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

In the weekly meeting of the High Atlas Foundation´s (HAF) Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) team, one of my colleagues told me about an Imagine women's empowerment workshop with the Msalla cooperative in the north of Morocco and she invited me to conduct it together with her. The event was going to be my second official practice workshop of the women's empowerment training I am going through. I will officially become an empowerment facilitator and mentor in April. This will allow me to empower women across the country, especially those living in rural areas, whose voices are often not heard.

I was very happy to join this workshop and I was looking forward to meeting all the wonderful women there. What I like most about the women's empowerment workshops is engaging other women and conducting interesting exercises with them, where they get to know themselves and each other better. There is always a lot of positive energy in these events.

In the second week of February, it was finally time for us to go to the women's cooperative to conduct the workshop. After our arrival, we were greeted with a cup of tea. We sat down together with the women and the president of the cooperative started asking us questions. Her first question was “How did you hear about us?” She and the other women then went on to explain that their village is usually forgotten and no other NGO or association has visited them before. The women were full of enthusiasm and eager to find out more about the workshop we were going to conduct.

I have attended many empowerment workshops and they have been all unique in their own way and they have all taught me something new about women's empowerment, but this workshop stood out among all my previous experiences. The president of the cooperative started the workshop with a short speech: “I have been to workshops in many cities and I have traveled through the country to meet with presidents of other women's cooperatives and they always talk about the importance of conducting training for the sustainable development of cooperatives.”

I wished the members of this cooperative had the opportunity to attend some of these workshops, but unfortunately we cannot afford that. So when you contacted us to organize an empowerment workshop in our village I did not hesitate a second to accept your offer. I told the other women about this opportunity and they were curious to find out more about the organization that chose to conduct a workshop specifically for them. We are ready and motivated and I can guarantee you that all the women will give you their full attention for the next four days.

The women were brimming with positive energy and we had an incredible atmosphere during the workshop. The experience was as empowering for me as it was for them and that is very impressive considering I have been to many empowerment workshops before. The women learned several new concepts and corrected certain misunderstandings related to the seven topics the workshop deals with: emotions, relationships, body, sexuality, money, work, and spirituality. At the same time, listening to their stories taught me a lot about dealing with difficult situations in life.

One of the exercises of the workshop is called the “Tunnel Exercise”. There the women get together in pairs and hold hands. One of the women then closes her eyes and she can pour out her heart while her partner is listening, patting her shoulder and comforting her. This is one of my favorite exercises because it really allows the women to talk about their worries and feel that there is someone listening to them and feeling with them. The women quickly found partners and one of them, Khadouj, an elderly woman, even asked me to be hers.

I felt very honored as this is a very personal exercise and this meant that she really trusted me. I have done this exercise several times before, but only with people my age, so this was going to be a new experience for me as well. Khadouj told me that she had nothing to worry about anymore in her life. She recounted the many things she achieved in the 70 years of her life. She raised her kids together with her husband and she supported them in reaching their goals. She talked about the death of her beloved husband and that she believes that she will meet him again one day in paradise. Khadouj is also very happy about her grandchildren from whom she receives a lot of love and she hopes that she returns their affections properly.

Listening to her and feeling the positive energy she radiated allowed me to recharge my emotional batteries for the rest of the workshop. I then asked her for a piece of advice and without hesitation, she said: “Never waste an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones. There will come a time when you will regret not having spent enough time with them.” Going through the Tunnel Exercise together with her changed the way I saw the exercise. I realized that it was not just a way for the woman with closed eyes to pour her heart out, but also for her partner to listen and take something away.

The exercise came to an end, but my conversation with Khadouj took longer than expected. I talked with her about my fears and she calmly patted me on the shoulder saying that everything happens for a reason and everything will happen at the right time.

On the next day, my co-facilitator, Zineb, explained to the women that we all derive our personal power from seven sources: commitment, discipline, support system, inner guidance, lightness, love, and finding our own truth. Using these seven precious sources of power correctly allows one to grow as a person. After hearing about the sources of power, the women do an exercise called “The Room”, where they connect with each of the seven sources of power.

The women sit in a room with their eyes closed and with relaxing music playing in the background and they imagine themselves walking through a sunlit forest until they reach a magical palace. After entering the palace through the main gate, they see many different doors, each of a different color and shape. The women pause for a moment to visualize the palace from the inside.  The first door has “Commitment” written on it. The women are asked to open the door and enter the Room of Commitment.

They start exploring the Room of Commitment, and the facilitator keeps guiding them: what do you see—what images, colors, shapes, or people? What do you hear—what sounds, words, or music? And what do you feel—what emotions and sensations? The same process is repeated with the other sources of personal power until they finish their discovery journey in the imaginary palace. Once they open their eyes, the women are asked to capture the images, sounds and feelings they experienced on their journey inside the seven rooms of the palace.

Looking at the women’s facial expressions while they are imagining their journey through the palace tells me a lot about their connection with each source of personal power. Smiles, tears, frowns, and relaxation can be spotted while they are walking from one room to the next. In most cases, the women’s favorite room is the Room of Love, where they visualize their loved ones in their favorite places. Speaking of love, what I really appreciated about these women is the love they have for their husbands. In most rural villages we conduct workshops with women who tell us that they got married in a traditional way and that they have to put up with the ups and downs of their marriage for the sake of their children. However, this isn’t the case with the women of Boufrah. Listening to them talk about their husbands showed how much they loved and cared for them.

The next exercise follows the lessons about work and money and it consists of the women recording their ideal work vision. This group of women believed that in order for them to be economically empowered, they needed a community club where they could sew together and an agricultural cooperative where women could prepare meals for tourists using locally produced food. The women split into the two groups and started drawing their visions for their dream work. 

Spending four days with these ambitious and loving women empowered me on a personal level and made me feel proud about joining my colleague in this workshop.

Until the next workshop and stay empowered!

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My entire life I’ve grown up with the consistent pressure to figure myself out. As I near my final semester in university, I naively thought I’d have all my questions answered by now. I don’t. This pressure of urgency has always loomed over me, and as I transition into an adult, I’ve always felt like time is running out and I’m far behind on the path to figuring myself out. Little did I know that attending a High Atlas Foundation IMAGINE workshop in Ighil n'Oumgoun would bring an enlightening change in perspective to these concepts.

I approached this program a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but excited to visit Tinghir Province and experience a new side of Morocco and Amazigh culture. We were welcomed with open arms and affectionate hospitality by the residents of Ait Daoud. The countless hugs and cups of tea eased any anxious thoughts or uncertainties I had and made me feel right at home, surrounded by caring women.

For the next four days, we gathered with our group of about 25 women, huddled in a circle around a small heater, and bundled in blankets and jackets to withstand the cold. I observed IMAGINE leaders Safae and Fatima guide and support the village women through concepts of positivity, confidence, motivation, and self-love. They effortlessly connected with the local women, creating a beautiful space of trust and vulnerability; sharing their own stories and in turn giving others a voice to share theirs. The fervor and passion that Safae and Fatima spoke with was contagious, an incredible display of the potential young women hold to be leaders of change in the community.

Throughout the week, women of all ages stood up to share their dreams in life; visions of becoming a pastry chef, a teacher, a seamstress, a wedding coordinator. When asked why they hadn’t taken the next step in these aspirations, the women described the only role they knew and were conditioned to fill; the role to maintain the home, raise their children, and obey their husbands. When the concept of starting a women’s co-operative in the village was proposed, they expressed feelings of inadequacy and hesitation in the possibility that they might not succeed. Touched as the women shared their worries, their vulnerable honesty reminded me that when it comes to considering our present and future roles, feelings of insecurity and fear are universal.

As IMAGINE spotlights, these emotions are catalyzed by the worldwide barriers women encounter in social, economic, and political spheres. However, what is also fundamentally universal is the strength of the feminine experience and the innate ability of women to understand and support each other through community. Safae and Fatima emphasized that personal growth through confidence and self-love is intricately linked to the external support of other women who can guide, encourage, and advocate for each other. They explained that a women’s co-operative would help break gender norms by increasing representation of women in spaces outside of the home and shift the idea of “strength in unity” into an economic reality for the women of Ait Daoud.

The observation that struck me most significantly was the wide age range of women attending the workshop. Each woman, young and old, had the opportunity to detail her ambitions and was given guidance on how to move from stagnancy to fulfillment of her dreams. Discussions were a level playing field regardless of life experience or the number of years lived on this Earth. It really struck me; there is no age limit to understanding your potential and the journey of self-actualization has no expiration date. Watching women decades older than me find the spark to change their lives, verbally manifest their goals, and commit themselves to a new journey made me realize it’s never, ever too late to grow into yourself and your purpose.

My week at the IMAGINE workshop in Ait Daoud certainly created a paradigm shift in what it means to me to figure myself out. Watching young women enthusiastically outline their aspirations inspires me to continue experiencing life in its most energetic and dynamic state. And watching older women excited to finally commit themselves to their goals reminds me that it’s impossible to fall behind on the path of self-discovery. I have no doubt that women around the world have encountered the same stifling beliefs as me. But the strength found in a community of like-minded women who have the courage to forgo societal rules and achieve their goals is emboldening. To observe and experience the transformation IMAGINE initiates is important for all women, no matter what stage of life you are in or how far you may feel you feel from fulfilling your purpose.

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On February 9th, 2023, HAF’s Imagine empowerment facilitators met with 18 women from M’salla Cooperative in Jnanate village, located in the Beni Boufrah municipality of the Al Hoceima province.

These women are joining the ranks of 2,373 others from around Morocco that have benefited from the 101 Imagine workshops that HAF has facilitated over the last seven years.

The participants are involved in an agricultural cooperative in which they are selling medicinal and aromatic plants. They know the importance of empowerment, and they are interested in building courage to seek out and take advantage of opportunities to improve their social and economic situations through their cooperative. Empowerment of these women is maximized by collectivization.

The workshop provides these women with a way to create an intensive practical experience in a short amount of time, especially since they may be too far apart to gather together regularly.

Women proclaim, “ I can’t live alone—I need people around me to share with them my happiness, strengths and weaknesses.” If we hear someone say, “I want to be alone and get away from people,” further discussion reveals that they cannot be alone for a long time because life insists on us being with each other. As one woman began to speak: “Making a good relationship with others first requires a good and honest relationship with ourselves. We learn that if we don’t give to ourselves first, we cannot help others.”

In practical terms, this cooperative’s vision for the future is not limited to marketing their products. They want to benefit from the HAF's tree planting project to grow skincare plants on their land instead of buying them, as well as attend training workshops about the “green” cosmetic technologies, which HAF can assist with by its implementing the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco.

We appreciate all the hard work that women put into this workshop, and we truly look forward to continuing to follow this women's cooperative and see all that they accomplish!

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On the second day of the workshop, the empowerment leader was conducting an exercise related to Personal Power. The women had to close their eyes and imagine themselves in different rooms with different themes; then, they were requested to open their eyes and draw what they had imagined. One of the rooms is called A Room of Love, and there was this particular participant, Siham,  who loves her husband and her four children. However, they were not with her in the imaginary room. Instead, she drew herself around a lunch table and was surrounded by her parents and siblings, with loads of red hearts above them all. 

Later on, she explained that she misses her family and doesn’t get to see them often although they live in the same commune. She clarified that her husband doesn’t allow her to use public transportation and that he prefers to take her to wherever she wants to go, but he gets super-busy with work and doesn’t find time to drop her at her parents’ place. The facilitator suggested that she invite her mother to her house so she can get to spend time with her. She also advised her to have a wise and calm discussion with her husband over the matter to find suitable solutions for both. She mentioned that she loves her husband and he loves her back and that he is taking care of her the way he should, but it has always been a question of the Rif (Moroccan’s northern land) culture, where men are tough and strict when it comes to certain matters that concern the females in their families.

Siham further explained her drawing to the empowerment facilitator and said that even though she loves her husband and children, the last time she felt the warmth of love was before getting married. She continued explaining that she invests much time in making the family’s food and has to serve it separately. Her mother-in-law is a person with a disability and can’t leave the bed; therefore, she has to serve her food in her room.

She went on to say that when her husband arrives home, she serves him his food separately so as not to bother his comfort, and then comes the children's turn to be fed. When it is Siham’s turn to eat, she explains, she finds herself exhausted and with no appetite to eat alone. The empowerment facilitator thought that Siham does all this upon the request of the strict husband but her thoughts were wrong. 

Since the first day of her marriage, Siham thought that it would be better to go for that eating process because she thought it was better for everyone. Today, Siham does not like this situation anymore and she wants to change it, but little did she know that the solution is in her hands. The facilitator suggested that Siham could feed her mother-in-law first, and then gather around one table with her husband and children. The solution was this simple, but Siham convinced her mind on the first day that things should be done differently so that she could not find this solution. 

Siham’s eyes sparkled with joy when she imagined herself with her husband and children gathered around the lunch table.

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It’s hard to not talk about how much the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our dependence on social media. For a time it was one of—if not the only—place where people were able to come together and share time with the people about the things they love. Businesses took notice of this, and if they weren’t all-in on social media and its importance in reaching consumers before, they definitely are now.

Without the right tools for harnessing the power of social media to grow a business, it can seem daunting, even for those who are familiar with the larger platforms. That is why the High Atlas Foundation has made it a priority to get these tools into the hands of women-led cooperatives throughout the Marrakech-Safi region. One of the largest cooperative sectors in Morocco is the argan oil trade. Argan oil is mostly known for its moisturizing qualities, but it also has uses for cooking as well. Through interactive workshops and online training, volunteers and team members are helping women’s cooperatives establish a crucial online presence in a crowded argan oil market.

E-marketing, through social media in particular, has shown promise and has proven to be a resourceful tool for women’s cooperatives. Most rural cooperatives rely on word of mouth to generate traffic through their store. If one has the right connections, they can sometimes get their products into a larger market in a nearby city. In workshops provided by the High Atlas Foundation, these women-led argan oil cooperatives have created online stores and social media pages and have learned how to reach an audience outside of their town and local market.

Cooperatives everywhere understand the importance of expanding their reach through e-marketing. With a focus on e-commerce through social media integration, women-led cooperatives in rural Eastern Europe reported an 86 percent increase in sales, and 93 percent forged new partnerships over a two-year period. These new partnerships could serve to be especially useful to some argan oil cooperatives in the Essaouira Province, which also rely on selling their raw materials to larger companies to make products like shampoos and beauty products.

Social media can serve as a crucial tool for cooperatives in marketing their products. However, just as important is creating an online presence that people can trust and relate to. This is best understood through the words of Jayen Mehta, Senior General Manager of the marketing team behind one of India’s most successful milk cooperatives, “Don’t be an advertiser. Be a content creator.”

An effective e-marketing campaign can include content such as stories, positive customer reviews, and recipe ideas. Staying relevant and switching up social media content while keeping a clear goal can help to create engagement between the cooperative and its followers. These principles were reinforced through High Atlas Foundation’s coordinated training at two argan oil cooperatives in the Essaouira Province this October.

E-marketing can increase the capacity to reach new markets and create new partnerships to help grow an argan cooperative. With a higher demand for argan products, we would expect to see a greater need for more women to join and work at a cooperative. As echoed by a former HAF volunteer, the unemployment rates among young women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are 80% higher than that of young men. This is compared to the average gender differential of 20% worldwide. An attainable goal to strive for in conjunction with the continuous e-marketing workshops and support from HAF is to close the unemployment gap between men and women in the Essaouira Province.

COVID-19 made it clear that having a strong e-marketing presence is crucial to the success of a business. The High Atlas Foundation has a commitment to teaching these e-marketing skills to the women-led argan cooperatives of the Essaouira Province. Skills learned at these workshops can translate into reaching a larger consumer audience, developing new partnerships, creating a positive brand image, and empowering women in local communities. Continued e-marketing workshops would only continue to strengthen these communities and benefit the economy as a whole. 

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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
$31,034 raised of $50,000 goal
163 donations
$18,966 to go
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