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Podcast episode of - On the Issues - where HAF's president Yossef Ben-Meir is interviewed

Check out this podcast episode of - On the Issues - where HAF's president Yossef Ben-Meir is interviewed.  It is interesting and fun because it is a conversation with his father, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, who is a professor of international relations at New York University.  They talk about sustainable development, Morocco, and project experiences.  Enjoy.

 

 

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Why Education Isn’t the Only Solution: An Overview of Female Employment in Morocco and the Region

By Katherine O’Neill
Marrakech
 

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the lowest female employment rate of anywhere in the world. Though most countries in the MENA region, including Libya and Iran, have seen gradually increasing rates of working women, Morocco’s female labor force participation (FLFP) rate has actually decreased since 1999, now sitting at 26 percent, according to Brookings. This decline not only contradicts global and regional trends, but also comes despite significant efforts both by the Moroccan government and NGOs to increase women’s education, in hopes of improving their employment opportunities. The World Bank estimates that higher FLFP rates could result in a 25 percent average increase in household income, something which would dramatically improve the lives of men, women, and youth in the region.

Women’s education programs are excellent endeavors that change lives and promote equality, especially considering the high illiteracy rates of rural women. However, education alone is not the solution to low FLFP. In Morocco, according to the World Bank, women comprise 47 percent of the population holding a tertiary degree of some kind, and yet the vast majority remain marginalized from the workforce. Similar statistics showing high education and low employment for women are prevalent throughout the MENA region. The issue is not unemployment for women, but complete inactivity in the workforce. Morocco World News reports that over 70 percent of Moroccan women have simply left the workforce; they are neither employed nor searching for work, though one third of these women possess degrees that would qualify them for well-paying jobs.

In a Brookings survey, urban women aged 15 to 29, who were either in school or recently graduated, were asked if they were working or planning to work upon graduation. The vast majority of respondents said no, and were asked for their reasoning: 45 percent listed family opposition, while 30 percent said they were too busy with responsibilities at home. Though lack of education is certainly a problem in Morocco, particularly among rural women, it is clear that it is not the only barrier to female employment.

Neither is legal restriction; though the MENA region does have the highest number of constraints on women in the world – making it difficult for women to attain the social, political, and economic agency necessary to participate in the workforce – Morocco is somewhat of an exception. In 2004, Morocco enacted a progressive reform to its code of family law (Moudawana) to promote equality in the rights of women and men.

In the case of Morocco specifically, advocates of higher FLFP do not need to push for legal reform, but for the active enforcement of existing laws. The Moudawana reform set the stage for women’s economic participation; however, the vast majority of rural women remain unaware of their rights and, therefore, unable to exercise them. The formal law is in place, but it is not being applied effectively. There is not widespread respect of these rights because very few people are familiar with them. Efforts to increase awareness of Moudawana would help remove the implicit biases and barriers continuing to prevent Moroccan women from working.

Since young women listed family opposition and responsibilities at home as their two main reasons for not entering the workforce, governments and NGOs need to design programs that address these issues specifically. In Morocco and the MENA, there is a desperate need for women’s empowerment. Women need self-confidence and the ability to advocate for their ambitions, otherwise they will continue to be consigned to the domestic sphere. The duties of childcare, cooking, and cleaning are placed almost solely on women, making it difficult for them to work outside the home. Incentive programs for employers to provide services that ease the domestic burden on women, such as free daycare centers, paid maternity leave, etc., would significantly help women enter the workforce. Additionally, more focus should be given to the creation of women’s cooperatives, especially in rural regions. Cooperatives allow women to collectively manage their businesses, which means they set their own schedules, and are thus in a better position to accommodate both household and work responsibilities.

Existing strategies to increase women’s presence in the workforce are not working.  Since 2016, the High Atlas Foundation has been conducting a women’s empowerment program in Morocco that integrates Moudawana with a self-discovery process, bringing women together to unlock their socioeconomic potential. Often, this program (developed in conjunction with the Empowerment Institute) results in the creation of cooperatives, where rural women pool their resources and talent to start their own entreprises. If sustainable change is to occur, governments and NGOs need to take a participatory approach that focuses on the self-identified obstacles and needs of women.

 

Katherine O’Neill is studying International Relations at Claremont McKenna College; she is interning with the High Atlas Foundation for the summer.

 

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The Aboghlou women’s cooperative meets outside in Ourika Valley, Morocco.

 

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When Policy Turns to Action

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Nathan Park, HAF Intern
Marrakech, Morocco
 

Morocco World News just released an article covering the “first UN-sponsored Global Compact on Migration” that occurred on July 13th in New York City.  Morocco was praised for the way that it has dealt with the international migration crisis by its democratic and innovative policies. In 2013, the government implemented a ‘regularization program’ to legalize irregular migrants and provide resources to aid in their societal integration.

While Morocco has taken these bold legal steps towards integrating its high influx of irregular migrants, there is still a discrepancy between policy and action. Morocco has taken positive strides in this endeavor, yet many migrants still struggle to obtain the resources that Morocco claimed it would provide.

The promise to contribute a “strong multilateral framework” for migrants across the participating countries is worthy of praise, but like Morocco’s 2013 regularization programs, its effectiveness often falters when implemented. This Compact based on international consensus represents a global vision, a global voice, that the world desires to see accomplished. But is that all it will be? Too often, voices are susceptible to getting lost amidst the shifting tides of politics.

The U.N. plans to host a conference in Marrakech next December signifying the complete adoption of the Global Compact. This will push Morocco to continue building on the regularization programs they have already established, and continue creating the necessary infrastructure to support it within their country. There will need to be a better streamlined process for regularization, as well as better legal and social infrastructures for assisting migrants with their transition to a new life.

Morocco’s migration policy model is groundbreaking for North Africa, but real progress towards addressing the international migration crisis will come only when the countries who have signed the U.N. Global Compact truly make the decision to invest long-term. Countries will need to take similar steps to Morocco in creating democratic initiatives to legalize and integrate the migrants that come to them.

One such example is a proposed legal aid clinic for migrants and refugees at University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in the Fez. Local solutions such as this reflects the will to welcome migrants into one’s country and demonstrates tangible leaps towards achieving it. But more than just representing a global consensus on the migration crisis, the Global Compact creates international accountability that is vital to making sure that policy turns to democratic action.

Can the Moroccan Approach Inspire a Development Revolution?

Julia Al-Akkad
Marrakech
 

Decades of conflict and complex power dynamics between Jewish and Muslim communities have resulted in a deep-rooted aversion towards cultural engagement. This continues to hinder multiethnic relationships throughout the Middle Eastern and North African region. Even so, a rich history of ethnic and religious diversity remains an inseparable embodiment of the cultural atmosphere in Morocco. In the June 2018 issue of the Mediterranean Quarterly, Yossef Ben Meir discusses Morocco’s notable display of commitment towards peaceful coexistence, presenting promising outcomes for the kingdom. Concurrently, the question arises whether this Moroccan integration of cultural preservation and sustainable development is able to transcend borders across the Arab region.

At the onset of the independence of Morocco, the country was home to the largest Jewish population in the Muslim world. The mellah, a Jewish quarter, in Marrakech emerged within the sixteenth century, a notable testament to the prominent Jewish identity instilled within early Moroccan history. This vibrant multicultural history is made evident by the approximately six hundred Hebrew “saints” that are buried at sites across Morocco, now recognized within the national preservation program. In a benevolent act of solidarity, the Moroccan Jewish community began to donate land to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in 2012 to plant organic fruit-tree nurseries for the benefit of Muslim farming families and schools. While impoverished families cannot afford to allocate the necessary two years to grow saplings from seeds, the Jewish community’s interfaith act helped to overcome this obstacle, initiating the House of Life project.

Access to profitable resources on behalf of the land donation is intended to increase these communities visibility in the market, secure organic certification, and increase food security. Creating self-sustaining opportunities advances socioeconomic status and consequently leads to accessibility to resources, such as in education and health care, which can provide the means to counter the poverty trap. These human development outcomes are catalyzed in part from the Jewish communities’ act of interfaith through the donation of land. The multicultural component to the development approach contributes to the mutual respect and trust that builds between communities, which suggests greater sustainability of these projects.

Cultural platforms deeply ingrain and perpetuate stereotypic content and false narratives about groups of people, which creates predispositions in our minds. The phenomena of prejudice and bias used to an extreme are detrimental to civilization and work against human endurance. Even when multiethnic groups are not engaged in explicit competition, imbalances in power and access to valued resources among various groups lead to perceptions of competitiveness. Both communities must be perceived as mutually contributive and valuable to reduce the inclination to feel vulnerably dependent on the other. Therefore, portraying out-groups as a beneficiary to the in-groups success can actually decrease prejudice and bias among the Jewish and Muslim communities because it can shift the out-group from a competitor to an ally. The High Atlas Foundation’s focus on cultivating mutual respect and appreciation of other groups gives a promising outlook towards the future of interfaith and sustainable development.

However, in Ben-Meir’s essay, the evidence for the legitimacy of the Moroccan approach to development is largely limited to direct observation of only one organization’s fieldwork. Assessing outside efforts’ success or failure in human development would contribute to an expanded understanding of the factors that either facilitate or hinder efficient implementation. The essay makes note of Morocco’s potential to act as a positive model for fostering interfaith dialogue. For instance, the visit by Israelis and Palestinians to the nursery sites near the Jewish cemeteries in Morocco in recent years aimed to inspire individuals to implement these projects in their local communities across the region. Yet, there was no discussion in the essay of how the antecedent conditions in Morocco, that don’t necessarily exist elsewhere, may be fundamental towards its ability to implement projects efficiently.

In the context of Israel and Palestine, we must acknowledge the only recent formation of the Jewish state that served to heighten the historically existing tensions in the region. Albeit the undeniable tensions that have endured between the Jewish and Muslim communities in Morocco, there is still an historical record and contemporary memory of peaceful coexistence. In addition, the intricate power dynamics plant distrust between members of the communities because of the vulnerabilities that arise within the Palestinian communities, who are denied equal access to the social, economic and political resources. Although sustainable development through an act of interfaith may already be implemented amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, evidence of such projects would confirm the validity of the Moroccan approach. However, it is necessary to test and analyze what factors cultivate or hinder efficient implementation of human development integrated with interfaith. Then, efforts are able to knowledgeably create the suitable environment for community growth in different cultural contexts.

Ultimately, human development is not occurring at levels suited to address the detrimental consequences of immense poverty and marginalization in Morocco. Therefore, investment in human development rooted in interculturalism is critical to transform the potential in impoverished communities into unbounded socio-economic success. The increasingly globalized world collectively benefits politically, socially and economically in an accepting and cooperative, rather than condemning, atmosphere. Therefore, investment in the Moroccan approach ought to be supported to grow, as it can build a powerful symbol within sites such as religious cemeteries that act as a sanctuary to nurture the conditions for a unified and more prosperous future.

 

Julia Al-Akkad is an intern at the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, and a student at the University of Virginia studying Foreign Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies.

 

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The organic fruit tree nursery at Akrich (Al Houaz province of Morocco) on land granted by the Moroccan Jewish community near the burial site of the Hebrew “saint” Raphael Hacohen (2018).

 

The Free Trade Agreement affirms Environmental Protection

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By Hajar Ennamli and Amy Zhang
Marrakesh, Morocco
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On June 15th, 2004, Morocco and the United States signed their free trade agreement. In addition to removing informational frictions and trade barriers between them, these countries committed to sustainable environmental protection through consistent enforcement and administration of environmental laws.  In the environmental chapter, the two nations clarify how they would enact this protection, preventing harm to human, animal, and plant health.

The free trade agreement recognizes the dangers of pollutants, contaminants, toxic materials, and the consequential need to prevent and control their dissemination. It also upholds the protection of wild or endangered flora and fauna, as well as their habitat and other natural areas. It then outlines how violators would be prosecuted. While they are protected by rule of law, the process requires violators be effectively sanctioned, considering numerous factors such as the nature and gravity of the violation, and their economic condition. Any concerned person may request that the government investigate alleged violations, receive due consideration, and get appropriate access to the proceedings. This formally establishes the due process for victims of environmental degradation.

However, each country retains the right and authority to draft and enforce laws for domestic environmental protection. Notably, the countries explicitly recognize that they cannot compromise their environmental protection laws for more investment or trade. In the face of economic temptation, they committed to maintaining their environmental standards. In fact, they view environmental protection as a pathway to more international investment and development, especially with the growth of the environmental technology industry. As such, they intend to implement incentive structures so that companies will voluntarily act to protect the environment, such as public recognition for nature protection and credit trading programs. They also support partnerships between businesses, local communities, NGOs, government agencies, and scientific organizations.

 

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Moreover, the agreement asserts ways that the governments can act to ensure that environmental protection is sustainable. It emphasizes public participation opportunities, recognizing the need to engage civil society in understanding environmental policy. In order for innovative environmental protection approaches to become widespread, the people need to learn about them, understand them, become interested, and act. Thus, the two governments have agreed to provide opportunities for the public to contribute agenda topics, opinions, and advice. Also, each country is to consult a national advisory committee that includes representatives of both environmental and business organizations, as well as members of the public. This agreement promises that the two countries will inform the people and be open to discussion for environmental regulations.

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The trade agreement continues beyond this mutual commitment to each other. They are to collaborate with each other for environmental policies and standards, exchanging expertise, hosting joint seminars and training sessions, and otherwise sharing information. In this way, they can both build their capacity to develop and conserve natural resources together. They established a Working Group on Environmental Cooperation, comprised of government representatives from both countries. They have also created a Joint Committee to give recommendations for a Plan of Action, and identify priority projects for environmental cooperation.

Traditionally, it has been argued that free trade agreements would bring about environmental degradation, but this one has promised to enhance  environmental cooperation between Morocco and the United States. Liberalization ought to increase Morocco’s access to environmentally friendly technologies and encourage an exchange of expertise with the U.S. government. In addition, the agreement emphasizes public participation through emboldening the civil community to seek knowledge and take action to protect their environment. In working together and signing this agreement, the two countries demonstrated hope to strengthen their economies and protect their lands.

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