Jean R. AbiNader
November 22, 2019
The recent visit of White House Special Advisor Ivanka Trump to Morocco was treated in most Western press as a fashion carnival and cross-cultural showpiece with very little effort to understand the importance of the visit to the women of Morocco and the impact it will have on the male-dominated power structure in the country. Yes, Ms.Trump wore fabulous clothes including a shimmering champagne-colored kaftan; and yes, she was embraced by rural women delighted that she would take an interest in their freedom to now own land in their own names in Morocco; and, she seemed to move with ease among a variety of women’s projects sponsored in part by the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). What does it all mean?
For Moroccan women, it’s a long-overdue resumption of their trajectory towards more equal rights in a country that has denied them the capacity to inherit or purchase land until now, among other constraints that hobble them in a male-centric environment. For Moroccan women, from girls learning how to program and fully engage in STEM education, to university graduates who are becoming more adept at managing the ins and outs of becoming entrepreneurs in an economy that traditionally discriminates against women in terms of access to finance and legal resources, there are opportunities that were not available a scant decade ago.
From former first lady Michele Obama to Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton to Ivanka Trump, Moroccan women have found champions who have made the transformation of women in the Arab world a priority, despite the misgivings of their hosts. In Morocco, promoting women’s rights has been a priority of King Mohammed VI as well so the country has been fertile ground for many initiatives.
So what has the MCC been doing in Morocco? According to its press release, the visit focused on a review of strategies to advance women’s economic empowerment through the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP).” Recently, the Moroccan Parliament passed legislation that should improve women’s rights to collective lands, which can be purchased by any Moroccan citizen, but limited to males until now. The goal of the W-GDP is to work through governments and public-private partnerships “to strengthen the legal and regulatory frameworks that support women’s full and free participation in the economy.”
This includes such novel ideas as the opportunities for women to work in the same jobs and sectors as men and to hold title to land for productive uses. For its part, the Government of Morocco agreed to continue its efforts “to empowering Moroccan women through improved access to secure land rights and workforce programs for women that provide skills development and job placement opportunities, and by removing legal and regulatory barriers.” For the full MCC release, click here.
Government commits to creating more high-value jobs. In a recent questioning session of Parliament, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El-Othmani said his government “is moving to develop new, high-value-added sectors to help the economy and prepare for global economic transformations.” Speaking on how the financial and banking sectors can take a larger role in boosting jobs, Othmani said “the government worked to support the economy by diversifying its economic partners and opening to new markets, namely investment in Africa.”
Othmani once again reiterated the need to support the growth of SMEs as the private sector has a key role in producing employment opportunities for youth and graduates. While Morocco has improved its ranking on the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” report, these changes have not been realized by smaller companies and entrepreneurs, as was noted by the High Commission for Planning. Morocco needs to generate about 70,000 jobs per year for new entrants to the workforce, yet has not be able to reach more than 24,000 on average over the past five years. This has left many young people believing that they must emigrate to find meaningful work, a challenge shared across the Arab world and Africa.
Africa continues to be a bright spot for Morocco’s growth. In another example of Morocco’s leadership on the continent, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding “to develop and implement projects deploying advanced renewable energy technologies in Morocco and targeted African countries, with the aim of creating aspirations to support African countries on their path towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development,” according to an account in Modern Diplomacy.
With MASEN’s support based on its extensive experience in the Kingdom, UNIDO proposes to create a platform for the dissemination of renewable energy technologies in targeted countries while developing the local production of some technology components. The projects generated will lay the groundwork for achieving shared prosperity, economic competitiveness, and environmental sustainability for the implementing countries. This will create important partnerships with African countries and further strengthen Morocco’s technical advisory capabilities in line with the King’s economic diplomacy strategy.
According to an article in L’Economiste, reported in Morocco World News, Morocco is continuing its climb as a key regional player in aerospace. According to the paper, “Aeronautics has significant potential in Morocco with more than 80 new companies planning to invest in the aerospace industry in Morocco in the coming years.” It references the country’s geographical position, political stability, and low labor force costs as key attractions for international investments.
According to the 2018 figures from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, and the Digital Economy, the sector employed more than 15,000 people, generating a turnover of $1.2 million, and had an annual growth rate of 18%. The country plans to create an additional 8,700 additional specialist jobs by 2021. It is expected that the sector will reach a turnover of $2.8 billion by 2021. Much of the sector’s success can be attributed to Boeing, which has been a leader in establishing its supply chain for Europe and Africa in Morocco, working with the government and the country’s aeronautical association to train more than 800 technicians. Currently, Morocco boasts nearly 11,500 aviation professionals, of whom 50% are women.