After 18 months of training that qualified her to work as a licensed plumber, Jordanian mother Maryam Mutlaq said she felt transformed. The plumbing itself had come easy to Mutlaq, who discovered she loved working with tools soon after beginning a plumbers’ training program funded by the Millennium Challenge Corp., (MCC) a U.S. government aid agency.
But Zarqa, the city where Mutlaq lives, is culturally conservative even by Jordan’s standards. Only 14 percent of women work outside the home in Jordan, and influxes of refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and Syria into Zarqa have driven the city’s unemployment up to 24 percent. Outside the mosque down the street from Mutlaq’s house, local imam, Akram al-Boureini, warns passersby that plumbing is “suitable only for men,” and that by taking on men’s jobs women cause “unemployment and moral corruption.”
While Mutlaq’s husband, Samir, supported her from the start, her four children initially opposed their mother’s new line of work. When Mutlaq arrived at a parent-teacher meeting for her 12-year-old daughter Lara still wearing her green plumber’s work vest, her daughter was so ashamed that she begged, fruitlessly, for her mother to remove it.
By the time Mutlaq graduated from the program, her children had come around. When Mutlaq comes to Lara’s school to replace faucets and install new water tanks, her daughter embraces her in the hallway during a break and tells her she wants to get to work with tools as well.
Actually starting her business, however, remains an obstacle. In order to raise the money she would need to open a business, about $5,700, Mutlaq had hoped to earn a grant from MCC. But she failed to qualify, and for now she’s making money renting out some of her tools, taking on small jobs around her neighborhood, and going out on assignment with one of her brothers, who is also a plumber. She’s applied for another grant, this time from USAID, another U.S. government agency. Whatever happens, Mutlaq said she’s not going back to how things were before.
“This was the chance of a lifetime,” said Mutlaq. “The way I look at life has changed. The way I look at myself has changed, too.”
Read the full story at The Associated Press.