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

HAF colleagues Houria, Hassan and I went to Chouirig Village in order to meet Daraa Lachhab Cooperative. Since cooperatives are enterprises that place people before profit, they uphold values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equity and solidarity. They practice honesty, openness and social responsibility in their operations.

The Daraa Lachhab Cooperative was officially established by 24 women on 16 October 2020 in Chouirig Village in the Sidi Badhaj municipality of Al Haouz province (Marrakech-Safi region). The cooperative works on livestock, with goals to assess the needs of local women and adolescent girls, explore challenges that they may encounter in their daily lives, and reveal opportunities for greater social cohesion.

The idea is also to support these women and girls to reach long-term and sustainable income-generating activities via the cooperative. There has been an active group of women at the Chouirig Village, and the idea of building a cooperative arose out of the focus group discussions.

The 24 members aim to expand their project and need a detailed business plan that they can use to build on and submit for governmental funds, as well as more guidance on livestock. Farmer to Farmer (F2F) can follow up on this and provide assistance in this regard.

The cooperative members also prefer that they complete a concrete definition of empowerment for presentation to their community, so they will be glad to participate in an IMAGINE workshop soon to achieve that goal.

This visit left the women of Daraa Lachhab with the feeling that they were not alone in their work and, in fact, are part of a larger movement whose combined efforts can push for women's empowerment in Morocco.

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In September 2020, the project of bolstering women’s development in rural Morocco was initiated. Since then, the project has shown great progress and results. It has been implemented within the AEIF 2020, which is coordinated by the US Embassy in Morocco.

This project aimed to provide two groups of rural women with new skills and tools in order to achieve self-empowerment and greater participation in their communities, whether that be politically, economically, or in the civic spaces of their individual community. Twenty participants in total had the opportunity to participate in language literacy, technical capacity-building, and empowering programs during this twelve-month period. After all this preparation, the goal was for each group to start their own cooperative in order to make a profit, support, and inspire others—especially within their rural communities.

From March throughout June, the women’s groups were busy with several workshops on topics such as catering an event, keeping track of documents and receipts, improving product quality, preserving natural resources, and last, but not least, exchanging ideas with other women in other cooperatives. Simultaneously, the US delegation of the Embassy visited and met with the newly-empowered women. Both parties were exceptionally pleased to become acquainted and learn about the progress these women have made in the past few months.

Furthermore, boosting their confidence and sense of self-empowerment were two goals of these field trips for each of the women’s groups. Some of them were leaving their village for the first time in their lives. One group focused on perfecting their artisanal carpet production and embroidery skills while paying a visit to the Achbarou Women’s group, whose focus of production is on handcrafted carpets. The other got the chance to visit Amal Women’s Training Center, where they learned about a catering and restoration business.

The AEIF project has a big beneficial impact on the lives of the women and their communities. They no longer have to count on their husbands for financial stability; instead they have started generating their own income and can support the well-being of their families. Additionally, married women get more recognition from their now more open-minded partners. Moreover, the women are now able to read, write, and for the first time can help their children with homework, as well as encourage them to finish school.

A beautiful example that implements the great influence of this project is the youngest woman of the Sidi Ali Ofare village, who was forced to drop out of middle-school seven years ago and left her dreams of becoming a lawyer behind. Fortunately, only two months after the beginning of the women’s empowerment project, she chose to go back to school with the goal of passing the baccalaureate and pursuing her dreams of becoming an advocate.

In conclusion, these 20 amazing, rural women are prepared for a sustainable future within their community. This incredible example also motivated other women to join the new cooperatives and has inspired neighbouring villages to establish their own.

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Team members of the High Atlas Foundation managing the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program met two host organizations (HOs) in Laayoune Charkia municipality in the Oriental region and discussed with them how to collect data and fill out the baseline and Organizational Development Index (ODI) forms.

The women's cooperatives are "Laayoun Li Tanmyat El Aachab Tebiya" and “Arnan.” Both of the HOs are extracting rosemary oil and have similar needs.

The F2F Program conducted a women's empowerment training workshop for these cooperative members and will follow up with an assignment in order to deliver training on rosemary cosmetics manufacturing and its oil extraction techniques.

The meeting with cooperative members resulted in a clear vision of their priorities:

Laayoun Li Tanmiyat El Aachab Tebiya:

The cooperative was created in April 2019, in Sidi Malouk, Laayoune municipality, Taourirt province in the Oujda region. The cooperative has already benefited from the MEPI program with the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in 2019, and training workshops on E-marketing from the F2F program in March 2021. They asked for more training sessions on rosemary oil extraction so that they can reach regional and international prospective customers.

Arnan Cooperative:

Arnan cooperative is an agricultural cooperative founded in 2017 by 5 members (all women) and it is based in Laayoune Charkia municipality in the Oriental region.They are producing cosmetic products using natural rosemary. The cooperative’s vision for the future is not limited to marketing their products. They want to improve the quality and quantity of their rosemary cosmetics—such as shampoo, soap, and skin ointments—on site instead of selling their raw materials to cosmetics laboratories in big cities. To do this, they need to be prepared to meet health and safety criteria, and the women who work at the cooperative will need training courses in the preparation of cosmetics—how to manufacture them properly and how to work with specialized equipment.

The HAF team, through the F2F Program, completed the IMAGINE workshop for female members of four agricultural cooperatives from October 29 through November 1 in Berkane province (Oriental region). Ideally, empowerment through this workshop is a continuous, holistic process with cognitive, psychological, social, and economic dimensions. These activities are designed to achieve local development by building women’s capacities to improve the economic future and the quality of life for inhabitants of the province.

This training course was shaped around a vision of bringing a wide variety of women together to learn from each other and to look critically at their work in the cooperative for building a stronger movement. The participants included youth and adult women with a wide range of educational backgrounds. As the course progressed, it became clear that exploring differences was one focus. We sought throughout the workshop to create an environment of support and challenge for all participants.

The women developed a set of strategies on research/documentation, networking, influencing, training, and media in their cooperatives. However, many of the women who participated also spoke about how important the challenge of acquiring life skills and searching for meaning in their lives is to them; they want something in their minds "besides the everyday." Where a workshop creates space for the discussion of issues and for questioning the meaning of "a happy life," this can lead to exploring the problematic connection between life issues and "getting ahead." In this way, the nature of challenges in life can be broadened and the possibilities of social change strengthened.

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HAF trainers provided the first two days of an IMAGINE workshop on October 23-24 in the Tazart commune in Al Haouz Province. Twenty-four women from the Attahadi Association for the Development of Rural Women were in attendance.

One woman commented, “As women in the Tazart commune, we are very strong and powerful. We just need to expand our knowledge and our experiences, so we need a good support system and people to guide us to create a project for our group.”

Other women expressed themselves as follows:
“We need to create more love in our life. We need to love ourselves first, then others.”
“We are courageous to be out of our houses and attending an IMAGINE workshop. We wish to receive other workshops in the future.”

“I didn’t go to school, and now I know how to read and write from literacy classes even though I have received negative words from people since I have a clear vision and goal.”
“We respect ourselves by caring for ourselves, being strict in our work at home, respecting others, and adapting to the change.”

“If we are not obliged to work, and we have enough money, we prefer to be volunteering, creating youth projects, supporting social work, working with associations, giving experiences and knowledge to others concerning artisans, supporting others, teaching others how to make carpets, and supporting the women for creating projects.”

One other woman summed up her feelings by saying, “I believed in myself, and I worked hard in different jobs until I built a house for myself and for my children. I can say now that life is easy if we know how to live. I’m now an independent woman, Alhamdolilah, and I would like to support others by sharing my experiences of my life with them.”

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Before you read this, I challenge you to pause and ask your body the question: how do you like the thoughts I think about you?

When we make an active choice to listen to ourselves, we access the power of introspection. But as you likely realized within the first sentence of this article, that often isn’t comfortable. It is almost taboo to honestly ask yourself how you are, and even rarer to have the skills needed to be able to listen to the response.

These skills are exactly what the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) seeks to develop within their IMAGINE empowerment workshops. The sceneranges from rural villages to bustling cities, yet the content and goal remain constant. HAF leaders guide groups of 25 Moroccan women through a 32-hour transformative experience. Ecstatic joy saturates a room where these women connect with their true selves, maybe for the first time. Turning about freely through guided dance helps the women create “turnarounds,” the term for the newly expanded beliefs that replace often deeply ingrained and harmful ones. To work through the discomfort of releasing old patterns of thought and behavior endows the women with the confidence to recognize their true potential.

HAF guides participants in goal-setting and affirmative visualizations surrounding seven core areas, including work, relationships, and sexuality. These powerful techniques are paired with practical education regarding Moroccan family law and placed in a spiritual context with passages from the Qur’an, permitting the women to understand their legal protections, pursue justice, and see themselves empowered through their spirituality.

This act of slowing down and listening is the core driving force of yoga, as well as HAF’s mission of empowerment. It forces us to switch from the mode of thinking into feeling. The conscious effort required to turn off our critical thinking brain and enter a more profoundly present state is not small and requires practice. However, there is incredible potential in the ramifications of this decision; in a study following 24 young women who identified themselves as chronically stressed, a three-month intervention of biweekly yoga classes resulted in statistically significant reductions in stress and anxiety, as well as overall improvement of physical health. Saliva samples from before versus after a 90-minute yoga class displayed a concrete and significant decrease in levels of cortisol, our bodies’ main stress hormone.

How does yoga achieve this? For one, yoga is not simply a sequence of strengthening acrobatic movements. The Sanskrit word “yoga” literally translates to “yoke” or “join.” It is an ancient Vedic philosophy that both recognizes and encourages a connection with the inherent interconnectedness of ourselves with everything in the universe. We are not separated from nature, but rather, embedded in it. This idea is not as far-fetched or spiritually lofty as one might assume, either: the widely accepted Big Bang Theory postulates that all that is, from here to the farthest edges of the universe, originated from a single point. You were once quite literally one with everything around you. Furthermore, the techniques of stretching, strengthening, breathing, and meditation are joined together in one complete practice to join your mind, body, and spirit. Yoga philosophy and teachings emerge from this idea, with scriptures emphasizing the importance of ahimsa, or non-violence.

Here enters the original question: how do you like the thoughts you think about yourself? Chances are that you haven’t been conditioned to hold yourself in very high regard, like many of the women in the IMAGINE workshops. According to ahimsa, this harm to ourselves through negative thoughts contributes to the prevalence of harm everywhere. In order to strive for better, you must first believe that you deserve it. Movement in yoga is a constant push and pull driven by the breath, steadily encouraging us to expand beyond our limits and find contentment in where we land at the moment.

The niyama or personal principle of svadhyaya encourages the importance of self-study. Yoga styles such as Yin encourage practitioners to find their edge of discomfort by holding deep tissue stretches for longer periods of time. This increases circulation and joint flexibility while opening channels of energy. Through directed breathwork, students are able to release tension and practice mental fortitude. When a negative thought or sensation interrupts the flow, yoga enables us to recognize it as a disconnection from our true presence and choose to let it go.

By enabling women to free themselves from self-constricting thought patterns, HAF promotes both personal and community growth. IMAGINE equips participants with tangible tools and support to lead lasting and meaningful development from a place of personal integrity. To date, nine groups of women have gone on to create income-generating cooperatives thoughtfully designed to further their specific community’s development. HAF continually supports these women by providing requested training related to these goals, and the groups formed through IMAGINE meet monthly thereafter to discuss current goals and progress.

As we reach the end of the article, I encourage you to take a moment for yourself to notice the ebb and flow of your breath. Return to the original question, even close your eyes if you feel comfortable, and listen. The principles of yoga and of HAF’s IMAGINE workshops are centered in this truth that acknowledging where you are is the first step to creating the life you most want.

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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
$30,782 raised of $50,000 goal
160 donations
$19,218 to go
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