The Middle East and North Africa region still lags behind other comparable countries in gender equality. Women’s access to opportunities continues to be restricted by socio-structural obstacles, inflexible mentalities and deep-rooted traditions. The Arab Spring gave women hope that empowerment and greater participation in decision-making were possible, but a counter-movement of conservatism threatens to push back any current and future progress.
In Morocco, women have achieved impressive gains over the past decades, both legally and economically, and the human development index shows clear improvements in a wide range of areas, namely girl’s access to schooling or a decline in maternal mortality. But why do women in Morocco play such a small part in the political, economic and social arenas?
To address this issue, the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank country office  in Rabat held an informal meeting in March of this year. Nadira El Guermai, Governor and National Coordinator of the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), and Nouzha Skalli, former Minister of Women’s affairs, met with World Bank Group staff and discussed ways to help mainstream gender equality and support government policies that empower women socially and economically.
The discussion highlighted the lessons learnt from the first phase of the National Initiative for Human Development, especially in terms of supporting women in income generating activities. Businesses were shown to be particularly successful when run by women and Guermai pointed out that when women were given the opportunity to manage their own finances, it enhanced their independence and gave them greater impact on the community.
Skalli emphasized that women’s participation in the decision-making process does make a difference. Drawing on her own experiences as a parliamentarian and former member of government, she made the case that women’s major concerns and demands—like family, education, health, and women’s rights—can only be expressed and defended by women who are directly impacted by these issues.
Having a voice is essential, but being physically represented is too. Women in Morocco still struggle to reach top management positions, despite their increasing access to higher education. Skalli endorsed a quota system to ensure that women are well represented and as a way to systematically counterbalance chauvinist mentalities.
The country has enough legislative texts to support gender-policies, but their impact on the real-world remains limited. Steps are needed to ensure these policies make a concrete difference. These would include the integration of gender inclusion across all policy areas, to create an environment in which women are able to take the lead in both the public and private sectors.
The economic impact of gender inequality in a country like Morocco is significant. Development is seriously undermined if half the population is disenfranchised, excluded from decision-making, and dismissed socially and economically. Supporting women’s access to education and economic opportunities will make a difference and will boost Morocco’s productivity and competitiveness.
Gender-oriented projects endorsed by the World Bank Group contribute to supporting women’s role in the Moroccan society. The Moroccan government and the World Bank Group will continue to work together, and will consolidate their relationship in a new Country Partnership Strategy for the period 2014-2017. A central component of the new strategy will be to enhance gender inclusion and encourage the empowerment of Moroccan women.