Written by Amina Elhajjami, the High Atlas Foundation’s Program Director for the Al Haouz and Taroudant provinces along with National Endowment for Democracy projects in this region, her story gives a glimpse of life in a village of the High Atlas mountains, where women’s associations are beginning to thrive and are supported by men in the community. Amina began her journey with sustainable development while studying at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech and volunteering with local associations. After graduating with a degree in geography in 2010, Amina worked with the association N’fis pour le Développement Economique et Social in the Al Haouz province, leading her to work with the High Atlas Foundation. Here is Amina’s story:
This past year, I traveled to a small village in the High Atlas Mountains. Upon entering the village I encountered my cheerful colleague Fatima Baamrani, HAF’s Project Manager for the Taroudant province. It had been a long time since I had seen her and so we began to discuss our latest news. In the course of our conversation she mentioned she was on her way to a meeting. She mentioned that several women were going to attend and that I should join. The way she was thinking and talking had improved and it was surprising to me.
We began to walk to the meeting. Coming upon the assembly headquarters, I saw several women standing outside the room. I was amazed by this change. Typically women did not attend meetings with men. I stepped inside the room and my attention was immediately drawn towards the pictures hanging on the wall. Underneath the label “Association Activities” were pictures of women involved in several activities throughout the village. I was greatly impressed by this pace of change. After a few minutes, a jovial man entered the room, followed by a few men from the village. Once everyone was seated, Fatima whispered in my ear, “this is the man I’ve been speaking of, Mr. Abdel Aziz. He is the one who supports and encourages us in improving our economic and social situation.” Abdel Aziz started the meeting by saying, “we are very delighted with the success we have achieved in the recent years. Thank you to the women for joining the association and their effective work with us. All of us would like to thank you for your efforts.”
As he spoke, I remembered all of the times Fatima mentioned how much help Abdel Aziz was to the women of this village. He helped them submit their first project to the National Initiative for Human Development. It was a clean drinking water project. As a child, he had seen his elderly mother, alongside the other women in the village, suffer in their efforts to provide clean drinking water. They had to travel great distances outside of their village, all the while carrying water on their backs.
Lost in thought, I was brought back to the meeting by the voice of a man, “Welcome to the Association my sister,” he said to me. “Would you like to register for a women’s literacy course we are offering? Or would you like to take part in one of the income-generating projects we are going to establish?” Surprised, I asked him if he could tell me more about the types of activities that the association carries out to benefit women. He responded to me saying “the women will tell you of all the projects and activities which have benefitted them.” At that point, a woman named Raqia joined the conversation and said, “thanks to Mr. Abdel Aziz turning in the paperwork for an income-generating project, my friends and our families have raised our incomes through the production and distribution of honey.” Another women expressed her happiness with the projects of the Association. She mentioned that Abdel Aziz took an interest in renovating the primary school her daughter attended and that now he provides transport for the girls of the village to attend secondary school
I asked if all the women involved in the Association had the same level of education. Hakima, a young girl responded, that her and her friends were on a break from school and wanted to take part in one of the projects from the Association. Abdel Aziz had suggested that they represent the Association and spread the benefits of the income-generating project in France. She added that the encouragement of Abdel Aziz and the efforts of the female members are the reason for the significant change and development in the village.
I left the meeting affected by what I saw and heard. In the past decade, women typically did not leave the house except to work in the fields. All of the affairs of the Association were entrusted to only the men. But now, women are crucial participants of the association. They are benefiting from the activities and projects of the Association with the support of the men.