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HAF Translates Academia into Women’s Empowerment Policy

By Samirah Jaigirdar
HAF Intern – Student at Connecticut College

As a person grows, they take on a societal identity which will dictate what they wear, how they act and speak, and how they feel about themselves in the context of their society. As gender is learned, it can be assumed that the cultural constructs of each society propel certain understandings of gender roles. The United States and other Western countries provide a distinct cultural framework for feminism which seeks gender equality and envisions a world where women are seen just as capable as men. However, their specific theoretical framework usually cannot be directly implemented in non-Western countries.

While the pursuit for female empowerment is present worldwide, the female identity differs considerably in each culture. Hence, it is not possible to depend solely on western academia regarding feminism and female empowerment to make sustainable policies that will work in Morocco.

Inspired by the Empowerment Institute’s mission, HAF has created a unique framework for the empowerment of women and girls in Morocco, which seeks to present them with all available opportunities which they can choose to their liking. This was based on the Empowerment Institution’s “Imagine” self-discovery workshops. In this project, HAF aims to train university students and rural women to be social change agents.

HAF wants to strengthen women and girls by providing tools to advocate and act on their needs and goals. The best way for a person to understand their needs and wants is to interrogate their identity and understand their positionality. HAF does this by posing a few simple questions to participants: Where am I now? Where do I want to go? What do I need to change to get there? What is my next growth step? These crucial questions help participants identify their obstacles in specific areas of life, and learn how to turn them into a core belief instead of a limiting belief that inhibits them.

HAF has conducted 39 Empowerment workshops since 2016. A total of 922 participants, predominantly women and girls, have been trained in workshops to recognize their human agency. Part of this initiative was to establish cooperatives which helped women cover their daily expenses, pay bills, and have created jobs. Months after the workshops, HAF has identified economic and personal growth as its primary impacts. Building community has immensely helped women face their fears and continues to let them explore their rights according to their comfort.

HAF has done this by adapting a Moroccan methodology for female empowerment using capacity building and the legal family code of Moudawana. The penal code addresses issues related to the family, including the regulation of marriage, polygamy, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. Using numerous needs assessment and participatory planning, HAF found a uniquely Moroccan way to address female empowerment for the Moroccan community. Integrating the Empowerment Institution’s “Imagine” program with Moudawana has enabled women to learn about legal protections and further social justice.

Feminism and empowerment initiatives have been critiqued by women of developing nations as reflecting solely the desires of white, middle-class Western women. Many Western academia regarding women’s empowerment isolate gender from class and the legacy of colonialism. Thus, it is tremendously important that HAF has found a way to address Moroccan problems in a Moroccan way.

Although women and girls worldwide can have similar struggles, designing a sustainable empowerment program is only possible if cultural beliefs are respected. HAF’s approach learns from the critical parts of Western academia and transforms it in an activist, decolonial, and bottom-up approach which seeks to empower Moroccan women and girls by giving them the knowledge and strength they need to thrive in Morocco. It builds solidarity amongst men and women which creates new ways of being and belonging, while furthering sustainable development goals.

According to the World Bank, there is a growing body of evidence which illustrates that when women are placed in the center of a development agenda, the efficiency in the management of institutions and resources increase. Also, female leaders can have beneficial impacts on social norms. HAF’s mission to empower women will greatly benefit Morocco’s development agenda. Evaluations done by HAF have shown that women are using their newfound incomes, from the cooperatives, have invested it in their families, namely their children. This will lead to greater health and education for Moroccan youth in the long run.

While the fight for empowerment has a long way to go, HAF has found a way to approach it both ethically and effectively. By adopting Western ideas of empowerment into a Moroccan context, they have maximized their chances of women being receptive to their ideas. Additionally, it has enabled women and girls to understand the context and community they live in. This will enable them to become strong community leaders and empower youth to continue sustainable development in Morocco.

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