Last year at this time I wrote a draft for a post that I never ended up publishing. It was about my excitement and frustration around International Women’s Day (IWD). This year, however, a change in events has made for something worth sharing.
IWD is a big deal for Morocco-associations and institutions. They hold parties, events and forums around the country in celebration of the day. While some celebrations may just be paying lip service to the cause, it’s still important to spread the awareness of how far women have come and how far we still need to go as we reach for equality.
I think IWD is important, but it is hard for me to stomach the celebration one day, and the reverting back to business as usual the next. We loan the microphone for a day, we hear the female voice for a moment, thank the males for their generosity and give it back, satisfied with our instant in time.
This is exactly what happened last year. After a week worth of programming around IWD, the next week, a community forum discussing concerns in Essaouira welcomed over 300 community members—mostly males—and a discussion panel made of seven Essaouira leaders, six of whom were men. This year, we held a public event featuring an entirely female panel. As well known women in the community, they shared their experiences, their triumphs and their obstacles. The women who spoke I’ve grown close with over the past two years and represented government, education, art, fitness, social services and small business with two student leaders moderating. We had traditional music and modern dance performed by two distinct female groups, and of course, Khadija helped cater the event with healthy food as a way to celebrate the completion (and continuation) of our women’s lifestyle workshops. It was a safe space to celebrate women and girls of Essaouira as well as encourage women to keep pushing their social boundaries.
A few weeks after IWD, my Essaouira based supervisor from the Ministry of Youth and Sport called asking me to work a spring camp 30km outside of Essaouira. “You’ll be excited…it’s all girls.” I’ve been planning a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp for over a year but the timing and funding haven’t worked out yet. Knowing this, he was particularly happy to present this opportunity. “There is a push to do girls camps because of the 8 of March, International Women’s Day.” I thought to myself, progress—even though it was pretty last minute—the Ministry was actually looking past day one.
As with anything we do in Peace Corps, having a counterpart is essential. This is not only be more efficient and effective but also to further build the capacities of the facilitator thus promoting sustainability. Karima, the go to girl that comes to mind when doing most of my programming, was my first contact.
“I’m with you,” she said without hesitation.
Karima grew up through the Bayti Association of Essaouira, a social service NGO supporting marginalized, at-risk youth, in the community. Through Bayti, her undeniable resilience and inner self-motivation, Karima serves as a role model for her peers as well as the current Bayti youth following in her footsteps.
Our week long GLOW Camp set out to empower 32 girls from rural villages outside of Essaouira. Throughout the week, Karima grew as a facilitator and leader. Each afternoon session we led gender and development sessions where she inspired the girls to stay in school, try new things, know their rights, their bodies and break down certain social pressures and gender roles.
We planned the sessions using resources from the Peace Corps Gender and Development Committee, Girl Rising and Global Girl Media. On top of our sessions the girls participated in sports, yoga, they received first aid training, and had lively evenings full of singing, theater and games.
A pivotal time at the camp was after a session where the girls were writing goals as well as what obstacles may get in the way of reaching these goals. This was midway through the week and the girls were comfortable and many of them, vulnerable. Some challenges started from within and some out of their control. The tears began. Karima brought the girls together and told them her story–how challenge after challenge got in the way of her ultimate goal as a student-going to University. Determined, she made overcame a lot to make it and is currently completing her studies. Tears continued.
It was evident, the girls were desperate for a space they could express themselves and grow, and when they got it this week, they excelled. Hopefully the supportive and trusted community that was formed extends itself beyond the confinements of the camp. Many of the girls go to school together and/or live in the same boarding facilities during the week. They all acknowledged their desire and determination to chose type of future they envision for themselves and help sustain for the next generation.
This year’s International Women’s Day and the camp that followed have given me a burst of new energy as I enter my third year of service. A year that I anticipate will be full of more female empowerment programming and possibly even another GLOW camp.