AMMAN—Few Jordanians have done more to promote women’s higher education than Lubna Akroush, a professor of sociology at the University of Jordan and president of the Association of Jordanian Women Academics.
She and her colleagues set up the association in 2014 because “we felt the injustice facing the world of women academics,” Akroush said. Their initial aim was to establish a platform to discuss challenges the women felt, to help realize their potential and to build networks.
Today, the association has 115 Ph.D.-holding members from 30 private and public universities and higher education institutions and has developed a database for Jordanian women academics with the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). About 500 women have taken part in workshops it organized.
“Women academics in the kingdom face difficulties in receiving promotions and scholarships, as well as occupying leadership positions in higher-education institutions, compared to their male counterparts,” Akroush said.
“In some universities, women academics cannot include their husbands on their medical insurance plans unless they prove that the husband has a handicap or is unemployed, while a male academic is allowed to insure his wives if he is married to more than one,” she added.
Another example of inequality, she said, is that, unlike male academics, women who pursue their studies abroad do not receive any financial help.
In 2017, the association published a report under the title “The Reality of Women in Academia in Jordan” based on a survey of all universities in the country. It concluded that around 60 percent of women did not have the opportunity to participate in academic committees.
“There is a lack of equal opportunities for women academics in local, private and public universities in Jordan,” Akroush said. “They work on improving themselves educationally, work for their families and students, and all they need is justice.”
“The problem is that male academics are in control and they can block any opportunity for any woman.”
“The problem is that male academics are in control and they can block any opportunity for any woman.”Lubna Akroush
According to countrymeters.info, which provides data on population trends for most countries, Jordan’s current population is around 10.5 million, of whom 5.1 million are women. The adult literacy rate is 98 percent for men and 95 percent for women.
Since first university in the kingdom was established in 1962, only two women have become senior executives: Rowaida Al-Maaitah, a former vice president of the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), and Manar Fayyad, president of the German-Jordanian University. Others, including Akroush, have become college deans. (See a related article, “Arab Women Are Left Out of University Leadership.”)
Speaking of International Women’s Day, which is observed on March 8 worldwide each year, Akroush said: “As the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women on this great day, we will honor a group of women academics who made a difference in the educational field and won several awards, including Abeer Al Bawab, a professor of physical chemistry with more than 20 years of experience in teaching.”
“Our society needs the contribution of women in all fields,” she continued, “and today young women are more eager to study and have a degree and indulge in the labor market, more than just to sit home and wait to get married and start a family.”
Benefits of Employing Women
According to a Unesco report in 2019, women between the ages of 15 and 24 in Jordan boast a 99-percent literacy rate, while Unicef estimates that a 25-percent increase in female participation in the labor force over the next seven years would help Jordan’s gross domestic product to grow by 5 percent annually.
With a Ph.D. in social science from the Lebanese University and a master’s degree in social science from the University of Jordan, Akroush has extensive experience in the educational field. She has served as head of the Social Work Department at the University of Jordan, dean of Princess Alia University College, and assistant dean of Princess Rahma University College.
“Akroush has made long strides in assisting women working in academia, and with her long experience in teaching she gave inspiration to many women who thought it was impossible to work side by side with men.”Ibtisam Awadat
Akroush’s doctoral research was on the problems of older people in Jordan, a subject on which she has published and spoken extensively. She is an expert adviser to the group devising a national strategy for the elderly. She has also done research on the problems of child labor and child neglect and abuse, as well as on women who find themselves head of a household.
The journalist Ibtisam Awadat knows Akroush’s work in the field of women’s rights and believes that “Akroush has made long strides in assisting women working in academia, and with her long experience in teaching she gave inspiration to many women who thought it was impossible to work side by side with men.”
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Awadat added: “Akroush is a woman who believes that female leaders do exist and that society should provide an open door to them because females make half of the society.”
But for Akroush much remains to be done. “We are still at the beginning of a long journey towards equality,” she said, “but we have taken the first step with determination and we want to continue along this road.”