Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Decade Begins....

It’s actually 2010 already. Wow. The last quarter of 2009 just flew by. Fun New Years in Sefrou to ring in a new decade. Thanks Jess for the party!

What am I thankful for? First and foremost, family and friends-here and there….the chance to have this Moroccan adventure….plenty of warmth to ward of the winter chill (It’s supposed to get to 70 degrees tomorrow-but Santa brought me tons of stuff to keep warm when the chill does come…and it will)….the days are getting longer ( I love hearing the dusk call to prayer later and later each day)….great people to work with….and this silly thing called a blog. I’ve never been one to have a diary or journal. I’m amazed at how much I enjoy keeping my blog. At first it was to be a chronicle of my Peace Corps journey-a way to save the experiences for the future. I’ve found it to be very cathartic as well. With my well-documented language ups-and-downs, the area I find the most challenging is the expression of emotions, the casual conversation, bull-shitting, etc. I’ve instead used my blog as my outlet when my Darija fails me. Thanks for that.

And now back to some bits from our favorite Peace Corps librarian. I’ve got a couple to share with you. The first is particularly relevant-the challenges faced by weavers such as the women I work with on a daily basis. Note that Bouchra, who is quoted, is the woman I may work with at Al Akhawayn on her idea to develop a regional nonprofit website to help market artisanal products. The second is by a woman-Fatima Sadiqi-who was on the selection committee for Marche Maroc. And now….

“ Moroccan Carpet Confidential. Rural women weavers struggle to earn a fair price for their intricate rugs. “ By Erik German - GlobalPost Published: November 13, 2009
KOURKOUDA, Morocco — It takes more than 20 pounds of raw wool and 60 days of handwork to fashion one of Morocco’s famous carpets. The weavers in this village say it’s hardly worth the effort. “You can’t give a damn about carpets anymore,” said Rakia Nid Lchguer, 57, who, like many weavers in this country’s remote south, spent a decade perfecting her art, beginning at age 6. “The market barely repays the cost of the wool,” she said.

Morocco’s vibrant rugs come in a variety of styles — from flat-woven hanbels to the fuzzy creations crafted by Nid Lchguer and her neighbors. The pieces fetch hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on carpet shop floors in Marakesh, Fez and abroad.

The rug stores are as common to Moroccan cities as bright lights on Broadway, and the haggling done inside is a visitor’s rite of passage. Hours can pass with merchants sipping tea, trading fibs with tourists about what the final price will be. Overpayment is the norm.

Yet middlemen ensure that little of that money finds it way back to villages like Kourkouda. While the World Bank estimates Moroccans make an average of $6 per day, in these arid hills south of the Atlas Mountains, that figure seems optimistic.

Seated on the cement floor of a home where she raised seven children, Nid Lchguer said immediate needs have sometimes forced her to sell a finished carpet for as little as $40. The raw materials cost her $33, she said.
While talking, she cleaned tufts of raw, ivory-colored wool by scraping it between two steel brushes. Her neighbor, Fadma Hassi, 65, stopped spinning yarn nearby and said, “That’s if you get to sell it.”

This time, the women have been lucky. Someone ordered on commission a plush carpet with roughly the same footprint as an American twin bed. With the help of a third neighbor, the weavers will split $50 three ways in exchange for an amount of labor that seems alien in a mechanized age.
The rug’s warp alone — a continuous string forming the piece’s vertical threads on the loom — will require hand-spinning a piece of yarn the length of 10 football fields. Among other tasks in the coming weeks, the women will hand-tie more than 100,000 knots no bigger than this lower-case o.

Not all Morocco’s carpets are crafted from hand-spun wool in isolated homes. Some weavers work in small cooperatives, others in factories. Some get their wool pre-spun at the market, others even buy synthetics. But the artisans — the overwhelming majority of whom are women — share similar problems.

“The money is not going to these ladies, for sure,” said Bouchra Hamelin of Al Akhawayn University, who teaches free marketing classes to Moroccan weavers and other artisans. “They don’t know how to write, how to read. They don’t have access to the internet so they don’t have access to customers.”

Instead, Hamelin said, men with trucks have access to the weavers. A middleman tours isolated villages and souks, buys low, drives to the cities, then sells high. “He is the person making the money,” she said.

Women in some villages have formed cooperatives in a bid to bypass middlemen. An association of 88 weavers in Anzal, about 35 miles from Kourkouda, have been marketing their wares directly to tourists since 2007. Like all the weavers interviewed for this story, they speak a local language called Tachelhit, which predates Arabic’s arrival to the region.

Even leaders of the group acknowledge that sales haven’t been stellar. The association’s treasurer, Zahara Ait Ali, said she’s only sold four carpets since the group was formed — a typical number, group members said — for a total of about $300. Still, she said, working through an association is better than going to the souk alone and haggling with a carpet dealer.

“The professionals in Marrakesh, the people who work in the bazaars, they try to drive the prices down,” she said. “In our region no one will speak out about low prices.” It’s hard to tell precisely how much of a cut the middlemen are taking. After all, concealing the wholesale price is the essence of the game. But a brief encounter with a traveling rug merchant named Mohammed Ait Tar offered a clue. Flagged down on a rutted mountain track, he showed off a load of carpets jammed to the ceiling of his tiny, diesel Citroen Berlingo.

He pulled out one plush, coffee-table sized carpet from a stack of rugs he said were woven nearby. What he did next underscored the warm hospitality visitors often encounter in this region, and also hinted at how little the piece must have cost him. “Here,” he said. “A gift.”

And now the second article-a good summary of progress being made and the misperceptions of Islam on women’s rights….

Tunisia, Morocco: North African women at forefront of legal reform.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 By Fatima Sadiqi

Women in North Africa have made tremendous progress in promoting and upholding their rights. Women in this region—commonly known as the Maghreb—are at the forefront of the Arab world in terms of individual rights and gender equality, and constitute models for other Arab women to follow. A number of lessons may be drawn from the inspiring experience of women in North Africa, especially in Morocco and Tunisia.

Access to justice has been greatly facilitated by the new Family Courts in Morocco as necessitated by the Moroccan Family Code of 2004. When women marry, they are now able to retain ownership of their property thanks to Article 49 of the code, which allows for a separate contract on property alongside the marriage contract. This is in accordance with Islamic law, in which women may remain the sole owners of their property and have no legal obligation to share it with their husbands.

In addition, mothers married to foreign nationals in Morocco and Tunisia can now pass on their citizenship to their children—a privilege previously allowed only to men.

The countries of the Maghreb have made significant headway in combating violence against women. Almost all Arab countries have signed the most important international convention that bans such violence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), with exceptions to articles that clashed with a literal interpretation of the Islamic law. But Morocco has recently agreed to the convention in full.

Women are also more visible in economic and academic spheres than before in the Maghreb. Nationwide youth literacy is gradually becoming a reality with women demanding accessible and standardised educational opportunities. And women often spearhead business ventures, are increasingly choosing their professions freely and feeling safer at the workplace as a result of laws that combat sexual harassment, and have better access to clinics and more independence in making decisions about their reproductive health.

Fertility rates have dropped considerably in the region, from well above six children per women in the 1970s to approximately two per woman in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, according to the Journal of African and Asian Studies. This reduction is impressive: the Maghreb accomplished in 25 years what took almost 200 years in France.

Women in the Maghreb have also progressed when it comes to exercising their political rights and civic voice, with more and more women becoming members of their nations' parliaments (43 in Tunisia, 34 in Morocco and 30 in Algeria) and local governing councils (no less than 3,406 in Morocco).

Non-governmental organisations have played an essential role in pushing women's rights forward in the Maghreb region. Networking between associations at national and grassroots levels ensures that activists can disseminate information and rally multiple groups to help promote new legislation or initiatives that help women.

Support networks, such as Anaruz, a network of Moroccan women's associations, are getting stronger despite the society's conservative social norms. Women's rights organisations and individual activists have helped the government to improve the rights of all women, which the state sees as a way to improve society as a whole.

Another lesson that the Moroccan and Tunisian experiences offer is the importance of the place given to gender and women studies in some universities. These academic programmes have proved instrumental in changing social perceptions, attitudes and structures that obstruct gender equality.

One of the main reasons for the slow progress in women's rights in the rest of the Arab world is an unfounded fear among conservatives that granting full equality to women constitutes an imposition of Western values and a deviation from Islamic norms. Proponents of women's rights in the Maghreb, however, have made every effort in their thinking and action to show that it is patriarchy and social norms, and not Islam itself, that constitute the roots of their problems.

Women's rights are indeed congruent with the spirit of Islam and with universal ideals. Islamic jurisprudence has a tradition of ijtihad—an independent and contextual interpretation of the Qur'an and hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad—which allows consideration of culture as a changing concept.

The countries of the Maghreb strive to reinterpret Islam in modern social contexts through their revised family codes, which secure women's rights without compromising Islamic values. Tradition and modernity are not lived as mutually exclusive. The future of women's rights in the Maghreb greatly depends both on the work of civil society activists and continued Islamic legal reform based on universal human rights.

Global Arab Network

* Fatima Sadiqi is a professor of linguistics and gender studies and a UN expert on gender. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)

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