Occasional Paper Series: Vocational Programs for Refugee Women: More than Sewing Classes?

Several organizations have established vocational and cash-for-work programs (e.g. knitting, soap making, and sewing classes) to create opportunities for Syrian refugee women to earn a living in Jordan and other neighboring countries. At first glance, these programs seem to address the many issues that plague refugee women by providing both economic and psychosocial support.

This paper will argue that despite the immediate benefits, vocational and cash-for-work programs perpetuate gender roles, building specifically on the gender division of labor, and do not challenge normative conceptions of “appropriate” work for women in the long-term.

This research advocates for the restructuring of such programming to incorporate women’s voices, to involve both men and women in the empowerment of women, and to develop less gendered projects. By tapping into the expertise of refugee women, these programs can empower women and their families in the long run and avoid perpetuating and sustaining normative gender roles. 

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