Do women in the workplace have a positive effect on their communities? Does working have a positive effect on women’s lives?
Young men and women from the Syrian Youth Committee, an active group engaged in supporting and mobilizing the Syrian community in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee camp, moderated and participated in both sides of this debate as part of an initiative called “16 Days of Activism Against Secual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)”.
The debate audience was made up of two hundred fellow members of the Za’atari community, a majority of whom were women. From November 25 through December 10, 2015, the Community Based Support to Refugees program sponsored several public discussions and activities, engaging men, women and youth on the topic of women’s rights and gender equality.
On the sidelines of youth soccer tournaments, program social workers talked with young boys and girls about their roles in society, asking questions about whether girls could choose to work when they grow up, and whether boys were allowed to be emotional and express their feelings.
At one event, a group of boys discussed the injustice of violence against women and girls, and participated in a march through the camp, chanting and holding signs saying “I am your brother” and “I am your son.” Other discussions brought together groups of men in a roundtable discussion with the goal of encouraging men to take responsibility for changing negative attitudes toward women that threaten female equality and wellbeing in society.
Similar ideas came up across the various discussions. Women face challenges in going to work and assuming roles traditionally reserved for men. Many still consider it socially unacceptable for a woman to work, because in their opinion this means that she is neglecting her duties in the home- taking care of the men and children- though they may be more understanding toward women whose circumstances require her to support her family in the absence of a male head of household. Others believe that young women who work are less likely to get married.
Some participants also suggested that men and women should have separate roles, and do not consider this dynamic to be inequality.
On the other hand, there were some participants who argued that roles can be flexible and that women should be able to work if they want to.
During these discussions, many community members came to the understanding that social roles could unfairly give privilege to men and limit women. Positive examples of women who work were given to demonstrate how women can contribute to their families and communities both inside and outside the home. Regardless of disagreements, the overall sentiment was clear: We value the women in our community and support their protection and empowerment.
At the end of the debate, the moderator posed this question to the audience: are working women a good thing for our community? The overwhelming majority said yes.