AMMAN—In Jordan, women are about 52 percent of university graduates. But they are only about 3 percent of the latest round of government appointments to public university boards. That contrast has created a wave of protest.
“It’s a deliberate case of exclusion,” said Randa Qsous, the head of the Arab Women’s Association, a non-governmental organization supporting women’s empowerment in Jordan. “I don’t think that the Jordanian government is really committed to ensuring equitable and fair representation of women.”
On November 25, a royal decree approved the cabinet’s decision to appoint new public-university board members. The previous decision of 2010 included eight women.
“Women are still obviously absent in key leadership positions, even though we are in a very crucial period in the history of the region,” said Abeer Kholi, an assistant professor in the faculty of arts at the Hashemite University.
The Arab uprisings have had a negative impact on Arab women, Kholi said. “Look at Egypt,” she said. “ Women’s role is in a steady decline there.”
The Jordanian National Commission for Women and other civil society organizations are collecting signatures on a petition protesting the recent appointments. The petition asks for adding two seats for women on each of the 10 public university boards.
“We hope that the government will draft clear and transparent mechanisms when choosing board members and appoint them based on merit and not gender,” said the petition, which has 97 signatures but aims to reach 2000.
Some activists questioned whether the latest round of appointments was worth a political fight. “Women’s participation or absence does not make that much of a difference,” said Saba Al-Qsous an associate professor in the college of agriculture at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. “These board members meet once or twice at the most in the year, they are pro forma positions and not effective.”
The appointments are mostly based on favoritism, said Al-Qsous. “Why do we fight for a role in this play? Do we want ineffective roles? Does this serve our position?”
Mahmoud Khalayla, spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said the appointments are based on “efficiency, sense of responsibility and ability to give.” Even if women only have a few seats on boards, they still have a big role to play, he said.
In 2013, 51.7 percent of the total university graduates in the kingdom were female. They got 36 percent of Ph.D. degrees for the same year, according to ministry statistics. But only 15 percent of the academic staff of the Jordanian universities is female.
“It is out of the masculine inheritance,” said Saleh Alroadih, a sociology professor in the faculty of education at the University of Jordan. “The decision-makers are influenced by their upbringing as an eastern man and their inequitable thought of women. They tend to appease the cultural patterns spread in the society, which are not supportive of women.”
Last October, Jordan ranked 134 among 142 countries in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum. Jordan’s ranking is dropping, not rising: The country’s position dropped systematically from 93rd in 2006 to 134th this year. According to the report, Jordan ranked 119th in political participation, 140th in economic participation and opportunity among world countries and 74th in educational attainment.
Even though equality is guaranteed in the Jordanian constitution it does not mean that it’s actually applied on the ground, activists said. “This case of women’s marginalization is a big-caliber message to motivate women to claim their rights strongly and enhance their role in society,” Alroadih said.