Welcome to our blog series for the 2012 World Innovation Summit for Education publication, which focuses on radical innovation at the education/work interface. As we travel the world checking out the most innovative examples of projects, programmes and people in this area we're blogging about our experiences.
1st June, 2012
To a western feminist, committed to radical change in education, the middle east presents one or two challenges. I'm in Amman, spending time with the Jordan Career Education Foundation (JCEF) because I'm interested in organisations doing innovative work to close the gap between education and work. JCEF's mission is to reduce unemployment amongst Jordanians, and establish a new generation of confident professional leaders. Since its inception 6 years ago, of course the Arab Spring has erupted. Though superficially calm, there are regular demonstrations: the one that stopped the traffic I was in today was waving banners saying: "we're sick of this"; "give us justice"; "end corruption". Jordan has chronic unemployment. In a population which has 70% under the age of 30, 26% of youth are unemployed - though no-one I talked to believed the official figures, claiming they're underestimates.
What then of the fate of women? I'm naturally alert to the dangers of cultural colonialism, but I find it hard, hard to handle a context in which, in searing heat, women are choosing, or are required to, live their outdoor lives inside a black bag. Jordan is a relatively secular society amongst the middle east community, and most women walk uncovered or with a hijab. But the underlying constraints which these seemingly harmless garments signal are there.
Only 14% of the workforce is female. I was told that, if a girl fails to complete grade 12 "it's over for her". One student I spoke to explained how, after graduating with high marks from school and undertaking a series of vocational courses, her attempt to get employment at Safeway or Carrefour was vetoed by her brother. It was unseemly.
JCEF conducts focus groups with women in high poverty areas: they are often marked by tears. "What can we do?"
In this context it is all the more remarkable to come across women like Mayyada Abu Jaber, CEO of JCEF. She frequently finds herself in meetings concerning employment issues of 50 men or more where she is the only woman. I asked her about her strategies for coping with that. "I wear real high heels so I can be as tall as possible. And I make sure I speak out, and speak so I can be heard." She didn't talk about where she found the courage to do that, and much else besides: but then she didn't have to.
The book will be launched at the annual event November 13-15. You can also follow the making of the book here.