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

After building an organic tree nursery and a well, and after facilitating participatory meetings and trainings concerning environmental protections with the farmers and the men’s association in Tassa Ouirgane village (Al Haouz province, Marrakech-Safi region), a project financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and managed by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a new approach was decidedly developed and implemented to maximize the impact of the project on the people of Tassa Ouirgane. This gender approach was encouraged and supported by National Coordinator Microfinance Program FEM - UNDP Morocco and the High Atlas Foundation.

Fourteen women from the Tassa Ouirgane village attended a 4-day Imagine Empowerment workshop January 2019. The purpose of Imagine workshops is to enable women to create the life they most want. It is considered one of the foremost personal growth trainings available. The program focuses on seven areas of life: Emotions, Relationships, Body, Money, Work, Spirituality, and Sexuality. Below are the testimonials of a girl and a woman, both of whom attended the workshop:

"My name is M. I’m divorced, and I have a daughter. I live with my father and my mother. I want to work to help my daughter, and I’m afraid to get out of the house because of society's contempt toward me and their lack of trust. I thank God because my family has helped me a lot, but I wish I could be independent.”
After 4 days of the empowerment training, she confirmed “I will not pay attention to the opinion of others. I will be working toward my vision to be independent, build my own home, and live with my daughter.” This woman is now the leader of the Takhrkhourt agricultural Cooperative.

“My name is L. I dropped out of middle school during the last school break. I started training in artisanal craft, but I don’t feel comfortable with the decision that I made, and I don’t know how I can tell my father.” On the second day of the workshop, she told the other women participants: “I informed my father about how I felt, and he agrees with my decision to return to school.”

One of the results that came from the empowerment workshop and the participatory approach meetings that were conducted afterward with the same women was the vision to create an agricultural cooperative in order to capitalize upon the village’s great natural resources. To reach this vision, the women needed technical and managerial training. This is why the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) provided them with training on the creation and role of cooperative statutes, democratic voting for decision-making in the cooperative, organizational management, environmental protection, how to plant seeds and cuttings of trees, and how to irrigate trees.

Throughout each training and workshop that the women received in 2019-2020, HAF supported them to create Cooperative Takhrkhourt, an agricultural cooperative whose membership includes one woman and four girls. Two of the girls are studying in high school, and they want to continue their studies at university. In 2020 alone, Cooperative Takhrkhourt planted 40,000 olive and walnut trees in a nursery that they manage. The nursery is supported by the Ecosia-HAF partnership.

To achieve these results means that the women of Takhrkhourt Cooperative have:

  • Made decisions about their own lives, as demonstrated by starting the cooperative that they themselves chose and created;
  • Learned how to manage their time between studies, work at the nursery, and work at home;
  • Made initial visits to the bank, local authorities, ODCO (Office du Développement de Coopération), and met other people outside of the village to promote their initiative;
  • Opened a bank account, possibly for the first time in their lives, in order to receive income and manage cooperative finances;
  • Started to receive income;
  • Begun to experience and enjoy independence and autonomy;
  • Voted for administrative members; and
  • Created space for communication between them and other visitors to learn about the project.

The women’s cooperative now wants to expand the project. They are thinking about beekeeping and growing medicinal plants in the future.

This project has become a great example to other women and the girls in rural areas that women can change their situations for the better in the ways they want--if only they have the determination and the support to make it happen.

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Through a Zoom meeting with Moroccan law students from University Sidi Mohamed in Fez who have been trained to deliver pro bono legal aid to underserved persons, I had an amazing opportunity to discuss current topics and issues as well as acquire a better understanding of Moroccan culture and perspectives. Despite the virtual interactions, I felt a connection with the students. I did not feel hindered by the virtual setting, and I learned a lot more than I expected. One of the law students, Mohammed, was particularly lively and enthusiastic in sharing information about his culture and was open to learning from the American interns. He shared great stories about his life and what it was like to be Moroccan.

MEETING SET UP

The Zoom meeting began with introductions followed by a short game of trivia, which was a great way to break the ice and get to know more about university students in Morocco. We shared and explained our favorite holidays, traditional meals, and places. Then, we discussed family structures and individual rights as well as education. Although I have already thoroughly researched these topics, I gained more insight by listening to the law students’ concerns and opinions on these issues.

WHAT I LEARNED

Morocco is currently changing and improving. The government promotes boys' and girls' education by providing financial support for parents to fund their children’s education. However, some girls still don’t pursue studies at all, and others drop out. Fathers often think girls should focus on marriage instead of careers. There is also an issue with access to education, as it can be difficult financially and physically. After primary school, some students must wake up early and walk extremely far just to get to school. There is a lack of resources in many rural communities, especially internet access, and education brings a great financial burden to many families.

The other HAF interns and I asked about the law students’ experience with the Moroccan education system. The men said that their education was easy and relatively accessible. Those who attended private schools explained that students can more easily access higher level diplomas and good jobs. They all agreed that education is always easy for the rich. Mohammed also highlighted that education is a right protected by the constitution, so everyone is entitled to benefit from it. His beliefs directly contradict the stark realities of the financial, geographic, and cultural limitations that many Moroccans face. This statement really resonated with me, especially as our discussion transitioned into free higher education in Morocco compared to expensive education in America. The law students were perplexed by this notion. The resounding message was that everyone should have an equal opportunity and the right to benefit from higher education.

The law students shared their legal objectives that focus on women, divorce cases, and family reunification, among other issues. Women have only in recent years been granted the right to ask for divorce. However, the students highlighted the issue of financial control as many women are financially dependent on their husbands and are therefore, at times, forced to stay in unhappy and abusive marriages. Divorce is still considered taboo in many areas. Most rural areas value tradition and are not as open-minded. Women are often shamed if they ask for a divorce. Some women do not know, understand, or even accept that they have their own rights. They may also fear their husbands will beat them as they are told that the man is always right. The law students are working to organize visits to rural and semi-urban areas to give these communities the opportunity to benefit from free legal aid and to learn about the Moudawana (Moroccan Family Code), to raise awareness among women about legal protections, and to influence the mindsets of the next generation toward a more progressive Morocco.

Fortunately, men in urban areas are typically more aware of policies that advance women’s status in Morocco, thus learning, understanding, and even advocating at various levels for women’s rights. The law students we met with, and many others, provide pro bono legal assistance to women who encounter a variety of legal issues regarding their families, including family reunification, reconciliation, or mediation between wife and husband (or other family members). They remain impartial to ensure that they offer the best legal advice, and they are optimistic in their efforts to help teach communities about Moudawana and women’s rights, in addition to access to education.

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Can you imagine that due to COVID-19, several problems related to women have only increased, but these issues haven’t been given attention? For years, different NGOs worked on empowering women and gender equality, but with the unexpected appearance of an invisible enemy (the virus), those activities that used to raise awareness about injustices and discrimination against women have been stopped.

On Tuesday, July 21,  Fatima Zahra Laaribi, Administrative Support and Finance, Farmer-to-Farmer program and I participated in a virtual platform in the Multi-Stakeholder Hearing Accelerating the Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls as part of the preparations for the high-level meeting of the General Assembly in accordance with UN GA resolution. The virtual platform was held and facilitated by the United Nations Conference Services, and it was live-streamed on UN Web TV and social media channels. Participants entailed world leaders, NGO representatives, and intergovernmental organizations from around the world.

The main objective of the multi-stakeholder hearing was to evaluate the outcomes and recommendations of the 25-year review processes as well as the situation of women in the 64th session of the Commission. In addition, it was an opportunity to exchange experiences and lessons about women's situations among speakers from various countries through interactive dialogues for the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

I noticed that the situation of women in each country differs from their needs. One of the critical areas identified by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is violence against women and education. Besides physical and sexual violence, women also experience state-perpetrated gender-based violence. Empowerment must begin from home. Both parents should equally participate in the children’s activities apart from other household responsibilities. Also, an honest and courteous exchange of ideas can plant the seed for successful equality. I believe that those three words can be the first step toward the resolution of women’s issues in general: education, empowerment, and equality.

The High Atlas Foundation’s heart is with women. It has the vision to continue to provide as much support as possible by preparing and developing new trainers for the IMAGINE Women’s Empowerment Program. Coaches will host and facilitate virtual webinars in order to train the apprentices. Once COVID-19 is under control and conditions are safe, HAF will begin direct workshops with women in their communities as always and provide them the support they need.

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Before empowerment begins, most women show signs of apprehension in going through this journey, as it is not easy for them and is considered a new experience. Everything new is rejected initially. Especially since the factor of distrust is strongly dominant in the first meeting, most women believe that empowerment training will strip them of their secrets and privacy, which is a challenge that we are working hard to correct. An objective of the empowerment workshop is to provide principles and a path forward.

In addition to this challenge, we note at the beginning that many women refuse to speak comfortably about themselves. We often find that most of them elect a leader who speaks about their experiences on their behalf. This is primarily due to our belief in a number of cultural and social factors that prevent the disclosure of women’s potentials, in addition to the fact that they need self-esteem that can only be achieved and completed through the respect of others.

All of these fears soon dissipate once they join a group in the self-empowerment workshop. Through this training, women begin building relationships with others who share the same concerns and aspirations.

The High Atlas Foundation has been working to pave the way for women to overcome the fears and limiting beliefs that stand in the way of change. One example of the great achievements of the empowerment program is that many women have embraced the desire to establish women’s cooperatives, which embody the goal of overcoming fear and apprehension and lay a foundation of self-responsibility.

Nine new cooperatives have been created. They represent a workspace for 106 members, indirectly affecting 18,875 people in the regions in which they were established. The cooperatives include four in the Al-Haouz region (comprising 41 members in total); three urban cooperatives in Boujdour (two women's cooperatives of 6 members each, and a male cooperative with 5 members); a village cooperative in Boutgharar, a province of Magouna (consisting of 18 members); and one village cooperative in Taroudant (comprising of 23 members). 

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), via the Farmer-to-Farmer program, provides support for agricultural cooperatives by engaging 70 American volunteer experts to provide technical consultancy assistance and capacity building trainings to 80 cooperatives. These cooperatives exemplify the positive impact of training as women gain confidence, motivation, communication, and leadership skills to make positive decisions and better their positions. The empowerment workshops also inspire them to train for literacy classes or obtain graduate degrees to complete their studies.

In evaluating the empowerment program, the results of the workshops that were conducted showed that a total of 106 people (103 women and 3 men) acquired job opportunities, most of which came about because of these cooperatives. Some women revealed that the cooperatives helped them cover their daily expenses, buy clothes for themselves or their children, and pay for water and electricity bills. The workshops also helped create more than nine job opportunities for teenage girls in the public and private sectors, making the total number of jobs created due to training workshops 115. Seven girls returned to school because of their participation in empowerment workshops.

The participants help empower other people. If each participant talks to an average of 25 people about their experience during the workshop, 18,875 people are directly affected. Reports indicate that at least 10 other people are indirectly affected by this growing network of community members who participated in the empowerment workshop. This increases the number of beneficiaries to 188,750.

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The High Atlas Foundation has, since 2017, conducted 28 Empowerment workshops that are 32 hours each. A total of 755 participants, predominantly women, have benefitted from workshops in Marrakech, Al Haouz, Azilal, Boujdour, Essaouira, Mohammedia, Oujda, Taroudant, and Magouna. As a result, nine new cooperatives were established, which together include 106 members.

Evaluation results show that of the 106 jobs (in the agro-food, artisanal, and clothing sectors) that have been created, 103 (97 percent) are women. These women have said that the cooperatives’ economic activities help them cover their household expenses, such as food, clothing, and utilities. In addition, the workshops also created nine jobs for teenage girls in the private and public sectors. Seven girls returned to school due to their participation in the workshop.

At the heart of Moroccan society is family, and at the heart of the Moroccan family is women. With half of all incidents of violence against Moroccan women being committed by their husbands, it is imperative to prioritize support for them and engage with family members when necessary. For women who have sought to leave violent or other human rights violating conditions, the project will provide valuable support to explore options toward financial independence through community-based initiatives in addition to legal counsel.

Since 2017, of the 755 rural Moroccan women who participated in HAF’s 4-day empowerment workshop that utilizes a right-based approach (described below), one woman initiated divorce when she determined she will not be able to live in an unhealthy relationship. She first learned at the workshop that the updated family code permits a wife to initiate divorce proceedings—previously the exclusive right of the husband—when the husband does not fulfill any of the conditions stipulated in the marriage contract, or for harm caused to the wife such as lack of financial support, abandonment, violence, and other harm.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
$30,982 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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