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

Women’s empowerment is a key to having a successful and bright future for Morocco. The IMAGINE Program’s main objective is to help women discover what they want most in life. So what is exactly the IMAGINE workshop? How do we empower girls and women in Morrocan rural areas?

The IMAGINE program is a trip of self-discovery with women over the course of four full days. Each day has a specific format consisting of four modules divided into seven areas: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work, and discovery.

Twenty Women’s Empowerment Workshops in Al Haouz, Morocco

During the final weeks of 2020, Amina El Hajjami,High Atlas Foundation (HAF) Director of Projects, conducted two IMAGINE women’s empowerment workshops, funded by the U.S Embassy in Morocco. This project, managed by Mina Alaoui Kamal and Moulay Hassan Aladlouni as Project Managers, aims to bolsterring women’s development in rural areas .

The first workshop took place in the village of Sidi Ali O Fares in the Setti Fadma commune, where ten women participated. The second workshop was held in the village of Achbaro, in the Tameslouht commune of the Al Haouz province, with an additional ten women.

Imane Akhezzan and I accompanied Amina as apprentices for the two workshops. After one year of observation and training, we will be able to conduct our first women’s empowerment workshops in the future, helping HAF spread its work even further into Morocco.

The first day is spent getting acquainted with the empowerment program. The women begin the workshop breaking the ice with introductions and activities to feel comfortable with one another and with the HAF facilitators before diving into more intimate topics.

From there, the participants delve into a trip of self-discovery and personal growth. Culturally, it is not common to speak about emotions in Morocco, so the workshop starts by helping the participants build the vocab to speak about their feelings and have the confidence to do so aloud. Facilitators highlight many new concepts that are built upon through the subsequent days of the workshop: self-esteem, confidence, growing age, goals, and affirmations, among others.

Planting Seeds of Empowerment

Using imagery that parallels HAF’s goal to increase economic empowerment in Morocco through planting endemic fruit trees, participants of the women’s empowerment workshops begin to understand the importance of nurturing their inner selves. They come to understand the law of attraction: manifesting what you desire within yourself to achieve it in your life. It is the same principle that allows a seed planted in the ground to attract all the nutrients from the soil that it needs in order to grow.

Through the early stages of the workshop, the women discover their “internal soil.” If the soil is fertile, they can plant seeds that will grow healthy and strong, helping them to reach their goals and desires. One way to ensure a healthy internal soil is to identify the “limiting beliefs” (challenges, obstacles, and cultural/personal beliefs) that hold one back from nurturing a healthy soil.

These first parts of the workshop teaches the participants how to transform the limiting beliefs and behavior patterns that are causing difficulties, watering seeds instead of weed, and instead direct these new creative energies toward achieving what they really want—from a healthier body to better relationships; from material success to a richer spiritual life. Facilitators do this by asking targeted questions:

  • How can they free themselves from any limitations?
  • How can they create dreams and achieve them?
  • What are the materials they need to reach their desired achievements?
  • How can they be brave and face the reality of making a life that they want most?

Another important concept of the workshop is identifying one’s weaknesses as well as one’s source of strength. Drawing upon sources of strength helps fertilize your inner soil. After attending these workshops, I’ve come to believe that many of us do not think to identify the source of the strength. However, they play an important role to help in advancing in life.

We should ask ourselves this question: What allows me to feel powerful in my life? There are seven sources of power: commitment, discipline, support system, inner guidance, lightness, love, finding your own truth. The facilitators do an exercise with the participants in order to access their depth, discover these sources or strength, weakness points, and testing the internal soil. They gain the tools to continue working on them to change to them better.

During the following days, Amina built upon this foundation, focusing on each of the different modules: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work.

Personal Reflections on the Women’s Empowerment Workshops

As the workshop comes to a close, the women state their affirmations, declaring the goals they’ve set for themselves and identifying what it will take to reach them using the four steps:

  • Where am I at in the process of achieving what I want?
  • Where do I want to get?
  • What are the limited beliefs that are holding me back?
  • Am I satisfied with the goal I’ve set for myself?

I am still stuck with my first workshop memories when I was a volunteer at HAF, thanks to Dr. Yossef Ben- Meir who guided me to attend it. I have always believed in the IMAGINE program. It has a magical power in changing women’s lives for the better in four days. Here are some testimonials from the workshops that I found to be quite profound:

“I am Malika, a defense lawyer standing in court.“

“I will pray the fajr (morning prayer) on time.“

“I am the strong Fatima. I saved enough money to do the holy Pilgrimage.“

“I am in good health and without obsession. “

HAF’s Approach to Women’s Empowerment in Morocco

Through the IMAGINE program, HAF aims to develop citizens' agency and voice, especially of women, through personal empowerment, fostering change-agents who build environments that promote democracy and guarantee freedom.

Thanks to support from USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program and the US Embassy in Morocco, in 2020 alone, 73 women and youth in the Guercif, Berkane, and Al Haouz provinces of Morocco took part in HAF’s women’s empowerment workshops. The IMAGINE program is not limited only to women. HAF staff have led these workshops with men and youth, as well. Since 2016, a total of 836 participants have benefited from this empowerment program: 627 adults and 209 youth.

When you donate to women’s empowerment initiatives in Morocco, you contribute towards developing community-led sustainable social, economic, and political stability for all in Morocco.

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On Saturday, November 14, 2020, the newly inducted cohort of student clinicians in the Legal Clinic housed at University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah’s Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences in Fes attended one of several training sessions organized by the High Atlas Foundation that is designed to prepare them to become clinicians who provide pro bono legal aid to marginalized populations in the Fes-Meknes region. The training was facilitated by an expert and researcher in the field of immigration and asylum, at the doctoral center at the Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences.

The training began by defining the legal framework of migration law in Morocco and the articles that govern it. The facilitator gave an overview of the immigration situation in Morocco as well providing context with statistics. The facilitator shared that approximately 6 million Moroccan immigrants live abroad while Morocco is home to approximately 50,000 irregular migrants and 85,000 regular migrants. There are 1663 asylum seekers registered in Morocco.

The facilitator highlighted the importance of the protection of migrant workers, citing that 3.2% of Morocco’s population are immigrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. The fragile position of immigrants was also discussed during this session -- the facilitator pointed out the difficulties that a migrant will face in a host country. He cited Laws 143 and 97, which provide protective solutions and have been revised according to the needs of immigrants. He also noted Law 118, which sets a provision for equality and fair treatment for migrants in Morocco.

Another key point addressed during this training was the increase in clandestine migration to Europe through Morocco. The facilitator discussed Morocco’s situation as a major crossing point into Europe for irregular migrants, which simultaneously increases the risk of terrorism. Due to the fact that Morocco is a transit country for irregular migrants, Morocco has been transformed into a “gendarme” for Europe, thus experiencing increased pressure. Morocco has partnered with European countries, such as Spain, to work towards decreasing the number of irregular migrants leaving Morocco.

Having addressed the general topic of migration, Mr. El Makouti then discussed asylum in Morocco. According to the international and national framework related to migration and asylum, Articles 26 and 29 grant the right for pregnant women and children to seek asylum in Morocco. The facilitator also discussed the severe financial and custodial penalties for irregular migrants and those who organize irregular migration. He also discussed the convention in 1961 that stipulated the right to statelessness, which is a special protocol that serves as the basis for the acquisition of nationality in Morocco.

This technical training is crucial in the preparation of student clinicians' work in advising local communities on legal matters, Morocco’s migrant community in particular. Learn more about how you can support their efforts here.

The High Atlas Foundation is working in partnership with the Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences at the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (USMBA) in Fes to operate and grow a Law Clinic and Legal Aid program which actively engages students in experiential and service learning for the benefit of marginalized communities in the Fes-Meknes region. The project is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

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On October 28th, 2020, the University of Hassan II in partnership with Stevens Initiative launched a webinar on Women's Leadership: Driving Change. Dr. Driss, Delegate Minister of Higher Education, opened the webinar by introducing and welcoming the participants as well as the audience. The webinar was mainly about finding ways to empower women and create more opportunities for them. The President of Hassan II University started her speech by highlighting the importance of such webinars, and she encouraged everyone to be involved in them more often in order to give women the opportunity to engage and be heard.

The participants enriched the conversation by sharing their own stories and how they became leaders in their societies. The common point between all female speakers was that they were the first to occupy high positions in their small communities. Such stories inspire not only women but everyone out there to take action and make a change in society. The webinar was a chance to remind women of their worth and capabilities in changing their economic situations by changing their attitudes first and pursuing their goals.

This message of women’s empowerment is the key to the work being done by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). HAF invests in women’s empowerment by providing workshops to women in rural areas and helping them develop their own projects. The programs provided by HAF do not stress the economic issues alone, but they also include all topics that will be of help to women like emotions, body, work, and spirituality.

As a member of the audience and a volunteer in HAF, I thank my mentor and professor Abdelkader for the invitation. It was a great platform to meet different people from different countries who are willing to discuss this interesting topic and provide many opportunities for women to act as leaders in Moroccan society.

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During the last week of September, the Center for Middle East Studies at Brown University organized a conference on “Decolonization, Development and State Building in North Africa”. The panels were facilitated by Ph.D. researchers who are interested in the North African region.

The panel “Family Planning and Maghrebi Demography: between National Development and Transnational Collaboration” was facilitated by Amy, Associate Professor of Middle East History and affiliated faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University.

The panel focused on how lowering the birth rate has become the focus of North African governments. It discussed how larger families have started to be seen as a threat to the economic growth of countries such as Morocco and Tunisia, which has led to the inclusion of family planning in development plans. Demographic growth is also considered a cause of poverty in countries with a limited economy, further encouraging the promotion of family planning.

However, this introduction to family planning was considered an intervention in family life and exertion of control over the female body on behalf of the government. Many families didn’t cooperate with the change as they felt that their freedom was limited based on the economic level of the country.

To overcome this challenge, Morocco, for example, decided to include family planning in its medical system and training of new medical staff. As they started to raise awareness about birth control among women during their visits to the local hospitals, they also provided birth control supplies to ensure equitable access for all families.

Despite some resistance to family planning, Morocco is one of the leading countries in the MENA region in terms of contraceptive use, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Contraceptive use has rapidly increased among rural and urban women due to its accessibility. The World Bank showed that the percentage of Moroccan women using modern contraceptives reached 70.8% in 2017 and increased to 86.6% in 2019. These numbers are considered very promising as the median percentage of prevalence of any form of contraception was 36.7% according to the UN’s World Fertility and Family Planning Index.

In general, family planning is beneficial for each member of the family, as having a big gap between each delivery enables the mother to regain her health, spend more time and give all her focus to her newborn baby until they are more independent. Family planning also allows the mother to dedicate time for her own personal development.

The father also benefits from the advantages of family planning in a traditional, nuclear family, as it lightens the burden of providing financial support for his family because he has a smaller family. A planned family can also mean that the father will not have to give up his personal development and personal interests because he has to work all the time to provide for the basic needs of his family.

Children are also a beneficiary of family planning, as with fewer children in the family the focus and the care of the parents are not divided among many members of the family. As they fully experience the life and care of the parents, children also live a secure life while having enough attention from their parents.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is also raising awareness among women, especially in rural areas, through Women’s Empowerment workshops that are delivered regularly. As the topic of birth control is still considered taboo in many areas, HAF’s team drives conversations with women about their rights and goals and encourages them to get involved with their local cooperatives or even create their own.

These conversations help women to start planning their future while focusing on the goals that they want to achieve, which may be an indirect factor that might make the women of the area think about family planning, or at least they will be more knowledgeable about their rights which can make the conversation easier for the local doctors when they are introducing them to this idea.

In delivering these workshops, single and married women create an awareness circle that will later include their future daughters and granddaughters, an important investment that will continue to impact future generations to come.

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The concept of gender as a social construct is often met with resistance. While attempts have been made by governments to increase women’s access to public resources and labor markets, traditional understandings of what it means to be a man or a woman still greatly impede gender equality efforts. Many men assume that gender equality is a women’s issue, and therefore must be addressed by them -- when in reality, men are inescapably involved in gender issues. Moreover, men will benefit from gender equality just as much as women. Traditional understandings of manhood must also be challenged and relationships between genders must be renegotiated. Furthermore, these new attitudes must be institutionalized to ensure sustainable transformative change is achieved.

While changes of this kind have slowly begun to take place, we should not allow this fact to render us complacent. Globally, women’s access to economic and empowerment opportunities remains dismal at best. Men must question the power dynamics that continue to perpetuate this inequality and take responsibility for change. Men need to be engaged as gender advocates – speaking out against inequality as change agents who can transform social norms, behaviors, and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

In this spirit, The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) strives to engage entire communities in the empowerment effort, particularly men and boys. One way HAF is able to do this is through its IMAGINE Workshops. These four day workshops implement a rights-based, participatory approach that provides tools to help women and men identify and advocate for their needs and goals. Notably, men are able to receive information regarding women’s rights and provisions made for gender equality in Moudawana (Moroccan family code). Through education and encouragement, HAF hopes to help young men understand the crucial role that they play in the effort towards gender equality.

Through this kind of programming HAF hopes to increase understanding particularly among young people and create a network of gender advocates that will affect generational change in their communities. Furthermore, involving men in the journey of women's empowerment will also speed up the implementation of women-centered development projects and help reduce the amount of resistance women face when trying to empower themselves.

We must continue to strive for a more just world in which men and women are not confined to traditional ideas of their purpose and function. We must raise our next generation of men differently, so they recognize their responsibility and privilege to be able to advocate for not only their mothers, sisters, and daughters, but also women they don’t know -- women across the world in rural communities and the largest cities.

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
$27,941 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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