Most U.S. media coverage of the Middle East paints a bleak picture of women’s status. “Honor killings,” child marriages and, generally, the exclusion of women from economic and political life are reasons for pessimism. However, it’s not all gloomy.
I spoke Wednesday with Nezha Hayat, one of Morocco’s leading businesswomen, who in 1996 became the first female board member of Societe Generale Morocco. During the mid-1990s, she reformed the Casablanca Stock Exchange, of which she has been an administrator for 13 years. She recently founded Morocco’s Club of Women Corporate Directors to increase the number of women on boards of directors and is in the United States promoting this cause.
“I happen to be the first woman because I never thought I had less capacities than men,” Hayat told me. Her career also benefited, she said, from working in emerging fields such as “new capital markets.”
If Hayat had one message, it was that economic development and women’s rights are linked: “Morocco has chosen (a path of) economic development. It can’t be done without women.” Conversely, economic growth is essential for women to advance. “I have a conviction,” she said: The Moroccan woman will be “free when she is financially independent. It means access to education, access to jobs and access to finance.”
Many economists would agree with Hayat’s analysis that economic growth is key.
This will require education to prepare for a 21st-century economy. Morocco has committed to adapting education, Hayat said, with the goal to prepare graduates to find jobs “and to be more open with more languages taught.”
Morocco has taken a very different path than Muslim countries now convulsed with violence. In 2004, before the “Arab Spring,” King Mohammed VI championed a family code that provides legal rights to women. “It helped a lot,” Hayat said. “But before that there have been women activists in civil society.”
Outside Morocco, political stability is not in large supply. Hayat’s example suggests that progress can be made outside the governmental sphere — in civil society and in business.Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn