We entered a classroom packed with Moroccan women. A local NGO called Development and Solidarity had gathered the women together so that our group of American journalism students could talk with them. We ask questions about their lives and the women’s answers are full of dissension fueled by a passion for change. Busy from sunup to sundown, these women are the gears that make the village work. And they are angry. They are tired of being exploited by what they say are corrupt male politicians. They are concerned with healthcare, housing and their children’s lack of access to education. They do not seem to be afraid to voice their grievances. The picture they paint of the Moroccan woman is at odds with the stereotypical image of the submissive female who is at the beck and call of her husband and who does not speak in public. Soon, more women, children and a few men line up at the windows, peering in to see what is happening in that tiny room. Ashton Songer
Embroidery is the only source of income for the women here. Their work is intricate and beautiful – mostly wide, glittering gold and silver belts for kaftans, traditional Moroccan dresses. The belts are sold in Fez for 200-500 dirhams (23-60 USD), but the women only receive 100 dirhams for each belt which can take between two weeks and a month to embroider. The women say they don’t make enough money for all the hard work and want that to change.
“We want a union!” a young woman exclaims.
But the women say they do not know how to create an official union and anyway women in other villages do the same type of work. It would be easy for Fez merchants to switch villages if a union demanded higher wages. As it is now, the merchants bring embroidery supplies to the women and return later to collect the finished belts and hand women their payments.
Would it be possible to cut out the merchants altogether and sell the belts in Fez directly? La, la, (no) the women insist. It is not safe for a girl to go to Fez alone.
Couldn’t the men of the village take the belts to sell in Fez? The tone of the discussion sharpens. The women tell us they do not trust their brothers, sons, and husbands, adding they fear the men would spend the embroidery money in Fez, taking nothing back to the village.
These women clearly face daunting challenges but, like their counterparts in the classroom, they are outspoken and seem determined to improve their lives. Marie von Hafften MORE