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RABAT, Morocco – Well, you won’t believe this, dear friends, but I am in Morocco in the sweltering 90+ degree temperatures where another series of firsts are being made for women, by women and of women.

A woman named Nouzha Skalli has accomplished a minor miracle in her home country of Morocco: women won 3,406 seats in Municipal government in this past weekend of elections. The certification is coming tomorrow morning, but the news is beginning to break out and we are thrilled. (And celebrating – can you believe Morocco now has world class wines?).

When Municipal Elections were held in 2003, 127 women were elected: less than 1% of the country’s mayors, city council members, the equivalent or our utility, school , water and health board elected officials.

It was six years ago when some intrepid women (mostly Board members from the Center for Women & Democracy, including then Attorney General Chris Gregoire, then Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge, now Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden and soon to be US Attorney Jenny Durkan as well as a dozen other Washington women leaders) decided to lend a hand to the efforts of these incredible women from Morocco. For five years different women delegations from Washington state headed to this North African Muslim country to help them learn campaign skills, field organization and tools for public speaking and getting media attention.

On one of our first trips, we were doing workshops in Fez – one of the most beautiful old walled cities in the world, when we used our only time off to go shopping in the fabulous “Medina” which is the old cobblestoned market where goods, jewels, rugs, burro’s and carpenters share the market space in a scene more romantic than I can write (hard thing for me to admit). After seeing the world’s most beautiful rugs, we of course bought our share – and then some. The most-obliging rug store owner asked us if we would like to meet the people who made those rugs. Well, “Of course,” we said, thinking of the craftsmen we saw in the streets.

After climbing up five flights of stairs in the desert heat, we came upon our “craftsmen”: young girls between the ages of 10 to 16. “You see”, we were told, “young girls don’t go to school; they are more valuable to their families making rugs that are sold to tourists.”


That was the story of how many of us like Kathy Kreiter, Dorothy Mann, Cynara Lilly, Jessie Israel (now running for Seattle City Council), Teresa Purcell, Courtney Gregoire, Eve Sandberg, Kathy Keolker, Sue Hammell, Maggie Nielson, Kirsten Smith, and others I’m sure I am forgetting, became so attached to Morocco. We think of those girls every time we look, walk, or talk about those damn rugs.

(Hang in there, we do have a better ending coming).

In 2005, Morocco became the first Arab state to elect 35 women to its Parliament – 12%, of which we had trained and nurtured most of them into office. One of those women was Nouza Skalli from Casablanca. On one of our trips, we had taken (bribed) Enrique Cerna to take a production team with us. The special he did on our work in Morocco, and features about Nouzha before she won her first election, went prime time on national PBS with Bill Moyers.

Nouzha rose through the ranks and became a constant voice for more women’s representation in Morocco. Though the “boys” in charge tried valiantly to shut her up (personal threats and rude mistreatment), she persevered to the point that her followers became a force to contend with.

She was named the Minister of Social Development, Family and Solidarity – a fancy title that put her in charge of rewriting the first Muslim Family Law code that gave women rights to their kids after divorce – that even allowed them to seek a divorce as even battered women were not allowed to divorce. The Moudewana (Family Law Code) in Morocco is now the most fair and just for Muslim women. Morocco is now a leader in many areas of women’s empowerment and rights.

This weekend 3406, or roughly 12.3% of the total local officials are women. But even more astounding is that it’s a 250% increase in the number of women running and winning. There were 20,458 women candidates for about 28,000 seats: 15.7% of the total candidates compared to only 4.8% in 2003.

The results show that 18% of the winners are under 35, up from 16% in 2003. And where only 51% of the men hold a secondary or higher education level, a whopping 71% of the women electeds hold secondary or higher education level.

This was more 200 seats more than the new quota of 12% which was just set this past year.

Did I mention that Nouzha was in charge of writing, passing, building coalitions, and personally escorting this new local Municipal quota into law for this to happen? I knew you would figure that out.

So, does it all make a difference? Does all this grief and aggravation, this eternal process, this endless two steps forward one step back – is it worth it?

Nouzha told me today that since our first trip to Morocco less than 10 years ago where less than 28% of the rural girls could or would go to school, now 48% do – a direct result of the first and most important priority of the women elected on the local or national level: get those girls educated.

This fall the Global Networking Committee of the Center for Women & Democracy, from Seattle, Washington, has organized a Women’s Leadership Delegation. We will head to Morocco from November 6-15. For more information please go to womenanddemocracy.org.

Nouzha Skalli will be on hand for hugs, congratulations, and gratitude towards all of the Washington women who traveled on their own dime to make a difference in this extraordinary Arab country that now has proven that determined women can do anything, especially if it is for justice.

Cathy Allen (6/17/2009/Rabat, Morocco)

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