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

 

 

By Gal Kamarski 

HAF Inter, Graduate Student 

 

Last week, our staff, including our trainer Ibtisam, manager Fatima-Zahra, and myself, conducted a four-day workshop with twenty women from Agbalo () in the Ourika valley. Women varied in ages from 21 to over 50 years old (most of them in their twenties, or forties) from three different villages.  They took part in our workshop, which was very emotional while full of laughter and joy. 

 

"We will be going on a journey"…

"The next four days will look like a journey". With these words, Ibtisam opened the first day of the workshop. She then continued with introducing the "Imagine" program, and the outlines of the workshop we are about to start, including the seven core areas of the Imagine program: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work, and spirituality. Following that, each of the participants, (including me! Though in Classical Arabic, since for now I cannot speak the local dialect), introduced herself, her personal background and her beliefs. Some of the participants were family-related, young women came with their mothers, and some other participants came with their toddlers and babies.

Adding the Moudawana, the Family Code Law, to our journey

For the first time, we tried integrating into the existing Imagine program, the local law that sets women rights, the Moudawana, which is the Moroccan family code law that is based on the Islamic sharia and the Maliki School. 

Except for one young lady that mentioned she had heard the name "Moudawana" in the news, none of the other twenty women sitting in the room, ever heard about the Moudawana in her life. Ibtisam introduced the women the Moudawana, by saying that each of the seven areas presented earlier is driven/can be found also in the Moudawana family code law. At first, we discussed the issue of rights in general, and throughout the workshop, we examined women's role and place regarding these rights. The first day was more of trying to get to know one another, ourselves, and create a "warm" environment in which everyone feels comfortable to share.

Besides the lack of awareness of the Moudawana, we discovered there were several obstacles regarding the Moudawana, for instance, the fact that some of the articles force you to come in front of a judge, which might sometimes be an impossible mission.

Emotions, not only one of the seven Imagine areas

The next day, we continued our journey, and it felt as if we were all more open to sharing. Many issues that may seem obvious to me (or us, people which were not raised in the rural area), were not very clear during the workshop. For example, it took us quite a time to explain the word vision, because some women heard this word that day, for the first time in their life. Trying to deliver what was a vision, we asked the participants to discuss their dreams, and one girl in her early 20s', shared with us her dream to become a doctor. For many of the women, discussing these kinds of issues were very difficult, since many of them are not used to put themselves in the center of the discussion. For some, mainly the older participants, it was the first time they thought about these kinds of questions. At that time, it became very emotional.

The personal journey emphasized the fact that each of us is a human being, and that gives us the right to ask ourselves these questions.  We discussed the importance of finding different rooms in our hearts for emotions, relationships, love, appreciation, support, sources of personal power, lightness, and inner guidance. Following the guided imagination practice, and drawing out our emotions, some women even started crying, as an expression of their emotions. The following activity, in couples, which was aimed to strengthen the trust between them, was also very emotional, up to a point that it was almost too difficult to continue after it.   

However, for the good, at that point, the women were much more open with the group, and some of them even shared their personal stories, they indicated that speaking it out was a great relief. Next activity was dancing. I think that dancing freely together, allowed us all to feel that we are not alone in this world and that there can be also times of happiness if, and when we allow them to ourselves.

Not only about rights, but also about feelings

Although issues such as divorce, for example, are mentioned in the Moudawana, sometimes it takes more than just knowing or following a law. As some of the women mentioned, they would feel comfortable asking their husbands for a divorce, with the support of the existing law, however, they would feel ashamed to do so in the society they live in. Discussing rights, some women said that though Islam opposes violence, many Muslims do not follow Islam, rather they follow the common traditions, in which women are yet oppressed.

Most of the women who participated in the workshop are homemakers; some indicated that their husbands and family do not appreciate their hard work within the household. For them, this situation led to a point where they do not appreciate themselves while undermining themselves not only within the household but also in society.

The next day focused mainly on the relationships, sexuality and sexual relations. Even though one girl asked not to participate, because she did not feel comfortable with her mother being there, most of the women were very open and felt comfortable to share. The younger generation shared their frustration with their parents, saying that today people want to interact sexually even if not for having children.

We concluded the workshop by thanking one another and appreciating the power that was created among us.

To conclude

As for myself, spending these four days with the women of Ourika was a unique experience that taught me a lot about different aspects of women's lives in Morocco. My personal impression (also based on the feedback we received) was that the workshop had much influence on the women, and inspired them to create a change.   

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Last Friday, HAF staff conducted a marketing workshop with the women's cooperative center in Tenine-Ourika. Our project manager, Amina, and one of our volunteers, Davide (from Italy), led the workshop.  Gal (myself), the HAF Intern and a graduate student from Jerusalem, took photos and notes (also kept the kids busy). More than 30 women, of various ages (including several children as well), participated, asked questions and shared their ideas. We even got a chance to hear one of them sing!

 

 

It takes nearly 40 minutes of driving outside of the city of Marrakech, and you immediately feel the difference. Not only the weather becomes nicer, as you get closer to the mountains, but the all atmosphere seems to be dissimilar (for instance, different language, clothes, etc.). The car stopped right in the middle of Tenine-Ourika, the center of approximately 40 villages. As such, the main road was full of small shops, which sell raw materials, local products, food, and more, alongside with several restaurants and many small coffee shops (most of them with men only). A few meters walking and we were at the women's cooperative center.

 

 

We started with asking: "what is marketing"?

After a short greeting and introduction, we started the marketing workshop. Throughout a participatory discussion, we tried answering what marketing is. First, we created a clear definition of what are the products, the markets and the different participants in our target market. Following that, we discussed the characteristics of both the sellers and the buyers and the relationships between them. We suggested several new methods for approaching buyers, using both face-to-face interactions and the media platform. Several additional questions were discussed, such as: how do we set a price for our product? Where should we sell the product? What tools can we use for promoting the product? The last part of the workshop focused on the differences between goals and targets, including a clear differentiation between short and long-term goals.

It was very interesting to hear how these women believe in the value of their product, and how they are open to discuss new ideas to improve it and its marketing.

 

 

 

 While the mothers were participating in the workshop, the young kids seemed a little bored from all the talking… so we decided to play together, so their mothers can feel free to be fully engaged in the workshop, without worrying.

 

We finished the workshop with hot (and very sweet) traditional tea, and plenty of tasty cookies, one of the main products which the women make and sell in their cooperative. The sweet (and tasty) gathering at the end of the workshop, was the time to discuss daily matters, ask personal questions, and get to know one another better. As much as the workshop contributed to the success of the women's cooperative, it seemed as the warm gathering at the end was not less influential. Warm tea, sweets, and the nice center as the platform enable creating friendship between these women, built of personal relations, and strengthening the trust between them.

 

 

Hopefully, I will keep updating you on how the women's cooperative is developing.

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Moroccan women play a crucial role in the development of the community on a local and professional level. The progress of a community is directly correlated with the advancement of women and their capability to participate in economic, social and environmental development. Urban women in Morocco have more opportunities to participate in income-generating projects, and therefore have a greater potential to demonstrate their abilities in the work force. On the other hand, most women in rural areas have fewer opportunities to participate economically due to the social pressures found within their communities.

 

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has worked alongside and trained 59 women from five villages in the rural Commune, Ourika, since 2015. HAF, partnering with Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) project and PUR Project, has helped to inspire these women to create their own project and realize their ideas.

The participatory approach that HAF uses allows the women of Ourika to not only prioritize their aspirations and while supporting them as they put their ideas into practice. This support comes in the form of, among other things, assisting them with the creation of cooperatives and the commercialization of their products. In the long term, these projects will invest in the overall empowerment and economic self-sufficiency of women through the creation of a green economy. Since the start, HAF has held workshops on the participatory approach, organic agricultural techniques, cooperative training and culinary sessions on couscous preparation using medicinal plants.

 

HAF’s first project meeting with ten women occurred in 2015 with group of women from the Takatert village located in the Ourika Commune of the Al Haouz Province. The first exercise was to draw their project and dreams on paper. At first, most of them laughed at this and replied: "The men cannot achieve anything in Ourika, so how could woman achieve this?” I explained to them that "what they all saw was a dream in the past, and now is a new reality. You could achieve anything if you have the will." I persisted with this concept every week. In every meeting or training, I saw the group grew and eventually we involved more than 50 women from the community.

 High Atlas Foundation has helped women from five villages in the Ourika commune to create the Aboghlou Cooperative and this results of are as follows:

  1. Certificate of approval of the name of the cooperative in Arabic and French
  2. The legal status of the Aboghlou cooperative
  3. The contribution of the Cooperative participants
  4. Open a bank account for the Aboghlou Cooperative and obtain a bank statement
  5. Authorization of local authorities for the creation of the Cooperative
  6. Register the Aboghlou Cooperative at the Primary Court in Marrakech
  7. Share the Cooperative file with Agricultural Center in Tahanaout and the Cooperation Development Office in Marrakech

 

The women of Aboghlou Cooperative have benefited from more than 14 different theory and practice workshops on the participatory approach, organic farming, grafting, compost, information , method of participation in the festival, climate change, team management, financial management, human rights, communication, Imaging women’s empowerment workshop, caravans and leadership. HAF still makes weekly or bi-weekly participatory meetings with the women of the Aboghlou Cooperative over subjects including project development.

 

Women so far have produced several types of couscous with medicinal plant and biscuits, marketed the products on locally, nationally and internationally also started working at the nursery starting in March 2016, planting almond and pomegranate trees, nigella saliva, cactus, calendula, and medicinal plants.  They have started to harvest calendula, nigella Sativa, and verbena.

 

Women so far have produced several types of couscous with medicinal plant and biscuits, marketed the products on locally, nationally and internationally also started working at the nursery starting in March 2016, planting almond and pomegranate trees, nigella saliva, cactus, calendula, and medicinal plants.  They have started to harvest calendula, nigella Sativa, and verbena.

 

Women so far have produced several types of couscous with medicinal plant and biscuits, marketed the products on locally, nationally and internationally also started working at the nursery starting in March 2016, planting almond and pomegranate trees, nigella saliva, cactus, calendula, and medicinal plants.  They have started to harvest calendula, nigella Sativa, and verbena.

Women so far have produced several types of couscous with medicinal plant and biscuits, marketed the products on locally, nationally and internationally also started working at the nursery starting in March 2016, planting almond and pomegranate trees, nigella saliva, cactus, calendula, and medicinal plants.  They have started to harvest calendula, nigella Sativa, and verbena.

Continuing environmental activities, HAF dedicated workshops to informing women on the effects of climate change locally and globally and have also prepared them for participation in the 2016 COP 22 in Marrakech. Women participate heavily in the workshop and observed current and future problems concerning the impacts of climate change. The High Atlas Foundation gave six of its members, representing the Aboghlou Cooperative, an opportunity to participate in COP22 between November 7th and 18th, 2016. They presented their products and communicated with national and international organizations, enabling them to exchange ideas and experiences.

The women participated in the local festivals in Ourika, Asni, Ait Ourir and COP22.  During the COP22, in the Kenzi Farah Hotel 3, women participated in a WECAN event "Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, International.” The president of the cooperative, Rachida Outouchki, gave a speech in Arabic about the effects of climate change on her community. Two women sang a song in Amazigh, demonstrating their pride and passion they have for their work, as an opening for the event about earth. 

Workshops were held for women to understand the value of organic harvesting, completely eliminating the use of pesticides and chemicals. They learned about the health issues associated with pesticide and herbicide use, such as cancer and osteoporosis. After the classes, women were interviewed and noted that this experience has taught them what it means to work outside of the home. Indirectly correlated, exercise and health were also noted by some as benefits. Before the project’s implementation, it was common to just stay in the home and watch television for many women.

Workshops were also held directing self-identified cultural/social indicators, such as the strength of cooperation and the importance of respect and care for older generations. All of this is done while maintaining traditions, such as making couscous and identifying the purposes of medicinal plants. Women noted these cooperatives provided support, where they are able to bring up their problems and discuss them with other women facing similar issues. The group involves women from different villages, therefore providing them an opportunity to know each other and exchange differences in customs.

Communication between women was noted as a key benefit and helped provide activity outside the home, friendships and personal development. Time management skills were also tackled through these exercises.

Women were no longer speaking of "me" but "we". Friendships formed with several women from different villages taught women to speak for the need of the group rather than just being inwardly focused. One women remarked: "The High Atlas Foundation not only gave to us the opportunity of meeting with each other in the same commune, but now we can communicate with regional, national and international civil societies".  In addition, the cooperation between women provides support both materially and spiritually as they exchange visits in times of illness and joy.

Sustainability and teamwork workshops offered are as follows: what is a work team, what are the requirements for teamwork, what prevents you from working as a team, what difficulties do you encounter in the Aboghlou Cooperative today, and what compromises teamwork? Leadership training includes: what is a leader, what makes a leader, types of leaders, and what is the role of the leader?  Through the answers that I received from women, it appears that the women developed through several stages of growth, and at each stage, there were less and less problems, and thanks to the desire to continue, the group was able to overcome these problems. Before working in the group and creating the Cooperative the women had up to ten problems, often associated with fear.  Before the training when women worked with a group they faced upwards of twelve problems all relating to poor communication. Now just problems regarding finances and equipment for the Cooperative persist and are being addressed through training. In time, workshops and the increased experience of the women will assist them in addressing all of their problems.

Economic: The income of the women come from different products, such as different types of couscous and derivatives from wheat, barley, corn as well as biscuits.

Some income is derived from local sales between families and in the festivals. This project and women's cooperative also unifies families; women noted that they have a goal of being a model to the community, country and the world in terms of women's empowerment. This collective empowers the women to participate in community events like festivals, that weren't originally open to them.

Since the women do not have prior experience in managing nurseries and planting trees before joining this project, High Atlas Foundation, YSL, L'Oreal and PUR project all pledged to assist them.  The women of the Cooperative also receive funds from the sale of almond trees and in the future and sell calendula directly to YSL. In May 2017 the women harvest 50 kg of flower of calendula.

The women started the work on their products in parallel work in the legal framework and integrate the women in work of Cooperative.  The women now have an email at aboughloucooperative@gmail.com to exchange information with organizations and a Facebook page under the name Aboughlou Cooperative to help introduce people to the cooperative’s activities and products.

The project that High Atlas Foundation managed in the Ourika Commune with the Aboghlou Cooperative has encouraged other women in other villages in the Ourika commune to create their own cooperatives and start their own projects. All of this is an indication of the success that the project of the Aboghlou Cooperative has experienced.

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The role of women in our society is determining more openly the course of social change in communities. A woman plays a variety of essential roles in our society from her birth until the end of life. While women have profound, vital-to-life responsibilities, they also face greater problems than men.

Moroccan modern society has started to understand the individual identities of women. She has her aspirations, abilities, and qualities just like men. Also now better understood is that she should have the opportunities to develop her abilities and to express them according to her own choice. We have to empower young girls and support them to create their own destiny because the world cannot grow at all well unless women come forward and take initiatives for sustainable development.

During the period that I spent with High Atlas Foundation, I found that women are involved in social organizations and are developing abilities for leading a life of outward and direct social involvement. Their interests in social and cultural activities are on the clear rise. They have growing interest in travel, literary activities and new enterprises - especially women from rural areas.

The High Atlas Foundation assists women from rural areas to engage in social activities and work for the improvement of society.  The empowerment workshops that HAF staff members Fatima Zahra Laaribi, Ibtissam Niri, Hana Ezaoui and Amina El Hajjami have conducted show how deeply they and the participants have taken this to heart.

 

Every month these amazing women put together workshops that strengthen women in pathways to transform their beliefs and behaviors that are holding them back from their potential.  This involves directing their creative energies toward achieving what they really want in their own lives - from healthier bodies to better relationships, from material successes to richer spiritual lives. It takes courage to dream, and knowledge to bring their dreams into reality.

Women at HAF are inspiring because they devote their time to other women, teaching them participatory planning approaches, organic farming, team building, and how to make natural dyes for wool. This helps women by establishing their leadership, their personality, imposing their presence, creating independence, and stimulating personal and professional decisions.

Every month these amazing women put together workshops that strengthen women in pathways to transform their beliefs and behaviors that are holding them back from their potential.  This involves directing their creative energies toward achieving what they really want in their own lives - from healthier bodies to better relationships, from material successes to richer spiritual lives. It takes courage to dream, and knowledge to bring their dreams into reality. The HAF and all the women and their families thank the National Endowment for Democracy for enabling us to organize and achieve the empowering workshops.

 

I’m so proud and happy to be part of the HAF family.

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
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