Morocco’s Green Plan initiatives have strengthened the country’s infrastructure, sustainability, agriculture, eco-tourism, and economic sectors. The North African country is on a progressive road however the battle for Moroccan women’s rights continues. Due to deeply ingrained cultural traditions and gender roles, Moroccan women have not been able to enjoy the same rights as men. This means that many Moroccan women are illiterate and do not receive an education beyond primary school. Later in life, they are often confined to the roles of wives and mothers. Furthermore, in the Berber (Amazigh) villages, they must do the hard labor of collecting water.
Over the past few years, more eyes are turning to Morocco as a leader on the African continent and investors want to assist in promoting women’s economic empowerment. Also supporting these developments is the United States government. From November 6-9, 2019, Ivanka Trump visited Morocco for three days to promote the US Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. The program aims to help 50 million women in developing nations advance economically by 2026. On her trip, Ivanka visited an olive grove in the capital city Rabat. She met women who recently inherited or purchased land; in the past this was impossible. The advisor and daughter to President Trump expressed that part of the reason Morocco was selected is because of its newer changes like the land ownership law. “We are here to support and encourage the full implementation of that,” she said. “ When you invest in women, they invest back into their families and communities and countries flourish.”
Over the decade many NGOs have also been working to give Moroccan women a voice. Many of them have partnered with women-led cooperatives or established their own. Today Morocco’s cooperatives are opening doors for women to grow their confidence, build employable skills, and gain financial freedom. Here are four NGO’s making a social impact in women’s empowerment in Morocco.
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) was founded by Peace Corps Volunteers in 2000 and is both a Moroccan association and a US nonprofit organization. It is based in Marrakech and New York City. Together they work to implement sustainable initiatives aimed at supporting the Moroccan community with actions in human development, organic agriculture, education, health, and women’s empowerment. The HAF places a strong emphasis on promoting females in the labor force. Due to Morocco’s gender roles, family codes, and cultural barriers, there are still big obstacles for Moroccan women to enter the workforce. Fortunately, the Kingdom has made it easier for females to work in cooperatives and this has been a big step forward for Morocco. According to the HAF reports, women in the workplace can have a positive impact on the local economy and it’s MENA neighbors. In 2015, a survey by McKinsey Global Institute found that supporting women’s economic advancement could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025 and grow the MENA region’s economy by 85%. It also stated that closing the wage gap between men and women in hours worked per day has the potential to lead to a 47% increase in the annual GDP of the Middle East and North Africa.
Richard Nzekwu a writer who attended a HAF planning project in the AlHaouz countryside of the Marrakech-Safi district wrote “we were greeted by the many kind-hearted women working in the elds, planting and harvesting crops. I learned that a lot of these women were widows, single mothers, and divorcees, often ostracized by society and with little or no means to provide for themselves or their families. With the help of HAF, they were able to better their lives by learning sustainable agriculture, including nursing trees and medicinal herbs, clean water and waste management, and environmental stewardship.”
Since 2011, HAF has been a key participant in developing Morocco’s cooperatives to help women expand their financial independence, build their self-confidence, and become contributors to Morocco’s economy. They have worked to cultivate a strong network of individuals who assist in leading four-day self-discovery IMAGINE workshops.
In this program, Moroccan women learn about their human and legal rights. To date, over 380 rural women have experienced HAF women empowerment workshops in Marrakech, Al Haouz, Essaouira, Mohammedia, Oujda, and Boujdour.
The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), and the National Endowment have funded these HAF programs for Democracy (NED).
An NGO that promotes local culture and educational programs with a focus on environmental sustainability, the protection of biodiversity, and the integration of science in Southwestern Morocco. It aims to enable sustainable livelihood and open doors for low-income communities to learn and evolve. One of their most groundbreaking projects is the Fog Collection Initative. The system uses a net to deliver potable water to poor communities in Aït Baamrane. It has also made a major change in the lives of the local Berber village women. Previously, Amazig women would spend up to four hours harvesting for water. The resource was used not only to feed their families but also for their farm animals and irrigation. Furthermore, this was only possible if the rainfall level was adequate and changes in the climate have created droughts. This situation began to change drastically with the utilization of fog. Southwestern Morocco receives fog for six months of the year. Taking advantage of this, Dar Si Hmad has installed fog collection units in the area where the clouds push towards the mountains. Specifically, this takes place from the Sidi Ifni region to the south of Essaouira and from Tangier into Nador. The fog system has changed the lives of many people in the community. It uses solar power and alleviates the concern for potable water. Furthermore, many women’s lives have been changed because they have more time to engage in new activities.
Dar Si Hmad considers women’s empowerment to be critical to the development of future generations and children. The NGO provides weekly training to teach literacy and mobile technology usage so they can work in cooperatives and have multiple sources of income. These trainings have also allowed them to take leadership roles in fog-related harvesting and development projects. Reflecting on the changes to her community, one beneficiary expressed “Life was hard before… The difference now [having water in our homes] is like lifting off a heavy burden.”
Another female-focused projects led by Dar Si Hmad is a Water School Initiative. The majority of the students are girls between ages 8 and 16. The program aims to introduce them to typically male-dominated subjects like science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Older girls from the Berber village are encouraged to continue their education through the Girls’ E-Learning program, a tool to help them pass national exams and pursue higher education. The initiative aims to fight the statistic that in rural Morocco, 63 percent of students of secondary school age (12-17) are no longer in school.
Other notable projects Dar Si Hmad is associated with is the Search for Common Ground. The Moroccan NGO alliance is committed to women’s socio-economic empowerment and gender equality. They also hosted a national initiative in Agadir with many NGOs and cooperatives. Some of the participants were invited to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign.
Dar Si Hmad’s founders created the organization inspired by the principles of Si-Hmad Derhem. The Taloust village native (near the Anti Atlas Mountains) was a business genius. He made his money in commerce and made big contributions to his Amazigh village. The NGO is partnered with dozens of organizations. Among them are the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Observer Status), FogQuest, American Institute for Maghreb Studies (AIMS), and the Ministry of National Education – Ifni Delegation. Its donors include the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, the Moroccan Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Democracy.
A nonprofit training center dedicated to serving the Moroccan female community through job training at their Amal Center restaurant. The social entity strives to make positive changes in the community by offering programs that help close the unemployment gap, teach new skills, and enhance job skills. All trainees considered for the program meet the following five criteria: they are between the age of 18 to 35 years old, have no or very low income, are in a difficult social status (divorced, widowed, a single mother), are motivated to learn and work, and are ready to take advantage of the tools available at Amal to improve their skills. The program was created with the hope that after the exchange participant’s lives will be transformed and they achieve social and economic stability.
Amal Center operates as a restaurant, particularly known for its savory tagine and couscous dishes in their Marrakech and Targa locations. This means that the skills participants will learn are kitchen based. These include practical cutting, baking, cooking, serving and cleaning techniques. Additionally, students attend classes for education in hygiene, security, service and language skills (French and English). After completing their six-month training programs Amal further assists with job placement. They help their graduates secure positions in hotels, riads, and private homes to help them be financially independent.
One recent graduate was Aicha. After losing her mother to cancer and watching her father pass away, she was left in a difficult situation. After being accepted into the Amal Center program she was able to learn useable kitchen skills and communicate with clients. The program gave her confidence and she is currently working as cleaning staff in a Marrakech villa. She has a monthly income and can now support herself.
The center was founded in 2012 by Nora Fitzgerald Belahcen, who was born in Morocco to American parents. Her immersion in both cultures opened her to large social and economic differences. Having profound respect for Morocco, Nora started her hopeful idea with a small concept of a few women selling baked goods. Today the restaurant facilities are open 7 days a week. It is even possible to take cooking lessons from the women in the training programs. Amal offers its training programs at no cost and is self-sustained.
4. Education For All (EFA) Helping Female Moroccan Youth and Creating Volunteer Programs for Women
In the west and other developed countries education is often taken for granted. In Morocco’s High Atlas Mountain communities, this luxury is not taken so lightly. Children living in the High Middle Atlas Mountains seldom get an education beyond primary school. Secondary schools are located several kilometers away from the Berber villages and most parents do not have the means to pay for transportation or allow their children to live and study outside of the home. EFA works to solve this problem. Since 2007, they have created opportunities for more girls to further their education by opening high-quality boarding school houses. Originally parents were concerned however the legal support from the Association in Morocco helped to ease worries. Additionally, the house’s environments are designed to be comfortable and nurturing so the girls can excel in their studies. Since it’s 2007 program, a reported 90% of students have passed all the courses and to date 50 EFA students have entered university.
The idea for EFA originated when a group of friends were inspired by John Wood’s Room to Read nonprofit organization. After one of their gatherings, they decided to formalize their meetings and help raise money for female boarding houses. EFA has built girls boarding houses in the High Atlas town Talaat n’Yacoub, Ouirgane, and Asni. As of 2017, they have 5 boarding houses that have served over 185 girls.
In addition to the sponsoring from their sister company Education For All Morocco Limited UK, EFA also has the support of Monsieur Bouchaib El Moutaoukil, the local Governor of the Province of Al Haouz. EFA also runs international volunteer programs where women from unique backgrounds share their skills with young girls.