Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

by High Atlas Foundation
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Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

Whenever I sleep outside, I feel like an infant again. There is something so nurturing, so maternal, about the night sky. The cool air swaddles me. The stars and moon tentatively poke through the dark—like a blinking monitor or a parent’s eye. The sounds of the evening have a steadier lull to them than their daytime counterparts.

Last night, street noises and sirens composed my lullaby. I have been thinking a lot about home recently. Usually this time in the summer, I am resting under the dessert sky, the river and coyotes singing me to sleep. Last night’s sleep on the Marrakech patio was no better or worse than one in the heart of a Utah canyon, just different.

As I draft this journal at the Imagine workshop, a mother’s feet rest tenderly on my chair, her toes just grazing my legs. She is nursing a little boy, no older than three months. It is almost six o’clock, they have been here all day. This baby and I, we have a lot in common, I think. He looks so confused with his surroundings, not old enough to speak, he is a silent observer. In all the confusion, all the detachment from conversation, he must trust that there is love in the room for him, that he is genuinely cared for by the women in this space, that he and the women are on the same side, and that their knowledge will protect him, with patience, and understanding when his nativity and helplessness lets on. Well, at least that’s how I feel, perhaps the baby is not as sentient. Perhaps he really is just a gummed mouth and underdeveloped brain. He is crying now. Perhaps he is too sentient, perhaps he has eyes on my laptop. Sorry baby. I hope I did not make you cry. I should give you more credit for the wisdom you possess.

I could cry too, really. This week has been so tiring, I feel like I have been birthed over and over, the world keeps making itself new to me. There is something deeply vulnerable about being in a state of confusion. Sitting through almost 40 hours of untranslated dialogue, I realize how much I like to contribute to conversation; I rely on spoken communication to build connection. Talking is a way I validate my presence; it is how I work through understanding exactly how and why I am positioned in a space. Aware that I have no idea what is going on, insecure that other people will find me out and ridicule my cluelessness, I feel like a little kid again—all I want to do is be taken seriously and sit at the adult table, though lord knows what mispronunciation will leave my mouth once I am seated. I need to take myself less seriously, accept that vulnerability is akin beautifully and inevitably to newness. Sometimes, I am bound to be the baby whose hand is held, who needs instruction on how to eat the couscous, who needs to ask for repetition of a simple phrase five times before being able to clumsily regurgitate it, who has no articulate pulse on why women next to me are crying. I struggled with that this week; I credit a lot of my intellect to emotional intelligence, so witnessing such profound emotions without any locatable understanding of their prompts was difficult. I tried writing about this feeling in my personal journal but got stuck.

Last night though, I woke on the balcony at 3:00 in the morning. It was surprisingly cold, and a single bird landed on the railing of a stoop parallel to mine. The clouds above had dispersed a bit—stars and the moon exposed, I thought of how my mom used to tuck me in, looking down upon me with the same warmth and wandering purpose as these cosmos. Thinking of the sky and maternity, I fumbled for my journal and pen, and wrote a note to myself which I have reread many times today:

“it would be easy to spin stories about why these women were crying, or what they were specifically saying with such passion this week; letting their tears simply be tears, accepting their emotion without mining for explanation, requires intention and mindfulness. Sometimes, I just must take things as they are, and let that be enough. I have to work with what I do understand—signals of sadness, grief, and release, and end the writing there.”

I guess I will end the writing there, searching for clarity and meaning in my saturated lack of understanding, but also recognizing that translation is a nuanced force. Just like the infant who has now seized crying, maybe I possess a deeper perception of this room than is acknowledged.

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When most people think about the Farmer-to-Farmer program they think about increasing productivity or selling more products or planting more trees.  But when I think about the Farmer-to-Farmer program, I think about women and friendship and smiles.

Last month, the Farmer-to-Farmer program hosted a marketing and business volunteer from Northern California. Our assignment was to visit two cooperatives and train them in writing a Scope of Work Statement.  And yes, we accomplished that. But something as important or maybe even more important is the friendships we made and the smiles that we shared.

I had the opportunity to work with Anne, a volunteer from Northern California. She’s a business specialist and was here in Morocco to work with the cooperatives. Just as is spelled out in her Scope of Work, she did, in fact, impart her knowledge with members of the cooperatives.

But she left so much more than that. During her time here, we became friends. We laughed together and discovered that we have so much in common. Even though there is an age gap  of more than fifty years between us, and we come from different cultures, we shared a journey and now are friends.

I invited Anne to stay at my house and see how a real Moroccan family lives. We dressed up in my mother’s wedding dress, ate homemade donuts, played a game with my brother and sisters, and walked to my family’s farm.

While I realize that she is here for work and needs to write a trip report, her time with me, my family, and the women of the cooperative was equally important. Sharing her family stories with us and us sharing our family stories with her will be with me forever. When I think of her and our time together, I will smile. And just as importantly, when Anne thinks of her trip to Morocco, she will remember our time together and smile, too.

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In the fourth week of February, the Farmer to Farmer team member paid a visit to the 3éme Millénaire Agricultural Cooperative which takes place in Douar Kriziza, Bourous Rural Commune, Rehamna Province. 

The 3éme Millénaire cooperative focuses mainly on making different types of couscous based on organic products such as barley, wheat, corn, quinoa, rice, and beans. This co-op is composed of 32 women occupying different areas. Hafida, the co-op president, explained that she created the cooperative in 2008, and they initially worked in one of the members' houses. Years later, they were granted land by the authorities of Bourous commune where they built the cooperative in which they work today. 

The cooperative has participated in national and international agricultural events where they exposed their products and animated workshops on how to make couscous. They have also received grants from different agencies, which helped buying materials and products to use in their daily work.

The cooperative has an agreement with a well-known supermarket in Morocco, yet the president is not happy about the price. She explained that she set a low price at the beginning in order to encourage this supermarket to purchase the products. 

When asked about the ultimate goal of the 3éme Millénaire co-op, Hafida replied that she hopes every Moroccan house will get a chance to try their couscous. Therefore, she thinks she needs to work more on the commercialization of their products. The Farmer to Farmer team will happily go over the possible modern ways to expand the commercialization of their products.

This visit was concluded by a lunch where we were served different types of couscous.

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The HAF Family Literacy in Beni Mellal Khenifra team met on February, 7 2022 with the president of the community of Boulenouar, and they were warmly welcomed to discuss the objectives of the program. They were eager to help the team members connect with one of the local women's cooperatives, specifically the director of the women's club, Mrs. Fatima, who was joined by Mr. Yassine, a young man who heads another women's cooperative and works with his friend in marketing for it. He expressed excitement about the opportunity for the women to benefit from the project and informed the team members about the problems he has encountered in getting men to accept women going to work in the co-op. For this reason, he wants the members of his cooperative to join the literacy program.

Later the same day, they had a meeting with the head of department in Khouribga, the Caïd of Khouribga and the Caïd of Boulenouar. They discussed the main objectives of the High Atlas Foundation’s program in partnership with the European Union, which is to eradicate illiteracy and help women achieve empowerment. The local authorities liked this program because such programs allow us to fight strongly against illiteracy in the rural communities of Morocco. The Caïd of Boulenouar agreed to organize a meeting that brings the team together with women who aspire to create a cooperative.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the High Atlas Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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Over 12 percent of humanity contributes to one of the 3 million cooperatives on the planet. Cooperatives not only stimulate local economies, but also act as a vehicle for bringing opportunity and profit to people worldwide who otherwise would not be actors in the formal sector of the economy. This tangible empowerment is perhaps best embodied by the female cooperatives in Al Haouz province, Morocco.

This progress, though commendable and remarkable, is just the first step. The path to sustainable development is not easily achieved. Through their partnership and work with the High Atlas Foundation and Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program, the cooperatives of Al Haouz province were given the skills training necessary to grow tremendously. They embody what is possible with this support and facilitation of development.

Most women in these cooperatives could not read or write, but now they are taking literacy classes at the co-op and are able to maintain their revenues, expenses, or costs through the F2F record-keeping assignments.

However, the COVID-19 crisis disrupted the value chains for these women’s cooperatives in Morocco. The ensuing government-mandated national quarantine has disrupted them as well, leaving women and their families without reliable sources of income. Moreover, due to restricted physical mobility, the local markets have been closed, making access to commercial platforms impossible. “We thought about using E-marketing, but it was difficult for us, we had to be supported so we could directly sell our products through online platforms to minimize financial losses,” explains Malika from Aljamaane cooperative, located in the Setti Fadma rural municipality in the Al Haouz province.It is a cooperative with low potential and therefore easily suffered significant losses. However, the women did not stop producing Moroccan couscous and herbs.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, with the weekly local markets closed, it was very difficult for us to find a solution to sell our products,” adds a member of Aljamaane cooperative. "When a young man from our village agreed and volunteered to sell our products outside of the rural area. We were able to sell and to negotiate product prices with clients through him, allowing us to take advantage of this unique opportunity under difficult circumstances” she concludes.

Despite the pandemic, members of the women-led cooperative Aboughlou continue working on preparing Moroccan cookies, baked foods, and dried plants, with the approval of local authorities, while respecting physical distancing and other prevention measures to stop the spread of the virus.

The cooperative started in 2016 with 10 women from one village. Now, there are 30 women from five different villages actively participating.

The women that comprise this cooperative grow Calendula, Saffron, Rose geranium, Verbena…, among other herbs that are well known for their health benefits. These herbs are then bought by health food, grocery and cosmetic stores as well as herbalists, delicatessens, and others. However, preventive lockdown measures led to the closure of the cooperative's nursery, and its drying and packaging units, thus interrupting the value chain and, with it, the sustainability of the cooperative's income-generating activities. If these women stopped working in their cooperative and nursery, an entire season’s worth of labour and yield would go to waste.

The Amzarou cooperative in Tidili Messfioua, a municipality in the Al Haouz Province, faces similar challenges as Aljamaan. “Climate constraints and the COVID-19 crisis taught women in Tidili Messfioua to not depend solely on a single agricultural activity,” explains Sanae, secretary of the Amzarou Cooperative, where women are particularly concerned about their barley and olive harvest. “To be able to meet their financial needs, women must diversify their agricultural activities to include livestock, mixed farming, plant production and even ecological tourism.”

In response to this situation, the Amzarou cooperative, recently established in 2020 by local women, took a bold chance after an Imagine workshop organized by HAF to create the cooperative and produce pastries. Currently, they have started working on multi-production by adding new activities like verbena production and preparing for poultry farming to obtain a good collection of eggs intended for marketing. The Amzarou cooperative have become able to work along the entire agro-ecological chain, from cultivation and production to transformation, packaging and commercialization thanks to the F2F volunteers who worked with them. These women truly set an example of what is possible when given support and opportunity.

While the pandemic exposes and exacerbates different forms of inequalities and vulnerabilities, it also makes clear that women are actors of change and are capable of responding to a crisis of such magnitude.

When considering all these astonishing circumstances, it is obvious these women, who are successfully managing their own well-established cooperatives, are extraordinary exceptions. But that should not be the case. It is just and right to commend the women of these cooperatives, but the ladies of the cooperatives Aljamaane, Aboughlou and Amzarou are a much-needed reminder not only of what is possible but of what should be.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
$30,239 raised of $50,000 goal
149 donations
$19,761 to go
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