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Cablegate: Banking On Morocco's Rural Women

UNCLAS SIPDIS CASABLANCA 00185
CXCASABL:
ACTION: ECON
INFO: FCS CG EXEC POL PAO

DISSEMINATION: ECON
CHARGE: PROG

APPROVED: ACG: MORDONEZ
DRAFTED: ECON: LMENDEZ
CLEARED: ECON: MDETAR, USAID: KPOTTER

VZCZCCLI196
RR RUEHC RUCPDOC RUCNMGH RUEHFR RUEHMD
DE RUEHCL #0185/01 2611619
ZNR UUUUU ZZH

R 181619Z SEP 09

FM AMCONSUL CASABLANCA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8522
INFO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0723
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3898

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CASABLANCA 000185


SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA/MAG
COMMERCE FOR NATHANIEL MASON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD PGOV KWMN MO
SUBJECT: BANKING ON MOROCCO'S RURAL WOMEN

REF: A) CASABLANCA 163
B) 08 CASABLANCA 232

1. (SBU) Summary: Official statistics do not accurately reflect
the participation of rural women in Morocco's agricultural sector.
As a result, women's contributions to the economy remain
underreported and under-appreciated. According to the Moroccan
Association for the Development of Rural Women, nearly 1.1 million
women are employed in Morocco's agricultural sector, of which
400,000 are said to be working informally. Discussions with civil
society and government interlocutors indicate that while legislation
such as the New Family Code (the Moudawana) has altered the
socio-economic climate for women in Morocco, the country's rural
women continue to face enormous obstacles. Unaware of their rights,
they are among Morocco's poorest, least educated, and most
marginalized communities. Nevertheless, encouraged by civil
society, Morocco's rural women are successfully using financial
instruments such as microcredit loans and cooperatives to gain
financial independence that yields social as well as economic
dividends. End Summary.

---------------------------------
Morocco's Hidden Productive Force
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) Living in the isolated regions surrounding the Atlas
Mountains and the country's north-eastern region bordering Algeria,
rural women's contributions to the agricultural sector in Morocco
are underreported and as such are not fully appreciated in economic
terms. According to the Moroccan Association for the Development of
Rural Women (AMAPFRO), nearly 1,100,000 women are employed in
Morocco's agricultural sector, of whom 400,000 are employed
informally. Working up to 60 hours a week, women participate in
crop production and livestock care, provide food, water, and fuel
for their families, and engage in off-farm activities to diversify
their families' livelihood, according to AMAPFRO. For example, rural
women provide much of the labor force for the cultivation of
important export crops such as citrus products.

---------------------
Obstacles to Progress
---------------------

3. (SBU) The new Family Code (Moudawana) passed in 2004 instituted
important changes to the rights of women, such as providing equal
rights to men and women in marriage and in divorce, raising the
legal age for marriage from 15 to 18, and giving widows the right to
inherit their husband's land (reftels). "Despite these critical
reforms, five years after its passage, the Moudawana is rarely
enforced in Morocco's countryside," said Nabila Freidji, Executive
Director of a leading microfinance organization, Cash One.
Gender-based discrimination continues to deny rural women (who
remain generally uninformed about their rights) access to and
control over land and other productive resources. This in turn
limits their access to credit, as commercial banks are reluctant to
lend without collateral.

4. (SBU) It comes as no surprise, then, that the country's rural
women are amongst Morocco's poorest, least educated, and most
vulnerable members of society. According to official United Nations
statistics, the poverty rate among rural women stands at 18 percent,
compared to 7 percent among urban women. Not only are Morocco's
rural women poorer than those in the urban milieu, but they are also
less educated and in worse health. Bouthanya Iraqui, a Member of
Parliament and former president of the Moroccan Association of
Female Entrepreneurs, admits that Morocco's civil society and
government have for too long neglected the precarious situation of
the country's rural women. "To develop a more productive and
sustainable agricultural sector, Morocco can no longer let the
country's rural women lag behind," added Iraqui.

5. (SBU) Education presents another obstacle, as women's illiteracy
limits their economic mobility. A recent report by the United
Nations Development Program indicates that close to 80 percent of
Morocco's rural women are illiterate. For some, the tribulations
begin at birth. In Morocco's impoverished rural areas, some parents
do not register their daughters with the local authorities due to
the often cumbersome and costly registration process. Without a
birth certificate or identity card, girls are not able to attend
school, access public health services, and/or other government
services.

---------------
The Way Forward
---------------

6. (SBU) However, hope is not lost. Encouraged by civil society,
Morocco's rural women are successfully using financial instruments
such as microcredit loans and cooperatives to gain financial
independence. In Morocco's rural communities, microcredit that
combines financing with basic education is showing results in
eliminating poverty and empowering women. By taking out a series of
small loans, Aisha, who lives in the one of the country's poorest
regions, was able to buy rice wholesale rather than retail, which is
then resold to local distributors. Her profits rose. She now
employs two individuals, can pay her children's school fees, and
travels around town on a second-hand motorcycle. This financial
independence has paid dividends well beyond the pocketbook. Many
women, particularly younger rural women, have found that independent
sources of income give them the confidence to question traditional
views of rural women's roles both in the household and in society,
and to challenge gender biases that limit their access to resources,
said Mohamed Maarouf, Executive Director of one of the country's
largest microcredit institution, Planet Finance.

7. (SBU) Collectives are the new vanguard of female empowerment in
rural Morocco, where women pool together their limited resources in
order to exert more leverage in the market place. This model has
been used successfully among the female artisanal community in the
rural outskirts of Marrakech, nearly doubling their profit margins
and more importantly, providing a financial safety net. Encouraged
by non-governmental organizations such as Planet Finance, these
small collectives have also become a source of political leverage
for Morocco's rural women. "Local politicians respect and listen to
the demands of these collectives because they are a well organized
voting bloc," said Iraqui.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: The precarious state of Morocco's rural women is
a reminder of the social inequalities that continue to plague
Morocco and the difficulties hindering government efforts to raise
rural standards of living. Success will depend on wider access to
education and credit for women. In general, empowering Morocco's
rural women will not only benefit the countryside, but will go a
long way in the country's efforts to create a modern,
outward-looking agriculture sector, which accounts for close to 40
percent of Morocco's GDP.


ORDONEZ

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