Monday, May 10, 2010

Access to Market

I hit the first of many barriers to market access square in the forehead December 2008. The Association officers left me alone to man their table in Taroudant. With no language, no craft fair experience and no glimmer of "sustainable development," I called Aicha to tell her I'm leaving. I didn't come here to be the middleman for artisans. With the reassurance of older PCVs, I felt content with my decision.

From what I understood, each officer had more pressing matters that Saturday and Sunday. Like what? I didn't understand nor see eye-to-eye. When I returned to my village, I found women washing laundry, hammening and baking bread as they do everyday. Why are they in an Association if it's not a priority? Are they lazy? Unmotivated? What I didn't fully understand were the underlying cultural norms, deep-rooted in a male dominated society.

Addressing the issue of market access meant confronting and challenging some cultural norms.
Particularly in the Souss region, change has yet to fully take effect in rural villages. Women's roles are largely confined to the home- whether by male subordination or comfort. Amina, though well into her thirties, lives and must abide by her father's rules. He says stay home. And so she must stay home, only to dream of distant cities. Similarly is the case of Ilham, the twenty-two year old Association secretary. Her mother forbids her from traveling. In her eyes, a recently divorced women has no prerogative traveling wherever the wind takes her. On several occasions, even going to the nearby market town can be a challenge. Other women can't even fathom traveling to places farther than an hour away. The thought of that interrupts their comfortable world- home, nedi, home. Baraka.

Access to internet also poses a challenge for this Association to connect their products to the right market. No one in the Association knows how to use a computer, much less surf the internet or respond to email. The Association has an email address. However, the former PCV checked their email. They didn't. They don't even have the language skills to properly communicate with potential business clients. The officers pointed to me, instructing me this is my job. Really? No, it's not.

How can I connect these artisans to customers, exporters and/or retailers in a sustainable way? They don't leave the 1,500 person village. None of them are computer literate or have the language skills to sustain a healthy business relationship.

The latter issue proved to be less monstrous than the first. Nadia, a bright high school student, has a computer and internet connection. More importantly, she is proficient in English and French. Since the fall, I've been tutoring her in English. She also happens to be the daughter of an Association member and cousin of the secretary. A couple months ago, Nadia started checking and responding to the Association's email. She's done a wonderful job communicating orders to the officers and following up with business partners. This is good practice for her English and fills an important role in the Association!

Tackling cultural issues concerning access to market is no easy challenge. It's part give (on the male side) and take (on the women's side). Add a spoonful of self-realization and a drop of courage. In the time I've spent in this village, I have seen women view at themselves differently. My host sister, Mina, is just one example.

One night in homestay, me and Mina had an interesting discussion about limits. I complained about my language limits. The prison walls became too much for me to handle.
I couldn't fully express myself, my wants and needs. Furthermore, my life shrank to the home and Women's Center. Mina threw her hands up, "But you're learning! You're smart! Swiya b swiya. In a couple months, it won't be a problem! Jamila and Samira traveled all the time. You will too! Don't you know everyone has limits. My life is the house and nedi. Don't you think that's sometimes frustrating?! What can I do? Dad needs to be fed and the house needs to be cared for."

Who knew that within a year, those seemingly permanent limits crumbled. In February 2009, her father, who had been widowed for over a year, found a new wife. This became a mixed blessing in disguise. Mina hated and blatantly refused to accept another women taking the place of her beloved mother. In a matter of weeks, tension spread around house, polluting a once lively household with a rancid stench. Therefore, she left temporarily. Mina traveled with her brother to stay with him in the Sahara. By summer, she seemed like a new woman. Since the fall, Mina took sewing classes in the souq town while attending the village's Women's Center in the afternoon. Her world now stretches beyond the house. Mina still bakes bread, prepares meals and cleans the house. However, she's a women in motion and I couldn't be more proud.

This past week, Mina accompanied me to Marche Maroc Rabat. With her bubbling personality, selling came naturally. Her illiteracy was no big obstacle. Women from other cooperatives helped her record sales and names. That weekend, she became good friends with Latifa and Laila, the President and Vice President of Cooperative Tifaout. They shared their organizational structure, way of distributing work and money, keep stock, ensuring quality products and so forth.

**Mina and I at Marche Maroc Rabat, where we had about 3,500 DH in sales!

**Me, Latifa, Mina, Laila and Souad.

Coming back from the Rabat craft fair, Mina has made it her priority to initiate changes in the Association. Why don't the officers distribute work evenly and in front of everyone? Why don't they explain the breakdown of costs and expenses? Why aren't there regularly Association meetings? Why aren't there Association meetings at all? Why isn't there a clear tally on stock? Why isn't there transparency?

Yesterday, Mina brought her concerns to the officers. The Association women couldn't be more thankful. It's been a year of passive bickering among the ladies. However, no one has come forth to ignite change. Hopefully, the Association will hold a meeting this week to discuss these matters.

I applaud Mina and Fatima, who attended Marche Maroc Marrakech. Fatima is equally special. She has a four year-old daughter and two year-old son. On a daily basis, she does all the housework, cares for her two children as well as attend Women's Center classes. All that didn't stop Fatima from jumping at the opportunity to attend the Marrakech craft fair. Her husband disapproved. But with a lot of persuasion he said "not no" and Fatima took it. Women like this slowly open the door for female enterprises.


In changing times, Moroccan women play dual role.

By Sarah Touahri 2010-03-14

For many Moroccan working women, the trade-off between home lives and jobs occurs at the expense of time and peace of mind.

While women have acquired some freedom in the working environment, attitudes have not changed as regards the role of a woman within the family. The equality they seek has not yet been achieved on the domestic front.

However, generalizations should be avoided, since an increasing number of young husbands are attempting to counter tradition by helping their wives perform daily tasks.

"Women have more responsibility than men. When men come home, they relax, whereas women must cook and take care of the house and children on their own. Women have gained freedom, but attitudes have not kept pace. Equality must come about in the home," said bank clerk Halima Bernoussi.

A similar view is shared by a number of women who accept their daily lives with resignation. They blame the hypocrisy of Moroccan society in this respect.

Fatima Moustaghfir, a lawyer and Member of Parliament, said that tradition is very important and that only women themselves can change this. In her view, they must teach their children that boys and girls are equal so that the future will be different. "In Morocco, it's still taboo for a man to help his wife with the cooking. Others take a ruthless view on this. Often, even those who help their wives with chores avoid doing so in front of other people," she said.

Sociologist Hamid Ghoulam explained that Morocco is going through a transitional phase, and that women may feel pressure in their daily lives due to their conservative upbringing.

"Many women who work feel deep down that their dual mission is a duty that they must accomplish without batting an eyelid," he said. "Moroccans raise their daughters to be good cooks, whereas it is instilled into boys that they must avoid these womanly tasks."

Nevertheless, Ghoulam said, the current generation is behaving differently. An increasing number of young husbands are attempting to counter tradition by helping their wives perform daily tasks.

Siham M., a public-sector worker, said that the mothers of the future will face less stress, since the way in which children are being brought up is changing. The mother of two boys and a girl, she tries to teach her children the important of equality in the home: "I treat my boys and my daughter just the same. I involve all of them in the housework. In future, I think my sons will help their wives."

Women's arrival in the workplace has enabled them to broaden their horizons and improve their skills, said Rachida Benmasoud, writer and member of the political office of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces.

Change will take time to occur in the home, Benmasoud conceded. Society, she said, is certain of women's role in development, but the cultural system retains a strong presence with regard to traditional roles. She concluded that the state should play a greater role in boosting equality.

An increasing number of young husbands, however, are attempting to counter tradition by helping their wives perform daily tasks.

Many men oppose the notion that women are victims, said teacher Hicham Choubami.
"Women's access to jobs has enabled them to strengthen their position both in society and at home," Choubami noted. He claims that men are increasingly helping their wives go about household chores. "The attitude of Moroccans is changing. Women should not make a drama out of the situation. It's simply a question of organization."

Halima Essaid, a nurse, agrees. She said that women must organize their time so that they do not fall victim to daily pressures. In her opinion, discussing this subject with their husbands should help women.

"At first, my husband didn't help me; I had to do everything myself," she said. "When I talked things over with him, I persuaded him to get more involved around the house for the happiness of our family."

No comments: