In Morocco, 6.5 million women work in rural food production. More than half of these women work informally without a contract, therefore without access to social protection, health care or any formal infrastructure that would give them access to government support in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the pandemic, the Euro-Mediterranean region has experienced profound socio-economic repercussions, which threaten to undermine a decade of economic development.
In response, the Union for the Mediterranean, financially supported by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), launched a grant programme in August 2020. Four projects were awarded these grants, including the FLOWER project, which focuses on the agricultural sector and the empowerment of rural women.
The agricultural sector was particularly affected by the pandemic due to the restricted movement of people and goods, the closure of markets and usual sale outlets, as well as changes in consumer habits, including apprehension around products whose production could not be traced.
The FLOWER project therefore aims to inform women workers about their socio-economic rights, the health risks of the pandemic and the opportunities available in terms of laws, funds and market functioning, in order to improve their working conditions, production processes, food quality and hygiene, distribution channels and access to local and national markets.
Read the interview with Asmaa Kherrati, coordinator of the FLOWER project.
Could you briefly explain how the FLOWER project works?
The FLOWER project was set up in Morocco and Tunisia and aims to empower rural women through a concrete action plan. We started with an assessment of the situation for women in rural areas at the beginning of the pandemic. This enabled us to identify local actors, whether they were women who had already created cooperatives or others who were in a precarious situation in the sense that they were working in the informal economy.
In Morocco alone, we were able to reach over 1,000 women, all of whom were impacted by the pandemic The challenge that came up most was related to marketing, because they were used to participating in various fairs to sell their products, which was obviously not possible for a very long time following the pandemic.
The project is very helpful for the women as it is an excellent opportunity to acquire skills in product development, e-commerce, marketing and communication in order to best adapt to a changing market and overcome the COVID-19-induced crisis. Ultimately, the FLOWER project allows them to be more independent and resilient in the face of these challenges and strengthens their capacity to adapt.
Can you tell us about your experience of being a woman in your sector in Morocco? Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges?
After spending several years in Senegal for work, I co-founded the social enterprise, Enjoy Agriculture, which connects rural women working in agriculture with travellers from all over the world who wish to discover African culinary and agricultural traditions.
I came back to Morocco almost two years ago, where I did notice progress regarding the situation of women and gender equality. But statistics do not lie. They clearly indicate the differences between men and women in terms of empowerment and access to the labour market, that still need to be overcome. This situation is encountered in everyday life, where one can see women being side-lined, especially when it comes to work, and some men’s scepticism when a woman runs her own business. That’s why projects like FLOWER are so important — they help empower women and, above all, cast them as actors in their own lives, not just spectators.
What are the advantages that cooperatives offer rural women (among others), compared to “traditional” companies?
Cooperatives give women a professional status that’s equivalent to traditional businesses. They also facilitate collective decision-making. Cooperatives create value and give women a place in society, where they can make their own decisions as actors, and offer them financial autonomy through fair remuneration equal to the hours of work invested. The cooperative model is therefore much more interesting, relevant and adapted to Moroccan society and the rural women within it.
What is your favourite memory of your experience with the FLOWER project?
This project allowed us to meet a lot of women and cooperatives who are really doing great work. I have a fond memory of one day in particular, when we did a workshop with our consultant on women’s leadership. It was an incredible day because we witnessed the personal experiences of each of these women and the challenges they face on a daily basis. They have all shown great resilience in bringing products to consumers that preserve local traditions with sustainable production processes, all the while maintaining such high product quality. This is very inspiring for me, as a woman but also as an entrepreneur.
What are the next steps for the FLOWER project? What lessons have you learned?
Once all the marketing and commercialisation workshops are done, the next step will be to connect with sales platforms so that these women can showcase their cooperatives and products. This is a very big step within the project, as it will allow them to market their products both nationally and internationally.
Personally, what I have learned from this project is that women must continue to fight and to be resilient, to put forward their know-how in order to, as women, find their place in society. It is very important that women do not forget their dreams, and that their life goals can be within reach.
Finally, how have your experiences, from FLOWER and elsewhere, influenced your perspective on the future of gender equality and women’s empowerment?
I think there is still a lot of work to be done in any country. But it’s very important to keep fighting for our rights, whether that’s within the family, with our friends or our professional environment. We must continue to train, improve our skills and keep an eye on the world and on what other women have done, so that we can take it as an example and continue to make things happen, each at our own level.