Mar 11, 2021

International Women's Day: Strengths, Challenges

The participants of the International Women's Day
The participants of the International Women's Day

On the 8th of March, the US Embassy of Israel hosted a webinar entitled “International Women's Day: The Middle East & The Abraham Accords” in partnership with the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, The Embassy of Bahrain, and the Embassy of Morocco. The webinar consisted of a panel of expert diplomats to discuss the role women have played in peacemaking efforts and decision-making. This event was organized not only to celebrate and appreciate the important role that women play in their countries but also to drive conversations that will help advance the involvement of women even further.

His Excellency Gilad, Ambassador of Israel to the United States and the United Nation, initiated the discussion. He reflected on the importance of the role that women play in reaching peace especially, in positions that enable them to take part in the decision-making process. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is still much work to be done as a shared commitment to achieving gender equality. He also aims that the current partnership/ “friendship” between his country and the Arab countries that are part of The Abraham Accords can only serve as the start of more exchange and a mutual learning opportunity where countries learn from each other’s experiences regarding women’s empowerment.

His Excellency’s introduction was followed by a speech from Her Highness Lalla Joumala, Moroccan Ambassador to the United States. She described International Women’s Day as a bittersweet event that recognizes women empowerment’s efforts while also making us aware of the challenges and hardships that women face on a regular basis, especially this year where the consequences of COVID-19 had a greater impact on women. Her Highness recognized the efforts and the advancement that countries were executing to achieve gender equality, and she described these efforts as core steps that will lead to meaningful participation of women in all fields.

Lynn, Deputy Director for Public Policy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, moderated the panel. She started the discussion by inquiring about the key motivation that inspired the panelists to pursue their careers as diplomats. Tammy Ben Haim, Minister for Public Diplomacy, Embassy of Israel to the United States responded first, “I actually didn’t want to become one. Both of my parents were diplomats, and I knew exactly the hardships and the challenges that a diplomat faces and I really thought about pursuing a more family-oriented career. But later on, I decided that I wanted to become a diplomat but not before I discovered who I am first... and that resulted in me joining at an older age compared to my parents.”

The following question was about the challenges and obstacles that faced women in diplomacy. This time Shaima, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, responded. She stated that the main challenge women face in a male-dominated environment is having a strong voice in decision-making and not being taken seriously because of being younger than male colleagues. In this case, proving yourself can be mistaken for a lack of respect toward elders which can be a belief resulting from the culture itself.

As the discussion progressed, the moderator asked Yousif, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of The Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, about the contribution of women to the fight against Covid-19. He stated that in Bahrain 70% of the health care workforce are women: doctors, nurses, assistants, and researchers. Women are not only contributing to the fight, they are leading it. His answer was supported by Rose Saqr, Trade Representative, Embassy of The Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, who stated that women’s ability to multi-task has enabled them to play an integral role in the fight. Since the health minister of Bahrain is a woman and the vaccine research team consists of women and men equally, they are contributing more and more as they are included in the decision-making process.

A follow-up question of how Covid-19 affected specifically women was asked and the response was provided by both Shaima and Tammy, who agreed that women had to take on having more responsibilities during the pandemic compared to men. Women needed to find the balance between their professional workload, their children’s school duties, and their responsibilities as moms, while also dealing with the social pressure if they got distracted doing any of these tasks. 

They also highlighted the fact that most healthcare and education workers are women, which results in putting them at a higher risk every day as their jobs cannot be done from home or via emails, leaving their families for a long period of time which can only add the already existing stress that women face. These facts can drastically contribute to the number of women facing depression and anxiety. 

This point opens the door to the discussion about the role of NGOs and institutions that can help women overcome these challenges by supporting, empowering, and inspiring them to aim for careers and positions that are dominated by men. Help them dream and strive to achieve more, and most importantly encourage them to believe in themselves and in the important role that they play in their societies.

HAF’s Approach to Women’s Empowerment

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is committed to supporting and contributing to the empowerment of women by delivering four-day Imagine Women’s Empowerment workshops with women in remote areas. During these participatory approach workshops, women can reflect on different aspects of their lives including self-responsibility, self-esteem, self-confidence, and the positive behaviors that help them identify their dreams and ambitions. 

Through sessions about Moroccan Moudawana (family code), they become more aware of their legal rights, which often the women do not have any idea about.  Women also learn about financial independence, which HAF helps them to achieve through initiating a discussion about project planning that will enable them to start their cooperatives. Reaching out to and empowering women from around Morocco regardless of their education, financial levels is HAF’s contribution to gender equality.     

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, HAF has conducted women’s empowerment workshops with nearly 875 women since 2016. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to learn more about the women who benefit from these life-changing experiences. 

The participants of the International Women's Day
The participants of the International Women's Day
Mar 8, 2021

FENELEC: Renewable Energy in a Community-Interfait

Renewable Energy in a Community-Interfaith Nursery
Renewable Energy in a Community-Interfaith Nursery

On February 28, 2021, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) inaugurated an eco-friendly, solar energy water system for irrigation at the Akrich Nursery. HAF inaugurated the pump alongside the National Federation of Electricity, Electronics, and Renewable Energies (FENELEC) near the town of Tameslouht in the Al Haouz Province. Akrich, one of HAF’s 12 organic fruit tree nurseries, was constructed on land that was provided by the local Moroccan Jewish community. 

This nursery grows 35,000 seeds every year since 2012 that will, upon maturation, be distributed to farming communities, schools, and women’s associations around Morocco as part of HAF’s initiative to plant millions of trees for increased environmental awareness, sustainable agriculture efforts, and economic empowerment.

The event started with a welcoming word from HAF president Dr. Yossef. He welcomed each guest, recognizing that though they may come from different cultures and communities, they share the same love for Morocco and the same interest in planting trees. The event attendees were then invited on a tour of the grounds, allowing them to have a clearer picture of how this community-led nursery has an impact on the surrounding community. 

After the tour, Moulay Hassan, HAF Country Director, introduced the partners who have made this project such a success. First and foremost was FENELEC’s President, Mr. Ali. We are grateful to our partner FENELEC for donating the system and for their commitment to promoting renewable energies in Morocco. He also extended HAF’s gratitude to USAID and the Farmer-to-Farmer program for sending US experts to Morocco to help farmers overcome problems that they face in agriculture around Morocco. Next, he recognized HAF’s partnerships with Moroccan institutions such as the Ministry of Water and Forests, The Ministry of Education that support the High Atlas foundation to be actively involved in achieving Morocco’s vision.

Hajiba, HAF Program Coordinator spoke next, emphasizing the importance of trees both as an action to fight climate change and as an opportunity that creates a source of income, independence, and job opportunities in marginalized communities. She also introduced HAF’s recent nursery opening in Ouarzazate. This nursery is HAF’s 12th community-managed nursery; it was also created in a partnership with the Moroccan Jewish Community. Hajiba finished her speech by noting that “projects like these nurseries are the ones that continue to exist and serve as an investment toward the next generation even after one’s death.”

Inaugurating the Solar Pump

Dr. Yossef, FENELEC’s President, Mr. Ali, and the representative of the Moroccan Jewish Communities in Akrich celebrated the inauguration of the solar water pumping system together, pushing the start button for the first time. All of the partners and the individuals that contributed to this project were invited to join in a group photo to mark the occasion. 

The picture was followed by a breakfast that was organized to serve as an opportunity to share food and discussions among the guests, HAF staff, FENELEC staff, the representatives of the Wilaya of Marrakech- Safi, and members of the Moroccan Jewish Community. 

During breakfast, Dr. Yossef  spoke again about the importance of community and partnership in interfaith initiatives. His speech consisted of words of gratitude and appreciation toward all the attendees. He recognized HAF’s partners for their commitment and engagement in all the processes of the project as well as their willingness to collaborate and engage in turning future projects into reality. The core of his speech highlighted the unity of Moroccans, regardless of their culture and beliefs, and their interest in a common goal which is a leading Morocco. The speech ended with an agreement between the speakers and attendees that “We are all siblings; we are all Moroccan.”

As the event came to a close, Dr. Yossef gifted all the partners with small carpets. These gifts served as a symbolic thank you while also celebrating the products of a Women Cooperative in Akrich that was created in partnership with HAF as part of our women’s empowerment initiatives. 

As a final gesture of gratitude for interfaith and multicultural projects, HAF distributed 6,000 trees to farmers who came from the local village as support and encouraged them to start planting fruit trees as a means of economic empowerment. The HAF team also planted a tree in the Name of Mr. Ali Fathers as a way of showing gratitude towards Mr. Ali and FENELEC’s support.

Renewable Energy in a Community-Interfaith Nursery
Renewable Energy in a Community-Interfaith Nursery
Mar 8, 2021

The Ascendency and Mainstay of Participatory Development

The Ascendency and Mainstay of Participatory Devel
The Ascendency and Mainstay of Participatory Devel

Participatory community movements found a contemporary impetus in post-World War II reconstruction of Europe and decolonization, primarily in Africa. The approach of locally managed change, however, was highly distrusted during these initial years, during which the dominant view was that central-level policy makers are in a better position than the people to make highly productive decisions regarding development projects.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed under the leadership of President John Kennedy, marked an attempt to de-link U.S. development assistance from the nation’s military, political, and economic interests. The Act emphasized “maximum participation” on the part of the people in their own development.

Subsequent decades have shown that market-based models for growth, while generating higher levels of economic activity, also created dependency in developing nations as their economies became increasingly structured to meet the consumption needs of other countries. The participatory approach, which at this time was widely considered an alternative to achieve improved livelihoods, became more desirable by thought leaders and communities that felt that their futures had become a reflection of outside nations’ priorities rather than their own autonomous ones.

By the 1990s, this people’s driven methodology for sustainable community development became mainstream. The focus shifted toward designing the interactive activities to be conducted in order to help local groups in analyzing their past, opportunities, and visions for a better reality that they seek.

Over the past decade, there have been more nations seeking ways to institutionalize the participatory method for development. Local and national charters, programs and frameworks to advance the liberation of women, freedoms for the advancement of civil society organizations, constitutions, and in legally codified requirements are all intended to ultimately be upheld by elected officials and the general public. For countries who are also becoming increasingly amenable to decentralized management systems, their tasks are shifting from creating national policies that enact participatory principles to one of fulfilling these statutory requirements.

Thus, from generations past of participatory activism being distrusted by the mainstream and its gradual growth due to dissatisfaction with market-based solutions imposed by wealthy countries, we have now reached a common understanding that public participation is a, if not the, primary factor of sustainable livelihoods. In most recent decades, participatory requirements have become embedded in institutions. In the decade to come, we face the awesome, grueling, and even existential challenge of finally fulfilling the participation of the people across localities and across nations of the world.

What will be vital in this regard is to constantly improve activities that enable people to act together toward goals that they have defined as a group. Those activities become conducive and efficacious when they are drawn from disciplines and contexts from around the world and adapted to specific situations.

The necessity is that communities gather to discuss their ideas and plans to reach consensus on projects related to agriculture, water, and other essentials of life. These plans are then backed by critical financial sources from all society sectors.

This timeline characterizes the past and present in broad terms. There were participatory pioneers in much earlier decades and centuries, and there are suppressants today, such as those nations that constrict civil organizations and bind women and girls to intolerable controls. These general trends and outlier experiences are informative so that we may be more precise in how we enact participatory movements in all places where they are needed.

Let us hope that the next ten years fulfill the participatory ideal that has been intensifying across all different outlets in order for their sustainable benefits, including prosperity, to be present in our lives.

Dr. Yossef is President of the High Atlas Foundation, which is an implementer of the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco.

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