The Jordanian Co-Operative Raising Up Female Entrepreneurs
At the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-Operative, a packed lunch spot on the outskirts of Amman, a clowder of cats chase each other across the small outdoor patio while tourists enjoy large portions of traditional Jordanian food such as musakhan (spiced chicken) and magloubet zahra (chicken, rice and cauliflower). But this is so much more than a popular eatery. Established in 1993 by Noor Al Hussein Foundation, Iraq Al-Amir is Jordan’s oldest women’s co-operative and since going fully independent in 2001 it has trained over 150 women who have since gone on to establish businesses – including food establishments – of their own. But as Yusra Al Husami, the president of the co-operative, explains, while it has been rewarding, it hasn’t been easy.
“We’re barely making any profits,” she says. “And what [money] we do have is spent on this place and invested in training the young women.” Unemployment in Jordan for women is around 33% in urban areas and is even higher in rural areas and while many of the co-op’s employees are well educated, getting them into the local, largely agrarian workforce has been difficult. This is why the women have had no choice “but to find their own alternative and not even depend on the government to hire them,” says Al Husami. The co-op, however, isn’t just a job in a restaurant for its 15 employees. The local women there are trained to weave fabrics, craft pottery and soap at a fair wage while gaining practical experience and skills. The Jordan Trail (a popular hiking route) running through the area has now also furnished them with a steady stream of tourists, thereby creating unique opportunities for the female would-be entrepreneurs. “That was the idea, to try and support these ladies and encourage them to develop and create their own ideas so that, in the future, they can be independent and own their own businesses,” says Al Husami.
So whether stopping for lunch, staying in one of their rooms (the co-op has plans to expand its pilot homestay programme in local Ottoman-era homes), or taking a class in papermaking, pottery, or cooking, a visit to Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-Operative will help people to authentically explore Jordanian culture in a way that directly feeds back into the community.
Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based travel journalist who has written for BBC, Thrillist, Shondaland and Marie Claire