Morocco: Education and Employment of Rural Women Need Serious Fixing    

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The rate of schooling dropout among women in Morocco’s rural areas is quite alarming, and their contribution in the employment is unbelievably undervalued.

 Ranking “quality education” as its forth sustainable development goal, the United Nations stresses the importance of education as “the foundation to creating sustainable development”. The UN explains that education helps “equip the locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions” to their problems. Researcher Ilhan Ozturk, in line with the established literature on the topic, emphasizes that “No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital.” Today’s economic and social problems are complex and require creative solutions that involve adept use of technology and a sense of entrepreneurship, which no tool known to man other than education can provide.

Estimated at 6.5 million in 2019, the female population represents half of the overall rural population. In addition to being a demographic force to be reckoned with, women also represent more than half of the workforce in rural Morocco. A serious and committed investment in their education will enable them to play an active role in the development of their environment instead of keeping them passive bystanders. This is not a luxury but a developmental necessity. In their book, Beyond the rhetoric of rural development participation, researchers Gow and Vansant find out that when they are involved, locals can better prioritize issues, make better economic decisions, are willing to volunteer time, money, and other provisions, and have more informed control “over the amount, quality and benefits of development activities”.

The reality of the development models that have been targeting rural areas in Morocco are far from this, and we do not argue that there is no readiness on the part of the government to encourage the participation of the rural population. However, we make the case that the facts on the ground show that their involvement will inevitably be doomed to failure due to the disturbing reality of education and employment.

Schooling Dropout rates off the Charts!

Although the rate of school completion among males in Morocco’s countryside is lower than that of their counterpart in cities, the substantial discrepancy between males and females in this area makes government policies to develop the rural sector completely futile. According to the French-language news source, L’ECONOMISTE, 7% of rural females drop out in primary school. This means that nearly half a million females are deprived of education at a very early age. Even worse, this rate increases to a whopping 60% percent among female middle school students in contrast with 20 percent in cities, and it get much worse. A dazzling 11 in every 12 females abandon high school in rural areas. The outcome of this is disastrous: 60 % percent of women in the countryside are illiterate, reveals 2014 census.

According to the Moroccan Center of Intellectual Development, an interplay of socio-cultural, economic and geographic factors is behind this adversity. These include, among others, the absence or the illiteracy of parents, family violence, the fear of sexual harassment, the distant schools (a common problem in Morocco) and poverty. As previously established, promoting education among this demographic proportion can be seriously considered a valid solution to the problems afflicting the rural sector, such as draught and deforestation. Education in this sense will help them develop innovative and modern techniques tailored to the specifics of their own environment.

They Work More and Harder … for Nada!

The rural female population in Morocco is fairly young. More than 60% percent of this population is aged between 15 and 59, that is in working age. 29.6% is aged below 15 and only 11% is aged over 60. Among the women in the working age, only 3.1% are unemployed, compared with the 25% unemployment rate among women in cities and 19.2 at the national level. What shows, even clearer, how significant women are as a workforce is the fact that the employment scale in the countryside tips in favor of women over men, according to the Higher Planning Commission’s 2018 briefing note. 

This, in another part of the world, might be positively perceived as praiseworthy equality of opportunity between men and women. However, one small detail is missing: These women do not get paid for the efforts they put! According to the same source, 60 % of women in rural Morocco do not receive remuneration for their work, which is mainly in agriculture and handicrafts. The reason for this is that they work as family aids in family-owned farms and fields and the popular culture perceives their work as contributions for the collective good, rather than individual efforts, worthy of payment. To add insult to injury, they are burdened with an additional 5 hours of housework, in contrasts with 4 for urban women, not to mention the deplorable working conditions they are subjugated to overall.

This situation makes women more vulnerable than their urban counterparts to the cyclical economic turbulences. The same 2014 census reveals that 9.5% of rural women are affected by financial crises when only 1.7 of women in cities are directly affected by them. Therefore, not only do rural women work more, longer, in worse condition, but they also receive no remuneration, which leaves them exposed to all sorts of vulnerabilities. The government is thus obliged join hands with associations and the civil society to solve this socio-economic conundrum that is on the brinks of becoming, or has already become, a humanitarian crisis.

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