Faculty in the Field
Training Women to Run
Moroccan democratization modernizes politics.
by Eve Sandberg, Associate Professor of Politics
was our fourth day of training. Forty-four savvy, energetic, and
professional women were about to chart a historic course for themselves
and the next generation of Moroccan citizens. Come September, each
hopes to be among the first females to serve in the 325-member lower
house of the Moroccan Parliament, which for decades has been largely
off-limits to women. I was a member of the campaign training team
invited to help advance their chances of winning a seat.
I asked one of the trainees why, after only three
days of working together, were the candidates from the 14 rival
parties getting along so well? She patiently explained, "It
is wonderful to find other women who want to talk about politics.
We are so happy to have found each other, and we are having the
best time." Indeed, as each long day of our workshop ended,
the women gathered for hours to trade stories, share information,
Morocco is an Islamic kingdom in the corner of northwest
Africa, a partially desert country that offered me a nice change
from the tropical sub-Saharan African countries in which I usually
work. My recent research and teaching has focused on democratization
issues and the evolving political party systems in southern Africa.
I also own a small Oberlin-based consultancy firm that helps U.S.
candidates and political organizations with campaigns, advocacy
initiatives, and policy research. Yet, despite my sound background,
I expected the workshop to be as much a learning experience for
me as it would be for the participants. The Islamic component of
Moroccan politics made working with the candidates particularly
Moroccan democratization has evolved during the last
two decades, but not until the ascension of King Mohammed VI in
1999 has the government proposed advances in women's rights. In
2000, the modernizing leadership tried to change the laws, allowing
a woman to 1) freely choose her husband without her family's consent,
2) require her husband to gain her consent before taking a second
wife, and 3) retain custody of her children in the case of divorce
or separation. Just as important was a plan to expand the political
participation of women, who currently hold just two seats in Parliament.
Staunchly opposed to the reforms, Morocco's conservative
party bloc organized massive protests, and the king and Prime Minister
Youssoufi temporarily abandoned their plans. Gauging the extent
of public support for the reforms, even among women, is difficult;
Moroccan practice still allows a husband to instruct his wife how
But the prime minister revisited the issue. He and party leaders
attended the launch of our training workshop last fall, where on
national television Youssoufi recommitted himself to expanding the
political process for women and agreed to support a quota of 20
percent women on Parliament party lists.
Fourteen of the 17 political parties sent 44 women
to our workshop in Rabat, which included, to our surprise, members
from two moderate religious parties. Our seven-women training team
was led by Seattle consultant Cathy Allen. Each morning, we taught
the women campaign strategies such as designing field and media
plans, budgeting, and communicating messages. Later, in small groups,
we discussed adapting these tactics to Moroccan culture. One challenge
was overcoming the women's perception that we, their trainers, couldn't
understand the politics of a country with poverty. The U.S., they
believed, lacked such a problem.
In the evenings, the women rotated through skill-building
activities that strengthened their public speaking abilities, Internet
knowledge, and more. After dinner, the candidates met informally
on their own while we debriefed and revised. Some of our Arabic-English
translators (mostly female university professors) were so energized
that they agreed to continue the training with future candidates.
The backdrop to our trip, of course, was the war in
Afghanistan. We were prepared for wariness between practitioners
of Islam and Westerners, especially from those who opposed the reforms
for women. Kabul fell while we were in Rabat, leading to two minor
street incidents with citizens who were not enamored with the U.S./Canadian
origins of our team. Most Moroccans, however, thanked us for traveling
during the difficult time. Through Moroccan television, we were
afforded a very different presentation of the war.
The training experience will influence both my future
scholarship on the comparative evolution of political party systems
and my courses, in which I will now include units on Morocco. The
workshop was cosponsored by the Democratic Association of Moroccan
Women and the National Democratic Institute, a group funded by the
U.S. Congress to advance democratic practices around the world.
Our team returns to Morocco this spring to teach an
advanced campaign course, and we also hope to attend the September