By Renee Sang
By Renee Sang
Rabat- In Morocco, entrepreneurship has been on the rise as an economic survival tactic for those seeking to escape the reaches of the country’s high unemployment rate. Although the government has taken initiatives to assist young start-ups and improve the economy, it is still difficult to compete and thrive as an entrepreneur, especially for women.
Making the decision to be self-employed is already a brave choice in itself without having to also compete in a male-dominated field. It can often be intimidating for women to challenge the status quo and have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously.
However, many Moroccan women have faced the issue head-on and successfully integrated into society with their businesses and organizations. Morocco World News spoke with two female entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences.
‘Now everything is open to women’
Asmaa Benachir is the female founder and manager behind the social enterprise Au Grain de Sesame. She acknowledged that every woman’s experience in the workforce is unique and the difficulties experienced vary from field to field.
“It depends what kind of activity you choose. If it is art, there is no difficulties. For creating an enterprise, every woman can do it…Usually, it was man who made this job or work, and now everything is open to women so the women have to make their place. In some activities, it’s not easy. It’s like in every country, not something special to Morocco.”
Benachir founded Au Grain de Sesame in 2007 with the goal to combine art with sustainable development. Her business functions as a literary café, arts and crafts gallery, and training center for women to learn how to produce and sell their own recyclable art.
“I’m an artist, so the things are different. Art is open for women here in Morocco… I think it’s more difficult for women to be in a position of decision, as a man. I think it’s not impossible, because we have women in history, we have them as directors of very big, national companies, and things like that, but there are few. In comparison with men, there are few.”
“I think in the future things are going to be better for women, because now it’s the beginning that [a] woman ha[s] her right, can do what she wants without the authorization of man…and maybe in the future it will be better.”
‘They don’t have the real support they need’
Benachir also steered the attention away from the conditions of women and instead emphasized that part of the problem is the lack of available resources for women. Training, financial support, and education can go a long way in providing a better working environment for women.
“[I]t’s not that women can’t do the things, because it’s forbidden, or things like that. No, they can’t do it because they don’t have the real support they need… My advice [to women] will be to always empower themselves by learning—not stop learning.”
Thanks to initiatives set forth by King Mohammed VI, women have more rights related to divorce, custody over children, inheritance, and more than they had in the past.
However, less constraints on women in accordance with the law does not eliminate their disadvantages. The literacy rate among women in 2015 was 58.8 percent in comparison to 78.6 percent for men. There are clearly still strides to be made in terms of ensuring equality and equal access to rights such as education.
‘When it comes to Morocco … the challenges are different’
Sana Afouaiz is a social entrepreneur and the founder of the non-profit Womenpreneur Organization that provides a platform for women in North Africa to build their business initiatives. She has worked with organizations such as Queen’s Young Leaders of Queen Elizabeth, the European Commission, and Young Professional United Nations.
Afouaiz acknowledged that there are various difficulties that hinder women that may not always be visible on the surface.
“When it comes to Morocco, a country where I grew up myself, the challenges are different. You have the economic difficulties—less economic investors who take you seriously. There’s cultural issues—as a female entrepreneur you have certain limits. For example, being a female entrepreneur means working late, traveling around, et cetera.”
“The mobility in Morocco is different [for women], it’s not as acceptable to work late. There’s a lot of possibility that you get harassed [at night] …because they don’t have the same mobility as men do. The third issue is the mindset. There’s the way women see themselves and the way men see them.”
‘At the end of the day, men see themselves as the breadwinners’
Afouaiz recognized that there is not only an issue of external factors but social notions held by both genders that limit the potential of women. She noted that “at the end of the day, men see themselves as the breadwinners” while women are expected to prioritize family over work, leading many to be discouraged from starting a business.
“When you look at [fields] where women are taking care of people, they don’t have as much difficulty…. When you look at [fields such as] innovation, engineering, business—few are women dominated.”
Economically speaking, she also insisted that there is a need for female entrepreneurship, as women comprise more than 50 percent of the population. However, even when they do pursue entrepreneurship, women may face judgement and a negative reputation in society.
“There’s the image of the entrepreneur woman…She’s traveling around, she’s meeting a lot of people, maybe a lot of men …so she doesn’t fulfill that pure image of a Moroccan woman.”
Access to resources all around the country is also needed to advance and sustain women’s entrepreneurship. Benachir and Afouaiz both recognized the importance of providing funding and education to empower women, especially in rural areas. Afouiaz noted that although there have been efforts to improve the conditions of women in some respects, a greater challenge may come from changing existing social expectations.
“I really think that there is an urgent need to challenge and change the mindset of both men and women in Morocco—this would help to advance women entrepreneurship in Morocco… When you hear the same message every time, your brain starts to believe [it]. The environment and the message that the environment circulates, make[s] the women believe what [is] being said.”
Afouaiz urged women to pursue their passions, be confident in their own abilities, and “not accept society cutting [their] wings.” Setting a positive example may lay a less daunting and more hopeful foundation for future generations of women to follow.