages. Helping Hand also provides drinking water within the food packages.

Developing Programs and Schools

A big part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves educating children. Another major component is providing resources for adults to develop life skills. Just in 2019, Helping Hand provided 800 men and women in Jordan with life skill training through its development program.

Many of the women participated in the development programs near the HHRD-MENA office in Amman. The purpose of this specific program is to teach women different careers to earn a living. These careers include sewing, other crafts and computer training. With knowledge of finance and different skills, the women from this program can secure an income by opening up their own businesses and/or obtaining a job. Abdullah Sheikh says that his team had the opportunity to buy some of the products of the current trainees.

Through the Education Support Program, Helping Hand also provided 1,590 Syrian refugee children with basic education scholarships and tutoring in 2020. The organization gave seven students four-year scholarships to the University of Jordan.

Spending Time with Children

“My favorite part was when we played soccer in the camps in Mafraq near the Syrian border, with some of the kids there. It was just fun,” said Abdullah Sheikh. Throughout his visit with Helping Hand, he spent a lot of time playing with the refugee children his team came in contact with. “Some of the camps we went to twice. So, we bought [the kids] a soccer ball and then played with them again, because the ball they had was super messed up.”

During their visit to the refugee orphanages located in Amman, Jordan, the 2018 Youth for Jordan team went to a strip mall with some of the orphans. There, they played games and enjoyed rides. Another one of the days, the team spent the day with young Palestinian boys in a skills development program. Later during the week, they drove out to the Dead Sea where they hung out at the beach.

From building homes to providing support to helping children, all of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan is a reflection of the organization’s hard work and dedication. In Jordan and around the world, humanitarian organizations have the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of refugees.

Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Jordan
On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament approved a draft law to make amendments to the nation’s Anti-Human-Trafficking Law. The newly adjusted law aims to reduce human trafficking in Jordan by increasing the penalties for human traffickers, while also providing further support to victims and persons these crimes affect. Additionally, the Lower House established a special fund that compensates trafficking victims for the harm they received. According to Jordan’s Minister of State, Mahmoud Kharabsheh, “the draft law protects young beggars who are exploited and protects people from bonded labor.”

The Situation

This initiative aptly responds to the 2020 U.S. Trafficking in Person’s Report on Jordan, which declared that the country did not meet the requirements for the elimination of trafficking. The report designated Jordan as a Tier 2 country, meaning that although the country has not met the standards for reducing human trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so.

In 2020, the Jordanian government made several efforts to prevent human trafficking, including distributing relevant cautionary information to all foreign migrant workers. However, the in Person’s report also mentioned that the government did not make any efforts to decrease commercial sex acts and the prostitution of minors. For this reason among others, it is evident from the 2020 report that Jordan’s government still has a long way to go in implementing anti-human-trafficking legislation. The country’s new Anti-Human-Trafficking Law passed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, is a timely step in the right direction.

Trafficking Victims in Jordan

The victims of human trafficking in Jordan are primarily migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Egypt and Syria. Foreign migrant workers are the most vulnerable to human trafficking due to a variety of reasons. Oftentimes these people have left their home country to escape dangerous conditions or abuse, or in the hope of earning more money. Syrian refugees in Jordan are a prominent example of a vulnerable population not only in search of safe living conditions but requiring jobs as well. Because many of Jordan’s foreign workers are undocumented, their illegal status makes them unlikely to complain about their employers or leave in fear of experiencing deportation. The many disadvantages that foreign migrant workers in Jordan face make them especially vulnerable to human trafficking.

Although it is difficult to quantify human trafficking in Jordan, some relevant statistics exist that help to illustrate the scope of the issue. A study that the Jordanian Women’s Union in 2020 published found that “the number of human trafficking cases in Jordan that the police had dealt with between 2009 and 2019 was 224.” Of these cases, “forced domestic labor topped the figures with 55.8 percent… while sexual exploitation cases represented 6.3 percent, followed by exploitation of prostitution cases with 5.8 percent.” Considering that 800,000 undocumented foreign workers had employment in Jordan in 2016 alone, the number of human trafficking cases that the police dealt with is disproportionately small.

In conjunction with the study’s findings, Muhannad Dweikat, one of the experts who prepared the JWU’s study, emphasized the need for more anti-trafficking legislation in Jordan. He remarked, “Based on the figures… it is important to create a national mechanism for human trafficking cases, which would be considered as a reliable reference when dealing with such cases.”

Looking Ahead

Human trafficking in Jordan is a big problem that requires more national attention in order for the country to move out of the Tier 2 Watch list. The majority of human trafficking victims in Jordan are foreign migrant workers, however, an upwards trend has taken place seeing that, “in 2019, the government identified nine trafficking victims, which represented a significant decrease from the 40 identified victims in 2018.” This data, along with the solidification of new anti-human trafficking legislation in Jordan, illustrates that the humanitarian crisis has gained more prominence within the country. Jordan is taking strides to end human trafficking, and its recent successes prove it.

– Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Tackling Postpartum Depression in JordanIn recent years, there has been a multitude of technological innovations implemented in low-to-middle income countries (LMICS) to alleviate poverty and enhance health outcomes. However, mental health, and specifically maternal mental health, has been largely unaddressed. Postpartum depression (PPD) is one of the most common complications of childbearing and disproportionately affects women in LMICs. In Jordan, postpartum depression affects approximately 22% of women. Furthermore, the rate of mothers experiencing mild PPD is even higher, affecting 1 in 2 women. With its flourishing influence, social media has the ability to facilitate psychological support and health education. Popular online platforms present a key opportunity to support Jordanian mothers’ experiences with PPD.

Social Media As A Promising Tool for Public Health

Agencies and relief programs have struggled to identify and develop effective intervention programs for risk factors associated with mental illness. Social media is increasingly used in Jordan, and its influence continues to rise. According to a Pew Research Center study on social media use in developing countries, 8 out of 10 Jordanian adults report using social networking sites- meaning that of the 8 people who use the internet, 94% are active on social media. These rates are higher than among even adults in the US, where only 69% use social networks.

One of the most predominant risk factors for PPD among Jordanian mothers is the lack of social support due to stigma. Social media is uniquely poised to provide social support and reduce feelings of isolation in post-partum mothers. This presents a key opportunity to alleviate the prevalence of postpartum depression in Jordan.

With the large presence of social media in Jordan, pursuing social media for mental health surveillance, research and prevention can be very efficacious. Recent innovative research has revealed social networking sites as a promising tool for public health. Using networking platforms and monitoring posts, postpartum changes and behaviors of mothers have been identified. Other noted uses include dimensions of emotion, social engagement, social network and linguistics patterns.

Observing and engaging mothers’ presence on social media presents an opportunity to use social media to identify women at risk of postpartum depression, which is significantly underreported among many populations. A survey study has shown that the adoption of social media sites can help postpartum women in developing countries to feel more secure and confident while seeking advice and information related to mental health struggles. Additionally, a California State University study revealed the positive impact on individuals that experience postpartum depression, finding that most participants reported social media offered emotional, informative and validating support.

Supporting Through Social Media

On the ground, organizations are making strides to relieve the prevalence of PPD in Jordan through social media. Via online platforms, Jordanian mothers can open up about their experiences. Mariella Suleiman is part of Postpartum Support International (PSI) – Jordan, an organization that provides resources, education and advocacy for research and legislation to support perinatal mental health. Recently, she spoke with the Borgen Project. She said, “Sometimes they [women] just don’t know what’s going on. Understanding what is happening [expiriencing PPD symptoms] and that that can be normal, is already a big relief.”d

PSI Jordan’s social media accounts are an easily accessible and effective way to distribute information. These accounts provide reliable services. Additionally, they offer a sense of support for mothers who may be fearful of opening up to close family or friends. Along with a team of volunteers and a local psychologist, Mariella leads support groups. There, they provide new mothers with a safe, non-judgemental space for them to open up about their mental health struggles. As PSI-Coordinator of Jordan, she started a Facebook and Instagram page and posts awareness videos. Moreover, she collaborates with local “mom bloggers” and celebrities to raise awareness of PPD and connect with mothers.

Mariella discussed the stigma surrounding maternal mental illness and postpartum depression in Jordan and the challenges of finding support with little existing access to therapy. This highlights the importance of support groups and facilitating dialogue for women to open up without fear of discrimination.

During COVID-19, feelings of loneliness and isolation are at their peak for mothers struggling with PPD and anxiety. However, PSI Jordan continues to shine a light on this issue and support these mothers via online video platforms. Mothers can attend every Saturday, and they discuss topics related to mental health and parenting while supporting each other. They continue to receive very positive feedback from the women involved. Mariella and PSI Jordan gave women the ability to organize themselves into a network that educates women about leaning on, supporting and empowering themselves and each other.

Looking Forward

When describing the positive impact of support groups, Mariella stated, “Just knowing that there are other moms there and then just listening to each other- it makes a big difference.” Social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram can complement the work of organizations. By using online community support groups to connect, mothers experiencing PPD can provide each other with support systems. Providing access to support groups through social media is a key approach that can help struggling mothers around the world.

Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Jordan's Vaccine Rollout
As countries around the world continue their COVID-19 vaccine rollout, refugees have experienced exclusion from nearly half of them. One country that is vaccinating refugees is Jordan. With one of the largest refugee populations in the world, Jordan has set an important example for global vaccine accessibility. Here is some information about Jordan’s vaccine rollout.

Jordan’s Vaccine Rollout for Refugees

Jordan has begun its vaccine distribution plan, promising to provide vaccinations to anyone living in the country, including refugees, free of charge, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on January 14, 2020. Due to the country’s large refugee population, it needs vaccinations in order to achieve countrywide immunity to the virus. Jordan has received one million doses of the vaccine and two million through the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility is an initiative the World Health Organization (WHO) supports. The COVAX Facility implements mass vaccine production in low-income countries. Jordan has already begun vaccinating in clinics across the country.

So far, Jordan has vaccinated a reported 187 refugees. However, a spokesperson for the UNHCR expects that number to be higher. While the UNHCR is not supplying vaccines to countries, it is advocating for refugees to gain access to them.

“We have been advocating for the inclusion of refugees within the vaccination campaign since the pandemic was declared, so we are incredibly grateful they are now included,” said UNHCR spokesperson Kathryn Mahoney. “The main way we are supporting is through raising awareness of the vaccine among refugee populations and transporting refugees who live in camps to their nearest vaccination health clinics when they have appointments.”

COVID-19 Containment in Jordan

Jordan succeeded in preventing a massive spread of the virus in 2020 after imposing a strict lockdown when reports emerged of just a few cases in March 2020. Residents could only leave their homes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and could only leave for necessary, socially distant activities like grocery shopping.

The strict lockdown worked as the number of COVID-19 cases in Jordan remained low. The country reported under 100 cases a day from March to September 2020. September marked a month-long surge of cases, peaking in November with almost 8,000 cases in one day. There were multiple lockdowns in October and November in order to slow the rapid spread, and cases started declining in January 2021.

Jordan’s vaccine rollout will continue the decline of COVID-19. This requires vaccinations to be available for everyone residing in the country.

Refugees in Jordan

Jordan has one of the largest refugee populations in the world, primarily from neighboring countries. As of May 2019, 755,050 refugees lived throughout the country. Nearly 665,000 of these refugees are from Syria, having fled the country’s civil war. While 84% of Jordanian refugees live in urban areas, 16% live in refugee camps. The two largest refugee camps are Za’atari and Azraq, hosting 80,000 and 40,000 people, respectively.

For the first six months of the pandemic, the camps reported no major outbreaks. The camps had required a 14-day quarantine in an isolation tent specifically for refugees returning from areas of Jordan with COVID-19 cases.

Once reports of cases in the Azraq camp started in September 2020, isolation tents began housing infected people in order to prevent further spread to the rest of the camp population. Cases have remained low with 573 reported cases. However, the close proximity of refugee housing still poses a risk of infection.

Refugee Vaccinations Worldwide

Almost 26 million refugees live around the world, half of whom are children. Out of the 90 countries currently committed to vaccine rollouts, only 51-57% have said they would include refugees. This leaves millions of people at risk.

Without mass vaccinations in vulnerable populations, there will be little defense against the virus, and worldwide protection against it will experience a delay. Jordan’s vaccine rollout sets an important example of refugees receiving access to vaccinations against COVID-19 and increases the vaccine’s availability in clinics across the country.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Women in conflict resolutionThe year 2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women in conflict resolution changes this, transforming the field as the world knows it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% less chance of failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in the likelihood of long-term peace. While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the United States’ recent departure under the Trump administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Furthermore, one should note the bloody civil war in Yemen and the Assad-Putin takeover of Syria. Libya is becoming a failing state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women’s inclusion in conflict resolution as longstanding conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have been playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, the group gained so much momentum that members advanced the organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women fight for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under the strict rule of current leader Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA have resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as intra-state conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. The women lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ elders and the at-risk youth. The power stemming from Wajir’s women has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, the region notes massive improvements over the years. This provides ample opportunity to transform the region further. Analysts find that women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently in negotiation in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when the world empowers women, the world encourages change.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr