In Morocco, a group of union women are working to bring more women into leadership positions within the country’s major trade unions. Diversity among those charged with making decisions paves the way for changes in the labour market and conditions for women in general. To date, the KVINFO-backed project has resulted in 24 women being elected as union representatives and leaders.

Fact box

KVINFO is working with a wide range of partner organisations across the MENA region with the aim of improving equality for marginalised groups of society.

Read about KVINFO’s objectives for working with equality within the MENA region. KVINFO’s commitment is based not merely upon the laws applicable in each country but also upon the existing structural barriers that continue to uphold inequality.

Read more about KVINFO’s commitment in Morocco.

Facts about KVINFO’s equal-opportunities collaboration with Moroccan trade unions:

  • I 2013, KVINFO initiated a training programme for 48 Moroccan union workers aimed at strengthening and enhancing their leadership skills.
  • The women represent three of Morocco’s largest trade unions: Fédération Démocratique du Travail, L’Union Marocaine du Travail and Syndicat National de l’Enseignemant du Supérieur
  • The basis for the programme was founded within a sociological report compiled by KVINFO which analysed the challenges facing women when they aim to gain influence at leadership level within the Moroccan trade unions.
  • As a direct consequence of this training programme, 14 women were elected to union leadership posts in 2014 alone.
  • A new group of 30 women is nearing the end of the programme, and the 78 women in total who have undergone the training will in 2015 be charged with training new women in management techniques. 

“It’s a question of acknowledging our potential. Often, women feel that they’re inferior, but all women possess valuable potential – potential that we need to bring to the fore”, tells Yamina Babaou.

Together with Fatima El Achkar and Jamila Ayegou, Yamina Babaou sits on the six-women-strong steering committee working to promote the participation of women within Morocco’s trade unions. The committee, which has been supported by KVINFO since 2012, represents the three largest unions in morocco:  L’Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT), Fédération Démocratique du Travail (FDT) and Syndicat National de L’Enseignement du Superieur (SNESUP).

In 2013, 48 women participated in a training programme to improve their communication and leadership skills. In 2014, 30 new women joined the programme. It is hoped that the development of skills will spread like ripples in water, as the 78 women who have successfully completed the programme will in 2015 begin to pass on what they have learned to other women.

“We found that there was a need to strengthen the competencies of the women working within Moroccan trade unions. We lacked access to the most influential posts, and even when we did manage to get certain posts within the organisation we found that it was not here that the major decisions were being taken. Women often lack self-confidence. We have now followed a programme that has provided us with training in positive communication, conflict management, women’s leadership and mentoring. All this has been followed up with training modules in adult education theory and lesson planning so that the women who have been through the programme are equipped to train other women”, continues Yamina Babaou, UMT.

Jamila Ayegou, SNESUP, is keen to back her up.  

“Self-confidence is clearly a key factor. Because of this, negotiation technique is an important element of the programme. Many women find it very daunting when they have to speak up at meetings or have to try to convince opponents to come round to their way of thinking. But there are techniques that can be adopted to easily break through these types of mental blocks. We’ve always worked to find ways of making the idea of taking up a management post less complicated. The simple act of working together as a group has formed a basis for our mutual support of each other. It’s vital that you don’t feel alone”, explains Jamila Ayegou, adding that many of the women have also found that their training in positive communication has helped them to resolve family conflicts that previously they would have felt incapable of dealing with.
 

Focus on the challenges facing women

The partnership programme is the result of a report compiled by KVINFO that analysed and identified the equality-based challenges within Moroccan trade unions.

Whereas the gender-related challenges of breaking through the career ‘glass ceiling’ are in many cases comparable to the challenges faced by Danish women, Moroccan women are faced with other specific challenges. One such example can be found within the Moroccan agricultural sector where unskilled workers are often abused and where women working on the land are unaware of their rights.

Tradition-bound Moroccan culture, in which women still undertake the majority of housework, is yet another challenge.

The three women believe that the gender-specific challenges will remain off the agenda unless more women take on decision-making positions within the organisations. 

“There are a lot of women in the labour market in Morocco, and the figures continue to rise. But when women are not represented in the structure of trade unions, the specific issues facing women in the labour market are not represented either”, points out Fatima El Achkar, FDT.
 

Exploitation of unskilled labour

Yamina Babaou represents the subdivision for the agricultural sector (FNSA) in the national trade union UMT. For her, the biggest challenge is in mobilising, informing and educating many of those women working within agriculture who today are working under unacceptable conditions.

“In today’s agricultural sector much of the unskilled manual work is undertaken by women. They experience discrimination, and their rights are infringed. They don’t receive the correct wages, they aren’t registered in the correct social and healthcare systems, and they are often harassed – both sexually and personally. Even violence is not unheard of in the workplace. Often they are uneducated and illiterate – and they’re usually never members of any trade union. So the first step is to get them organised, to inform them of their rights and obligations”, explains Yamina Babaou.

She’s in no doubt that more women in union management positions would bring the specific working conditions faced by women onto the agenda. Not only do they need to be represented, but they also need to be supported. When these women are not registered in accordance with their rights to social services, they can for example lose their right to a state pension and face an old age living in poverty – a problem that’s particularly pertinent within the private sector.   

 

Women cannot break through the glass ceiling

Even though Morocco is still lagging behind its neighbour Tunisia in terms of equal rights, it is nevertheless one of the countries in the MENA region that does have a more progressive policy on equality. From a legal perspective, women enjoy the same rights of access to the labour market as men. In practice, however, women still face a number of challenges that means their presence within leadership positions remains relatively limited. The KVINFO report also showed that even though women are employed in Moroccan trade unions, they tend to move horizontally throughout the organisations’ structures. They do not move vertically.

“We talk a great deal about parity and equality, but women in Morocco still face many limitations. Often, we are given secondary positions or our presence is merely symbolic”, tells Yamina Babaou. 

Jamila Ayegou explains that the problem is that women often take a step backwards when political discussions within an organisation come to a head. For her, strengthening the women’s own competencies is not enough. She believes that a major change in the mindset of people needs to take place.

“We’d like to change the entire mindset within the labour market. Here, we want to involve the men. For example, it will be very difficult to change the practice of having an after-work meeting at a café rather than in the workplace during working hours if the men are not backing that change. But women cannot hold meetings outside normal working hours when it is they who remain responsible for looking after the home. It’s because of this that we’re working on several levels where we constantly draw attention to the conditions faced by women”, she explains.

Female activism

Yamina Babaou, Fatima El Achkar and Jamila Ayegou all agree that the greatest hurdle facing any future development lies in modernising the traditional Moroccan way of thinking – a way of thinking that is very much centred on the family. As long Moroccan women continue to be responsible for 100% of the work in the home, any other work taken outside the home literally means working double for the majority of women who dream of having their own careers. As long as there are only 24 hours in a day, becoming involved in union work on top of all of this is beyond contemplation for many women. 

Nevertheless, feminist activism at all levels of society is the way to ensure change.

“We continue to move in the right direction. The status of women in the labour market, in the family law and in the constitution has improved over the past few years. These changes are a direct result of the many women who have been involved in civil-rights organisations. They have pushed and pushed, and they continue to do so. In this area, our collaboration with KVINFO has meant a great deal as we have come into contact with an organisation that already has experience with this type of work and that can give us both moral support and practical advice”, explains Fatima El Achkar.

Danish-Arab Partnership Programme

KVINFO's programme in the Middle East and North Africa is financed by:

 

To date, the project has resulted in 24 women being elected to representative or leadership positions within Moroccan unions in 2014 alone. And this is a result about which all three women feel very proud. They’re currently developing training tools to enable them to increase the capacity of the next group of women participants who dream of gaining influence within the world of trade unions in Morocco.