FIRST THOUGHT: A Gem of the Ancient World
When I say the word “Morocco,” what comes to mind? Beat author William S. Burroughs wrote his famous novel Naked Lunch in Tangier, Bob Dylan mentioned it in a song and Morocco has a long yet not well-known history of powerful women. Some stereotypes likely pop up when you think about Morocco. If you’re envisioning riding a camel in the desert only to retreat to a Casablanca movie-style setting, you’re not getting the whole picture. This jewel of the ancient world is a pillar of rich culture, cuisine and art, and far more than a “Here’s looking at you, kid” locale. Today, let’s travel to this Kingdom of the West and learn what it’s all about.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 16 Percent
Despite high literacy rates, a focus on science and technology, and women being involved in a variety of art, literature and political endeavors, Morocco still maintains quite the misogynistic culture, with young girls, in particular, facing some scary circumstances. According to UNICEF, the rates of child marriage remain high, with about 16 percent of Moroccan girls being forced to marry before they turn 18.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Maryam Montague, Founder of Project Soar
Today’s Woman to Watch, Maryam Montague, is an American social entrepreneur who’s passionate about empowering girls in Morocco, and she’s employing her nonprofit organization, Project Soar, to ensure girls there have the opportunity to know their value, voice, body, rights and path.
With a career background that includes working for human rights, Maryam, who moved to Morocco in 2001, couldn’t help but notice some serious gender disparities. For instance, she saw what many of us see in our own communities: boys playing soccer. No big deal, right? But Maryam wondered where the girls were. They weren’t playing. Heck, they weren’t even seen walking to school.
The lack of visible girls concerned Maryam as both a human-rights activist and the new mom of a daughter. Maryam soon learned what it’s like to be a girl in Morocco, with many in rural areas unable to attend school and so many being forced into child marriage. Realizing Moroccan girls simply weren’t getting a fair chance at a future, Maryam decided she would personally do something about it. So, she started Project Soar, which empowers adolescent Moroccan girls by offering academic support, health and art classes, and even sports activities to support the progress and overall well-being of girls.
Project Soar now includes nearly 30 location sites throughout the country. The nonprofit has helped more than 400 Moroccan girls, and offered more than 1,000 hours of after-school programming and more than 200 hours of empowerment workshops.
A core component of Project Soar is athletic activity, as Maryam knows sports can be instrumental in building girls’ confidence, exposing them to the lifelong benefits of fitness and health, and giving them an understanding of the power of teamwork and good sportsmanship. Athletic activity is particularly important for Moroccan girls, who often have little access to such pursuits. Through Project Soar, girls can participate in a running club, take yoga classes, play basketball and soccer, and even learn to skateboard.
Project Soar is definitely making an impact in girls’ lives—and attracting the attention of other women’s-empowerment advocates, including former first lady Michelle Obama, who visited Morocco as part of her Let Girls Learn initiative, and celebrated actress Meryl Streep, who is involved in a CNN documentary titled We Will Rise, which features several Project Soar girls.
We are thankful to Maryam for creating a wonderful organization that’s empowering girls to create a future of their choice so they can truly soar.
QUITE THE QUOTE
Let’s close with this inspiring quote from Moroccan-American novelist Laila Lalami. She said:
“To overcome my fear, I shackled myself with hope, its links heavier than any metal known to man.”
This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.