See What Led To The Rise Of The First Moroccan Fisherwomen Cooperative

Moroccan fisherwomen at work
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Since time immemorial, some jobs were thought to be for men. This has been more prevalent in Africa where women are expected to remain in the kitchen and cook for their husbands and children. However, times have changed.

Women are becoming more confident in themselves and exploring all opportunities on their platter. This is true for a group of women who came together and opened the first-ever Moroccan fisherwomen cooperative.

Moroccan fisherwomen at work
Moroccan fisherwomen at work (Photo credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy / AP Photo)

What Led To The Rise Of The Fisherwomen Cooperative

Climate change has been a real threat to humankind and the entire ecosystem to say the least. Therefore, a lot needs to be done to ensure survival and a thriving environment that will be beneficial to all. This change, which is of great concern to many local, national, and international political circles led to the creation of the first fisherwomen cooperative in Morocco.

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Apparently, climate change affects women and girls as well. For this reason, it was imperative to include them in designing and implementing effective response actions. This would ensure that gender inclusivity was taken care of as well as enhance climate adaptation and sustainable solutions development.  

Change Of The Economic Tide

Belyounech village, from which the cooperative derives its name, sits just at the foot of Mount Moses in the northern part of Morocco. The ranges and cliffs of the mountain make the village look as if it is cut off from the rest of the world. Fortuitously, one side of the village opens up to the sea and overlooks the bordering Ceuta’s Spanish enclave.

Unfortunately, in early 2000, the Ceuta border was closed as narrated by Aljazeera. This meant that all the men and women from Belyounech village who worked in the Spanish enclave could no longer go to work. The village was adversely affected economically. Men returned back to their ancient trade, fishing. Women, on the other hand, went back to their kitchens.

“I was a house cleaner and a nanny in Ceuta. I worked for families for 20 euros a day and made a comfortable living. But when the border was closed, I just stayed home for years and years, watching the sea from my window.”

Khedouj Ghazil- member, Belyounech Cooperative

How Belyounech Fisherwomen Cooperative Started

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For years, men from the village relied on fishing and selling red tuna, octopus, scorpion fish, and squid to provide for their families. Women could only help their husbands in the fishing activities or mend fishing nets for no pay at all. With time, this had to change as well.

The fishing sector provided stable livelihoods for over 5.2 million people in Morocco and employed 170,000 workers. Sadly, women could not work in this sector partly due to the lack of proper training and alienation from men.

While talking to Aljazeera, this is what Thami Metchi of the National Maritime Popularization Center in Laarache had to say.

“For two years, we’ve been giving women all the necessary training so they can fish safely and professionally and know how to keep themselves from harm’s way.”

Thami Metchi

Finally, in March 2018, Belyounech Cooperative was launched. At first, the women mended fishing nets alone for a fee. Later on, they literally cast their nets far and wide into the sea and embarked on fishing using boats as well.

Tools Of Work

The dedicated fisherwomen preparing their nets
The dedicated fisherwomen preparing their nets (Photo credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy / AP Photo)

Initially, each woman would carry a basket, a knife, a bucket, and waterproof boots. The women would then set out very early in the morning to collect shellfish at the foot of the cliffs. This is a laborious task for many Moroccan women looking to make a living.

According to Africa Renewal, there are over 10,000 women between 45 to 60 years old in the fisheries sector who collect shellfish along the Moroccan coastline.

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For women in Belyounech Cooperative, things are totally different. With their protective gears on, and their nets ready for work, they hop into their small boats and sail into the sea just like their male counterparts.

“We live in the sea and if we separate from it, we will die like fish. The sea is my entire life and that of my children and the people of the village.”

Fatima Mekhnas- president, Belyounech Cooperative

Challenges Faced By The Moroccan Fisherwomen

For sure, fishing is not an easy job particularly so for women. Nonetheless, Moroccan women made up their minds and beat all odds. Walking along the coastline and under the cliffs is life-threatening in itself. Sometimes the women walk for more than 20km with the hope of catching a bumper harvest so as to provide for their families.

In the process, they also set out to preserve the natural resources for the sake of their future generations. Those using boats also risk losing their lives by drowning in the deep sea in case of malfunctioning boats or storms and harsh waves.

Apart from natural challenges, fisherwomen have also dealt with discrimination from men who disapprove of their presence in the sector. Fatiha Naji of Belyounech Cooperative recollects what she had to go through after her husband became jobless.

“Men didn’t like the fact that a woman is at sea fishing. I would often think – what if other women in the village were with me?” 

Fatiha Naji

Overcoming Gender and Societal Limitations

Even though gender inequality and discrimination have been a prevalent challenge in Africa, women are doing all they can to overcome them. Gender roles, religion, social rules, and outright prejudice have limited women’s access to resources. These social tendencies have also limited gainful opportunities available to women.

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CAOPA states that women are often burdened by childcare and other domestic chores which limit them from accruing wealth and experience. To a large extent, women’s participation in the fishing industry is also seen as domestic work by extension.

This demeans their contribution to the sector and makes them economically incapacitated. Nevertheless, Moroccan fisherwomen are setting an excellent example to all women that nothing is impossible.

During a recent interview with CAOPA, Aina Liantsoa, a fish post-harvest specialist at the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division of FAO Rome had this to say.

“I address all women in the artisanal fisheries and aquaculture sector: You work at a small-scale level, but your value in the sustainable development of the sector is big. I would also like to vigorously reiterate this statement to all stakeholders, at the national, regional and international levels: women are crucial to achieving sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; it is our responsibility to recognize and value their role through each link of the sector’s value chains.” 

Aina Liantsoa

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