Jordan has a population of approximately 10 million,1 of which approximately 4.7 million are women.2 Women in Jordan face barriers in board and upper management positions, and in the workforce overall.3 To address this problem, the Jordanian government has adopted several policy and legislative measures to improve the status of women in Jordan. In fact, the Jordanian government established a quota system reserving 15% of the seats in the lower house of Parliament for women.4 Despite the government’s efforts to increase women’s participation in the political arena, efforts to increase women’s participation in the corporate world have been negligible at best. The Jordan Strategy Forum recently reported in a study that Jordan has “one of the lowest female economic participation rates in the world.”5
Jordan maintains several corporate governance codes, but the central sources of corporate governance legislation include the Companies Law, the Securities Law, the Banking Law, and a number of Instructions and Regulations issued by the Jordanian Securities Commission and the Central Bank of Jordan. In addition, there are two additional national corporate governance codes in Jordan. One is the Corporate Governance Code for Shareholding Companies Listed on the Amman Stock Exchange (Code for Listed Companies), which contains both mandatory provisions based on the compulsory requirements of laws, regulations and instructions, and voluntary provisions that companies can implement under a “comply or explain” basis. The other is the Jordanian Corporate Governance for Private, Limited Liability and Non-listed Public Shareholding Companies (Code for Unlisted Companies), which is purely voluntary.6 Notably, none of the codes set any standards in explicitly promoting diversity through the participation of women. As such, female participation is markedly low. As one study notes, the governance system maintains impactful structural biases against the appointment of female directors, as the language of the governance reports only employ masculine pronouns.7
A 2015 report noted that while women represent 15.60% of the labor force of the publicly listed companies where the average board size is eight members, only 3.54 % of board members are women, and women hold only 21% of senior decision-making positions.8 Of the 237 publicly listed companies, 185 (78%) have no women on their boards, with only 52 companies (22%) having women directors. For the 10 largest listed companies, the female board representation averages 6.46%. Moreover, nine of those 10 companies disclose the composition of their board, with four including the number of women among their board members. Of those nine companies, in total, there are six women out of 112 board members.
There are currently 930 private shareholding companies in Jordan of which 717 (77%) have no women on their boards. And women represent only 9.10% of board members and chair 2.56% of company boards. These statistics are some of the lowest in the world, even compared to other Middle Eastern countries.
As is the case of some other Arab countries, strong connections to powerful families were found to be a key factor in the appointment of women to director positions.9 Although the various Governance Codes are significant in enhancing awareness of the importance of corporate governance, they have not galvanized substantive change in transforming Jordan’s corporate culture to meaningfully include women’s voices.
There have been some more recent attempts to increase female labor participation through various reforms and new legislation. According to an IFC study: the Social Security Fund created the Maternity Fund to encourage the employment of women; the Labor Law was amended to consider sexual harassment in the workplace; and there is now a requirement to have a nursery in the workplace under certain conditions, to enable women to return to work if they have children below the age of four. However, these laws, regulations, and national initiatives (with the exception of the Maternity Fund) are still not fully enforced or implemented.10
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also have made strides to increase women’s participation in the boardroom. For example, the Jordan Forum for Business and Professional Women11 (BPWA), an NGO dedicated to female business professionals, focuses on identifying and communicating the productive, independent role of women through training, legal guidance, and advocating for laws and regulations that empower Jordanian women in the corporate arena.
While there have been some progressive legislative measures and efforts within civil society to increase women’s participation and visibility in the political domain and in the workforce generally, women remain severely underrepresented in Jordan’s corporate world, particularly in the boardroom.
1 World Factbook: Jordan, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/jo.html (last updated Sept. 5, 2018).
2 Females constitute 47 per cent of population in 2017 – DoS, Jordan Times (Mar. 8, 2018), http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/females-constitute-47-cent-population-2017-%E2%80%94-dos.
3 Jordan Diversity Report, IFC 2015 (Nov. 2015), https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/e93318004a0d7ff195cfb7e54d141794/IFC_Jordan_Gender_Report_Sep_2015.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
4 Gender Quotas Database: Jordan, IDEA, https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/country-view/154/35 (last updated Apr. 18, 2018); Getting to Equal – Key Findings, World Bank, Women, Bus. & Law (2016), http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/555061519930693642/WBL2016-Key-Findings-EN.pdf.
5 Participation of Women in the Boards of Banks in Jordan - Where Do We Stand? What Are the Implications, Jordan Strategy Forum (2017), http://www.jsf.org/en/content/participation-women-boards-banks-jordan.
6 Corporate Governance in Transition Economies – Jordan Country Report, Eur. Bank for Reconstruction & Dev. (Dec. 2017), https://www.ebrd.com/documents/legal-reform/jordan.pdf.
7 Val Singh, Contrasting positions of women directors in Jordan and Tunisia (Jan. 2008), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265291705_Contrasting_positions_of_women_directors_in_Jordan_and_Tunisia.
8 Jordan Diversity Report, IFC 2015 (2015), https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/e93318004a0d7ff195cfb7e54d141794/IFC_Jordan_Gender_Report_Sep_2015.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
9 Singh, supra note 7.
10 IFC 2015, supra note 8.
11 Jordan Forum for Business & Professional Women, www.bpwa.org.jo (last visited Aug. 29, 2018).