Khaleda Iswed’s driving job for the USAID Health Services Quality Accelerator Activity in Amman, Jordan has opened doors. Photo credit: USAID/Jordan

“We feel like sometimes we are giving up, but I do have faith, and it is never too late to rebuild your life,” says Khaleda Iswed, 50, single mother of nine.

Nine years ago, struggling to support her young children alone, Khaleda tried to sign up to receive national social security and health insurance. Her application was rejected because she had not worked at a registered company and thus did not qualify. At that time, Khaleda had been an independent driving instructor in Amman, Jordan for 20 years.

“The moment I received the rejection I knew that I should change my career to secure a better future for my family and myself. I am a single mother and I have responsibilities.”

Khaleda created a CV and started to apply for driving positions with international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). She got her first interview very quickly but did not make it to the final interview because she is female, and driving is a male-dominated career field in Jordan. “But I am a determined person,” Khaleda added. “I kept searching until I got a job at one of the biggest international NGOs in Jordan.”

Breaking Barriers and Changing Gender Norms

Khaleda’s greatest challenge was the commonly held stereotype in her community that women should not be drivers. Being a female in a male-dominated work environment is not easy.

“Look at the female driver, she thinks she can beat us” is the most familiar statement she hears. Khaleda shared that for nearly eight years, one of her colleagues refused to speak with her because she was female.

“I married when I was 14 years old. I didn’t complete my education and my marriage wasn’t going well. We had seven children and my husband wanted them to drop out of school and work. I didn’t want that to happen. My children are my priority, and I want them to succeed. So I left my husband at that time and moved on.”

Khaleda Iswed, USAID Health Services Quality Accelerator Activity driver, drives with pride. Photo credit: USAID/Jordan

Inspired to Improve

According to Khaleda, working as a driver in the international development sector broadened her horizons and motivated her to grow both personally and professionally. Her English language skills improved, and she was inspired to complete her education.

“I am four semesters away from getting my bachelor’s degree in family reform and guidance. I am proud of all I have achieved.”

Nine months ago, Khaleda joined the URC-led, USAID Health Services Quality Accelerator Activity.

“At the USAID Health Services Quality Accelerator Activity, we have prioritized equal opportunities in our hiring goals,” said Natalie Batshon, Director of Finance and Operations at the Activity. “We are challenging gender norms by having a female driver and contributing to transformative change of how the community perceives women and their roles,” she added.

Khaleda has gained a lot of confidence. She explained, “I feel secure in my career. I have a decent income, health insurance, and my work is improving my future social security. In addition, I feel at home here. I can truly be myself here and I learn from everyone.”

Khaleda’s dream is for every female in Jordan to have a safe and welcoming work environment – an environment that does not judge a career choice based on gender. She hopes her success will encourage other females to follow their dreams.