How Arab refugee women alleviate poverty through entrepreneurship?

A three year study, across Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, with Arab refugee women from three nationalities, exploring their experiences in alleviating poverty through entrepreneurship.

Amman - Women and children are subject to the worst effects of displacement and refugee movements given their limited power and resources to counteract the ensuing violence and poverty. As a strategy to address the matrix of disadvantages arising from displacement, women’s micro enterprise has become a focal point of contemporary policy interest.


Between 2016 and 2018, the Information and Research Center – King Hussein Foundation participated in a regional project entitled ‘Resilient Refugee Women’ which aimed to gain a deeper, richer and more nuanced understanding of the experiences and empowerment of Arab refugee women displaced from Iraq, Palestine and Syria to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and how they alleviate poverty for themselves, their families and communities through entrepreneurship. The project was in collaboration with Plymouth University (UK), Nottingham University (UK), UDA Consulting (Turkey), and Issam Fares Institute – American University of Beirut (Lebanon) and was funded by the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department International Development (DFID) poverty alleviation programme.


Mixed methods were used to collect data from stakeholders and refugee women in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In addition to focus group discussions with stakeholders, in depth interviews were conducted with refugee women and follow up surveys were carried out with the same women the following year. The combined qualitative and quantitative material and data generated from the refugee women, as well as the stakeholders culminated in a rich triangulated analysis of women’s empowerment, micro entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation, in each and across the three research locations.


The study findings suggest that Arab refugee women in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey were driven to create micro enterprises to overcome the consequences of social and political marginalization including statelessness, economic deprivation and elevated levels of poverty.  Whilst their micro enterprises did not offer solutions to their political marginalization as refugee women, they did enable micro solutions such as marginal poverty alleviation, and enhance independence, self-confidence, resourcefulness, endurance, and skills in negotiating and planning strategically, through which they were able to catalyze change for their children, families and themselves. To this extent, poverty alleviation cannot be measured by financial gains only. 


“81% of the study sample said that business ownership positively affected them as refugee women, and 66.7% said that business positively affected their family responsibilities.”


Without exception, all 125 enterprises within the study sample operated within typically feminised sectors such as baking, catering and food production, traditional crafts, tailoring, embroidery, cosmetics and hairdressing. Despite this, 57.8% of all participants believed they did not have the right to register their businesses because they are refugees.


With regards to experiences of crime and violence within 2017-2018, 28.6% of participants had experienced emotional abuse, 25.2% verbal abuse, 8.4% sexual harassment, 6.5% physical violence, and 1.7% sexual abuse. Husbands and family members were often the perpetrators of the abuse and harassment.


The evidence shows that gender-based violence rehabilitation services should be incorporated within entrepreneurial opportunities and training offered to Arab refugee women in order to make the services easier to access, especially in Jordan where the most verbal and psychological abuse was reported in comparison to Lebanon and Turkey.” Dr. Aida Essaid, the director of IRCKHF said.


Dr. Haya Al Dajani, Principal Investigator, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Mohammed bin Salman College for Business and Entrepreneurship and University of Plymouth, described the impact of the study journey, ending the event on the note that now it is up to the policymakers and practitioners present to turn the research’s recommendations into practices and programs that can have a positive impact on Arab refugee entrepreneur women in Jordan and the region.


The project presented a set of recommendations to improve Arab refugee women’s entrepreneurship such as developing a comprehensive and accessible up-to-date directory of refugee support and services to create awareness about the available support services.