Madaba, Jordan // Ahood Al Amarat cradles her son of nine months in her arms, a quiet moment between mother and child normally seen at home and not during a break from the production line.
The two stand in a colourful room full of cribs, toys and puzzles that keeps Ms Amarat and dozens of Jordanian women from giving up their jobs, and careers.
"If there wasn't a day-care centre, we wouldn't be able to work," Ms Amarat, 27, said. "We would have to choose being a mother over work, even though we need the income."
In Jordan, Mas Kreeda Al Safi Sahab, an apparel manufacturing company for Nike, is showing the way for on-site day care. It wants to prove that childcare facilities can not only break down barriers for Jordanian women, but boost productivity and transform the way people in the country perceive the manufacturing sector.
Women's unemployment in Jordan has been a challenge that has confounded policymakers for years.
Despite high education rates – 70 per cent of unemployed Jordanian women hold a bachelor’s degree – females barely enter the workforce, and when they do, they do not stay for long.
Jordan ranked 144 out of 149 nations in women's economic participation and opportunity despite scoring 45 out of 149 in education for females in the 2018 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index. As of the fourth quarter of last year, 15.2 per cent of Jordanian women were working.
Addressing female employment has become a priority for families across the country, where rising costs of living, increased taxes and government subsidy cuts mean the vast majority of households can no longer rely on a single salary, particularly when the monthly minimum wage is at 220 dinars (Dh1,139).
“Women’s employment is a key to Jordan’s development. Everyone is looking for a job for their daughter, sister or cousin,” said Jawad Anani, a former chief of the royal court who served as minister of state for economic affairs in 2018.
“But existing jobs have lacked the conditions to allow women to be close to home, provide transportation and maintain their family responsibilities, while practising a skill,” he said.
One major obstacle stands out: childcare.
"If you look at women's economic participation, childcare is a major obstacle to women entering in the labour market or staying in the market," said Randa Naffa of Sadaqa, a charity organisation founded in 2011, to advocate for friendly working environments for Jordanian women and families.
For the country's citizens, particularly those outside Amman, family comes first.
But with many families now living away from home, those who would traditionally be caregivers for working mothers are no longer an option right next door. Private day cares can cost from 50 dinars to 100 dinars a month.
According to Sadaqa, Jordanian women’s economic participation peaks at the age of 27 to 28, the average age of marriage, and then sharply drops off.
Under a labour law enacted in 1996, any company with 20 women employees with a combined 10 children or more, is required to provide on-site day care. Under the conditions set out in the law, more than 500 large companies across Jordan qualify. Yet, only a fifth provide registered day-care centres.
Activists say many companies have resisted due to the upfront costs of building a centre and hiring additional staff, strict government specifications and bureaucratic red-tape to get day care licensed.
A Sadaqa study revealed, on-site childcare facilities save employees 52 dinars per month, nearly one-fourth of the Jordanian minimum wage, and can save companies up to 737,000 dinars a year in productivity and time costs.
“Once you put a dollar sign over the concept of childcare and look at the real economic benefits, much more people come on board,” said Reem Aslan of Sadaqa.
When Mas Kreeda began operations in the middle of a rural farming and pastoral village on the outskirts of Madaba, 50 kilometres south of Amman, in 2009, it set out to challenge the view that Jordanians would not work in the manufacturing sector.
Mas Kreeda, a vertical of Mas Holdings, has 14 manufacturing operations for high-performance sportswear in Jordan and Sri Lanka.
By providing transportation, social security and opportunities for upward mobility, it quickly attracted Jordanian workers. Now the factory employs 400 women, many from the surrounding area, to produce Nike women’s sportswear, yoga pants, T-shirts and jackets.
Adding a day-care facility was a logical next step, if a risky one for the company.
“At first we saw a day care as a ‘cost’ centre, now we see it as a profit centre,” says Farhan Ifram, chief executive at Mas Kreeda in Jordan. “We planted the seeds, and now we are seeing the fruits of our labour.”
With financial assistance from Jordan's National Centre for Family Affairs and technical support and guidance from the International Labour Organisation and Sadaqa, in 2017, Mas Kreeda built a 200 square-metre childcare facility with a 100 square-metre outdoor playground.
The childcare centre cost Mas Kreeda Dh414,000 to construct, and the factory has since hired eight full-time women as childcare providers, educators, assistants and nurses to run the centre, which cares for 40 children between the ages of three months and four years.
For Mas Kreeda management, it is an investment that two years later is already paying off.
Employee absenteeism has dropped by 50 per cent, individual productivity has increased and staff turnover has dropped dramatically.
Increased talent retention has been important for Mas Kreeda, as it takes an average of six months for an employee to reach peak efficiency and productivity in their position on the manufacturing line.
Women workers say they are relaxed and focused, free to visit their children on their lunchbreaks or to breastfeed their infants at feeding breaks.
"It is a wise investment, and it is the least we can do to empower women as we are reliant on women as a company and as a society," Mr Ifram says.
“We now see childcare as pivotal to our business.”
Here in rural central Jordan, the only alternative for employees was a makeshift nursery in a woman's home.
Placing a child in the unlicensed nursery costs a family 50 dinars a month, while workers would have to worry about transportation to drop their child off at the nursery before clocking in in the morning.
Should the day-care owner be unavailable, or their child fall ill, everything would “fall apart” and they wouldn’t be able to come in to work. Workers say they feared the unlicensed nursery’s conditions.
Suhair Showara said without Mas Kreeda's childcare, having her first child, Mohammed, would have been a "burden". Her second child, Zeid, eight months, would have been "impossible". "If there was no day-care facility, there is no way I could afford 100 dinars a month for private day care for two children," Ms Showara said. "By the time I got pregnant a second time, I would have had to quit and go sit at home."
Ahlam Sneid, 24, an on-site nurse at Mas Kreeda who is recently married, says she feels "relaxed" about planning children without sacrificing her career.
“Having a day-care facility here provides stability for your future,” Ms Sneid said. “You know you will continue at your workplace and not have to choose between motherhood and career.
“Because both are important,” she said.