Promoting Development in Rural Morocco
There is an intrinsic link between human rights and development. Development, in many cases, includes a process of securing access to rights, and their enforcement, whereas the existence of rights enhances development processes.
Human rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Moroccan Constitution as “immutable constants.” Since its ratification in 2011, these rights are being gradually more respected. Though there is today a specific law that secures women’s equal rights, Moudawanat Al-Osra, many rural women are not benefiting from it, particularly in remote areas. We often ask ourselves why governmental decisions, laws, and programs for advancing development, struggle with reaching remote areas. Is this part of what keeps rural communities behind? Will using these laws promote development? How?
Led by these questions, the High Atlas Foundation, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, conducted research including focus groups, with over 200 rural women of the Al Haouz Province.
Here is what we found:
Over 94 percent of the women who participated in our research indicated that they have never heard about Moudawana before. Most communities stated that the legal age of marriage is over 18, yet most girls still marry between the ages of 14-16. Most communities indicated that they felt left behind; that national changes hardly reached remote areas, and that even if they were aware of their rights, they knew they could not secure them. We tried to understand the specific reasons they felt this way.
Two control groups were included in our research. The first were university students from Marrakech, the second were members of rural cooperatives with whom HAF already partners with to advance development projects. Cooperative members indicated that they were more independent, both socially and financially in different areas of their lives. Interestingly, students referred to the issue of using Moudawana and promoting women’s rights as a national problem, which they share responsibility for. Therefore students were interested in learning more and passing on their knowledge to support other women.
Rural women of Al Haouz Province raised three different needs during our discussions.
High illiteracy rates among rural females remains one of the core problems, preventing them from knowing or achieving their rights. Women indicate that this is driven mainly from inequality in access to education.
There is a clash between the national law and local traditions which are the ones to be respected in most cases. This clash was raised as one of the biggest obstacles to implement Moudawana in these areas. Lack of independence, as it is considered inappropriate for women to exit the village (however they may prefer) without their husbands. Also, violence and rape were raised as barriers that prevent particularly young girls from gaining their rights.
Lack of physical access to information, lack of suitable roads and transportation, makes it difficult for women to access governmental offices, and appear in front of a judge (as many laws require). Moreover, women lack financial freedom, which holds them back from accessing their rights. These indications made us understand better the needs of these women, and the proper ways to start working on practicing Moudawana in these areas.
Most women indicated that this was the first time they discussed their own abilities, fears, and personal goals. Resulting from our participatory workshops, one group started literacy lessons, as they wished to be able to understand their rights.
Another group asked for bureaucratic support to start their own cooperative, and become financially independent. We also acknowledge the fact that in some cases, the effect of these kinds of interventions might result in an indirect influence on the participants, which might now be invisible to us, and become clearer in the future.
For now, our main recommendations include:
A process of inclusively assessing of needs and knowledge with every community we work with is necessary, in order to make the community more involved and support the project’s sustainability.
Involve local authorities. We worked only with communities in which HAF gained the trust of their leaders. We see great importance in having the same process of promoting awareness of Moudawana among these leaders, while encouraging them to discuss its potential support of development, for instance through generating money.
Encourage local leadership to promote sustainable development, through creating relationships between rural and urban women. Resulting from this, we designed a program that aims to bring together university students and rural women, to learn about Moudawana, and design local implementations of the law, according to the needs of their villages.
In most of these areas, traditionally, men were the only ones to be involved in previous processes of raising needs and decision-making. Targeting women separately provides a different point of view on needs of the community, as well as different suggestions of ways to answer them.
Furthermore, being based on the Islamic sharia, we hope Moudawana will evoke change regarding women’s rights and their role in society, particularly among other Muslim countries. Through that, we aim to support both individual and collective social change, locally and globally.