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

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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As a part of the Debating Africa-Europe series, participants debated about the following topic: “A new era of digital cooperation: Embracing Africa and Europe’s 4th industrial revolution.”

The debaters for this edition were Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Dr. Amani, African Union Commissioner of Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, and Lacina Koné, General Director and CEO of Smart Africa. Dharmendra Kanani, Director of Insight at Friends of Europe, moderated the presentation.

At the start of the discussion, the debaters expressed the importance of a transition to digitalization, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. The global crisis impacted all countries, obliging them to do everything from home. This had a positive impact on the digitalization vision since it made people around the world grow accustomed to the digital era, where nearly everything can be managed online.

Dr. Amani expressed her confidence in Africa’s ability to shift to the all-digital phase before the assigned date, which is 2030. She believes in the creativity of African youth, who are always confronting challenges with brilliant ideas even though they may lack resources. However, she stated that the connectivity and internet coverage problems as well as the expensive prices of the internet will be the biggest challenges that Africa will continue to face.

One-third of Africa is connected to the internet while the remaining two-thirds are not able to --either because of the expensive costs of internet and digital devices or because the area where they live is not included in the internet coverage network. This is a difficulty that they cannot overcome by themselves. All these reasons state that the energy infrastructure in Africa is the biggest challenge, but these challenges will make the change possible, as they are the driving force that encourages youth to be more creative.

Mr. Thierry agreed with Dr. Amani, adding that democratic access to the internet is a must that will encourage people to accept this digital transition. He also suggested that creating partnerships with internet providers will help reduce the problem of connectivity, as will encouraging youth by boosting the African economy. Mr. Breton clearly stated that there should be an implementation of the ideas gathered so far to encourage the citizens to adopt this change and embrace it.

Mr. Lacina stated that his company's main focus is to transform Africa into a Smart Unit, and to achieve this, they will have to close the user gap on the continent. While 71 percent of the continent has internet coverage, only 23 percent of those with access are connected. The price of internet and smart devices keeps the remaining 48 percent from being able to access the network. Meanwhile, 29 percent of the continent remains without internet coverage. By providing solutions to these issues, countries can increase the percentage of connectivity, which is a huge step toward digitalization.

At the end of the debate, all the speakers agreed that taking concrete actions is what Africa needs the most. The youth of the continent are willing to contribute to the transition toward digitalization. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has already established a concept of mobility around the world, the transition will be smooth and organized.

Technology for empowerment

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) recently conducted a qualitative survey with women from villages in the Al Haouz province as well as urban women living in Marrakech that support this argument. The discussion focused on potential gaps in the level of awareness of Morocco's family code and human rights. The results showed that lack of internet connection greatly decreased the level of awareness, particularly in rural areas. Women lack access to information due to no cellular, radio, or television reception, affecting their knowledge about their own rights.

Another major issue the women issued was education. All groups mentioned illiteracy due to lack of schooling and/or knowledge of the Arabic language as a core obstacle preventing knowledge of their rights. They also listed social reasons, as there is a clash between the national law and local traditions, which are widely more respected. Access to better technology and the internet could ease these other barriers.

HAF aims to strengthen women as rights holders by providing tools to advocate and act on their needs and goals. Through the Imagine Women’s Empowerment Workshop, HAF aims to strengthen women as rights holders by providing tools to advocate and act on their needs and goals.

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On August 27, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) conducted its twenty-ninth 4-day Imagine Women’s Empowerment Workshop with 21 participants from the Sadaka Slimania Cooperative in Berkane province. The workshop was funded by the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program which connects U.S. technical expertise to agricultural cooperatives, associations, and initiatives throughout the world.

Sadaka Slimania Cooperative is a cooperative whose members genuinely impressed me. Interaction with and appealing to the people around you during a workshop is an inspiring exercise as a trainer who is still learning from every workshop. The workshop gives a deep understanding, whether to participants or trainers, to think about one’s next step, tomorrow, and future. Briefly, one’s vision!

Bouchakour is a quiet village with green areas surrounded by sizable farms of lemon. With the quietness of nature and trees, you feel the breath of people’s souls–people who are restricted by the beliefs they live with–and beliefs they cannot change or even think to change.

The last word of change during the workshop became a symbol for women to strive as much as possible to achieve their dreams. The women understood the real meaning of change: to start from yourself first, to ask yourself what it is you need and want, how far you are from achieving this dream, and why you might be so far away from realizing these goals.

Every single day, I discovered new souls around me, new smiling faces, and this positive energy seemed to move magically from one participant to another. I asked the women: “What happened to you?”

The majority of them answered me: “We kept all the bad things and all the good things in our hearts. We hurt ourselves because we had no way to express what we feel. We were taught to think only about others, never ourselves, so we felt ashamed to express our feelings no matter how small or significant. NOW we are looking for ourselves in every exercise we do, in every word we hear, and in every affirmation we say. It is our time to wake up!’

Their words impressed me. At the same time, it made me doubt whether they were sure of what exactly they were saying and whether there would be any implementation, any follow-up, of their affirmations– especially in relation to some specific areas.

“Body” was one of the areas we discussed in which all the women participated. Twenty-one women stood up and started working on their affirmations in front of one another. Twenty-one women affirmed to take care of their bodies that day.

Naziham, one of the participants, had exhausted her body in the past with the heavy daily activities at her farm. After a long conversation during the Body lecture, she stood up and went forward, taking the four steps which helped her to embrace an affirmation for her body. Finally, she became convinced–and convincing: “I am Naziha, and I have 2 hours per day to relax, rest, and take care of my body.”

Rahma, another participant, shared her affirmation with us: “The body is a trust from God, and it is my duty to preserve it and not overburden it. So, I am Rahma. I care for my body. I take care of this gift.”

All the women who participated in the workshop found “growing edges” in themselves. They discovered a major common burden in blaming solely themselves when things go awry. They admitted that nothing could be more important than themselves and that everything in life is easy if they look at it from their own logic–and from their core beliefs that embody the strengths that help them to transform.

The entirety of the four days were a beautiful journey for all of us. We needed something that would give us a healthy dose of faith and patience. Under these unique circumstances in which we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a good time to test our inner soil and water our seeds, whether they represent love, hope or forgiveness, and to simultaneously neglect our weeds.

The workshop is over now, but its end has brought a new beginning for each of us to move forward beyond empowerment. Now, it’s time for implementation and application in our daily lives.

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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
$30,982 raised of $50,000 goal
161 donations
$19,018 to go
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