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The hushed reality: Pregnancy puts teaching jobs at risk in Jordan

The hushed reality: Pregnancy puts teaching jobs at risk in Jordan

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Life Women’s Rights Personal Freedoms

Tuesday 17 October 202306:06 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

معلمات في الأردن يروين كيف تحكمت المدارسُ الخاصة في حملهنّ

"I cried a lot when I found out I was pregnant. I was filled with fear and apprehension, terrified that I'd lose my job over this," Nawal, a teacher at a Jordanian private school, recounts her ordeal to Raseef22.

A year ago, the pains of pregnancy forced her to be absent from school. This situation led to her facing an interrogation by the personnel affairs committee regarding the reasons behind her absence. The school's principal scrutinized the causes, even contacting the doctor who tended to Nawal to discover that she was pregnant, which prompted the principal to shout at her, saying, "Why didn't you inform us? You can't get tired! You're going to be absent all the time, we will not renew your contract!"

Nawal tried to beg the principal to reconsider, due to her desperate need for this job. After her pleas, the principal relented, agreeing to her request on the condition that she wouldn't be absent and that no other teacher would assist her or be present in the classroom with her.

Pregnancy is prohibited

Nawal's story, which was confirmed by one of her colleagues, is far from unique. The investigation unveiled eighteen cases of teachers in various Jordanian schools, whose contracts were not renewed because they declined to undergo pregnancy tests. In some instances, they were instructed to plan their pregnancies for the summer break, rather than during the school semester. Others were arbitrarily terminated once signs of pregnancy became apparent. Some employment contracts and hiring forms even included questions about their plans for having children.

The investigation unveiled the stories of 18 female teachers in various Jordanian schools whose contracts weren't renewed either for refusing to take pregnancy tests or for being instructed to plan their pregnancies and childbirth during the summer break

There are approximately 138,000 male and female teachers in Jordan's private schools, with women comprising the majority, as per statistics from the Jordanian Ministry of Education. These educators are subjected to an array of violations, from the denial of having a copy of their employment contract and a lack of annual leave, to excessive teaching hours, not being part of the social security system, and receiving salaries in cash, which may not exceed 80 Jordanian dinars per month (approximately $113), according to the Jordanian Labor Watch.

These conditions spurred the "Stand with the Teacher" campaign in 2018, advocating for the labor rights of private school teachers, especially concerning their wages and vacations.

Pregnancy regulation

The plight of female teachers and issues related to pregnancy resurfaced after a private school in Jordan circulated a directive on June 7th of this year. Addressed to female teachers, it read: "In the interest of work, please consider the necessity of regulating pregnancies to ensure childbirth occurs during the summer break." Jordan's summer vacation begins in June and concludes at the end of August. The school then followed up with another statement after the initial one was met with resistance, confirming that "this directive will not be implemented."

Speaking to Raseef22, Ahmad Al-Masaadeh, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, regards these actions as individual and categorically rejects them on behalf of the Ministry, saying it is not consistent with the philosophy of education.

He indicated that a team from the Private Education Directorate will visit the school to investigate the matter, and subsequent actions would be determined accordingly.

An old but persistent issue

Private school owners intervening in the pregnancies of their female teachers is a longstanding and recurrent concern among private education employees.

Hanadi, who once worked as an assistant to a school principal, faced a similar predicament in 2012. She had signed a contract with a school on the very day of her job interview, due to her good performance. However, the school administration's admiration for her capabilities took a turn when the school year began, when the principal saw her body and deduced that she was pregnant. Hanadi recollects, "The principal screamed at me, staring at my belly, and exclaimed, 'What is this? Terminate her contract right now'."

Hanadi says that after that, she shed many tears, pleading with the administration to allow her to continue working, but her efforts were in vain, and she was eventually dismissed from the school. What makes this even worse was that "I was pregnant with my second child at the time, and my first child was attending the same school that fired me".

In 2009, teacher Hanan moved between three private schools. During her interviews, school principals consistently posed the same question: "Are you pregnant or not?" She says, "They kept provoking me with this question, and I would often leave the interview in frustration."

Nariman Al-Shawahin, the General Coordinator of the "Stand with the Teacher" campaign, stresses that this issue is not new, and these transgressions have been happening for years. She points out that this is a gross violation of women's privacy and dignity, which the Jordanian society strongly rejects as an affront to their dignity.

She expresses her surprise at the actions of some schools at a time when there is a call for the empowerment of women and their economic role in society, especially since female teachers constitute 80% of the workforce in the private education sector.

Complaints regarding pregnancy

The majority of female teachers are afraid of lodging complaints with the Ministry of Labor, fearing that their school administration would become aware of their grievances, despite the assurance of confidentiality. Others feel that filing a complaint is useless, believing that the Ministry would not take action against school owners. A few have submitted complaints, but regrettably, they say these complaints remain unaddressed to this day.

On this matter, Al-Shawahin explains that female teachers resort to the Himaya (protection) platform, affiliated with the Ministry of Labor, to file complaints. However, many of them have faced labor inspectors who simply tell them, "I couldn't do anything". She highlights the lack of specific oversight and mechanisms from the Ministry of Labor for safeguarding the rights of female workers.

"65% of private school owners still treat female teachers as a marginalized class, depriving them of their rights and treating them as if they were slaves"

She also pointed out that 65% of private school owners still treat female teachers as a marginalized class, depriving them of their rights and treating them as if they were "slaves". She remarked, "During contract renewals, female teachers remain silent in order to preserve their labor rights."

As complaints over private schools demanding pregnancy testing surfaced early in 2019, with school owners objecting to childbearing, deeming it disruptive to the educational process, the coordinator of the "Stand with the Teacher" campaign remarked, "If the General Union of Workers in the private sector had a more prominent role, there would be no necessity for launching this campaign."

On the other hand, the head of the Private School Owners' Syndicate emphasized that it's not permissible for anyone to curtail or limit another individual's personal freedom, and he found the school's actions entirely unacceptable. He further commented that requiring female educators to schedule their pregnancies contradicts the law, yet schools resorted to this decision due to the disruption caused by the absence of some teachers who teach essential subjects.

Meanwhile, the head of the Teachers' Committee at the General Union of Private Sector Workers, Louay Al-Rumhi, explained that the role of the union primarily revolves around referring and forwarding the complaints they receive to the relevant authorities at the Ministries of Education and Labor. He categorically termed the actions of the schools as constituting human trafficking.

He underscored that a significant number of female teachers, up to 90%, remain entrenched in a culture of fear, which deters them from lodging formal complaints. He noted, "We deal with whatever issues come our way."

Robbed of motherhood

For Faten, the dream of motherhood has been a cherished aspiration for two years. She has made repeated attempts to conceive through in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, this is a personal matter she keeps concealed from the school where she is employed. She revealed, "The school director informed me verbally that he would prefer if pregnancies did not occur during work semesters."

She also confided that her sense of embarrassment dissuades her from raising a formal complaint, especially after she was subjected to questions about her pregnancy during a job interview. She expressed, "If a school becomes aware that I'm undergoing IVF, they get apprehensive, or if they find out I'm newly married and have not yet conceived."

In this context, legal expert Hamada Abu Najma clarified that there are no legal restrictions on women with regard to pregnancy. Consequently, any imposition related to this matter contradicts the law and represents a form of discrimination in the realm of employment. Should she face termination or harassment for getting pregnant at a time not dictated by the school, it amounts to discrimination in itself.

Abu Najma further elaborated that the salaries of female teachers are paid by the General Social Security Corporation during maternity leave. Additionally, there's the option of hiring substitute teachers in case of any penalties. He emphasized, "Leaves are a legitimate right for workers."

Furthermore, Abu Najma underscored that a teacher can file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor or the Directorate of Private Education at the Ministry of Education while being assured of the confidentiality of the complaint process. He emphasized, "It is the ministry's duty to intervene in case they receive any information, even if formal complaints have not been submitted."

In the same context, Hatem Quteish, the publisher of Jordan's Workers' Union Observer website, elaborates that the absence of unions and the limited role of the Ministry of Education and the Labor Ministry's Inspection Directorate have driven private schools to take more severe steps in violating rights. They do this by issuing written directives. Quteish also highlights that the unions, due to their preoccupation with less crucial issues, have weakened the position of male and female private school teachers. He comments, "We've observed a significant lack of participation by private sector teachers in their union's representatives and elections."

Quteish underscores that the first step toward a resolution lies in reinstating the rights of private sector teachers to their unions and allowing them to elect their representatives. This step would activate the unions' genuine role in protecting the rights of these educators.

Pregnancy and money

Nariman Al-Shawahin, coordinator of the "Stand with the Teacher" campaign, asserts that many private school proprietors prioritize economic circumstances over the well-being of their teachers and staff. This, in turn, contributes to various violations, such as restricting pregnancy or mandating pregnancy tests.

Monther Al-Sourani, the head of the Private School Owners Syndicate, vehemently denies the allegations that private schools are solely driven by profit motives. He argues that schools are essentially profit-based projects and have financial obligations to various government bodies. These financial commitments include insurance, water and electricity bills, bus permits, social security contributions, tax payments, and associated fines.

Most female teachers are afraid of filing complaints with the Labor Ministry, fearing the school administration would know, despite the assurance of confidentiality. Others think that it's useless, believing the ministry wouldn't take action against school owners

Al-Sourani also emphasizes that there is no shame in there being a profit in any private school. These endeavors represent investments in educational projects and are legally protected and regulated.

Local media reported that the director of private education at the Ministry, Rima Zuraiqat, confirmed the rejection of a formal letter issued by a private school to its female teachers. Zuraiqat noted, "For instance, it was possible to convene a meeting with the teachers and discuss the issue without the need for an official letter if the intention was not to disrupt the educational process."

The situation of private school teachers in Jordan remains in limbo, a matter involving three official entities: the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education, and the General Social Security corporation. Jordan houses 3,200 private schools where female teachers have endured issues and pressures related to pregnancy and their bodies for years, all without any response from relevant Jordanian authorities, or repercussions imposed on these schools.

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For years, we have been the stewards of personal freedoms and liberties in the MENA region, and have carefully followed, detailed, and documented their absence and the various attempts at limiting and strangling them, whether it was for political or social reasons. Its time to get off the side walk and take action!

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