Uncertain livelihoods in refugee environments: between risk and tradition for Syrian refugee women in Jordan

Holly A Ritchie

Type: Jordan, Research Reports

Date: 02/03/2017

Full summary


As the war in Syria enters its sixth year, there are now over 5 million Syrian refugees scattered across neighbouring countries and beyond. In Jordan, the high influx of refugees has overwhelmed public services and sparked local economic discontent, prompting the government to restrict refugees’ engagement in formal or informal employment. Whilst the Jordan Compact in 2016 made new efforts to open up economic opportunities for Syrian refugees, an expanded approach is now urgently needed to allow both Jordan, and refugees – especially marginalised groups, such as women – to thrive.

This paper examines the emerging economic activities, institutional dynamics, and key social trends of Syrian women refugees in Jordan.


Key findings include:

  • Significant numbers of Syrian women have been propelled into (informal) paid work, boosting women’s economic roles within their families as they assume new responsibilities as breadwinners. However, women’s economic empowerment rests on fragile foundations, as cultural attitudes within and outside the household hinder their work and safety;
  • Syrian women typically engage in individual, piecemeal work without the opportunity to scale up due to further fear of being detected by the authorities;
  • Local intimidation, inexperience and poor finances pose additional challenges for women wishing to engage in work;
  • For young women, early marriage appears to have increased – in part precipitated by family protection as well as the poor quality of local education available – and this limits present and future work opportunities.


A briefing paper based on this research, Towards inclusion and integration? Syrian refugee women’s fragile new livelihoods in Jordan, is available to download here.