In addition to three group excursions to Fes, Zawiyat Ahnsal, and Tangier/Chefchaouen in the north of Morocco, AMIDEAST has provided many small-scale day trips that cater to more specific interests. Most take up an afternoon at most and are great ways to get a better insight into the local communities that make up and surround Rabat. Two weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to visit the Association Solidarité Feminine and meet its founder, Aicha Ech-Channa, in Casablanca.
Association Solidarité Feminine was founded in 1985, after Ech-Channa, who originally was a maternity ward nurse at a Casablanca hospital, decided to start an organization that advocated for the rights and well being of single mothers and their babies in the city. Traditionally, single mothers are often cast from their families and further neglected or demonized once on their own. The children of these women also tend to suffer from a lack of identity, shelter, and adequate care for much of their lives. Ech-Channa recalled one instance at the hospital where a mother was silently weeping holding her newborn. The woman was nursing the child for the first time, but was waiting to leave it with a local orphanage because she simply could not take care of it without any support. Aicha told us that she could not sleep that night.
Since then, Ech-Channa’s Association Solidarité Feminine has grown into a nationally recognized organization that has helped thousands of single mothers and their children live empowered and sustainable lives in Casablanca. From humble beginnings in a small basement and financially supported by the very few and anonymous, there are now three centers dedicated completely to taking care of the mothers and their children. At the facility we visited, the women are given the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to work in local hair salons, hammams (public bath houses), and women-only gyms. Association Solidarité Feminine also owns and operates its own restaurant that hires a number of the women who come through the organization seeking to become cooks and waitresses.
Despite the immense success that Ech-Channa and the rest of the activists at Association Solidarité Feminine have enjoyed, they are not without problems and challenges. As the organization has grown, the limits of funding become clearer. Ech-Channa says that it costs 4,000 dirhams per month per woman to provide help and training at the ASF locations. Today, Association Solidarité Feminine derives 50% of its funding from the Moroccan government, the rest coming from private sector donations and individuals. Still, challenges and even threats are a reality, particularly from Islamists. In 2000, one such group went so far as to issue a fatwa (legal opinion) against Ech-Channa, labeling her an enemy of right religion. This happened to be the same year she appeared on Moroccan news networks and explained the nature and purpose of her organization, with a surprising amount of newfound support after.
Aicha Ech-Channa believes that there is a lot of work to be done. She admitted that of 153 Moroccan children born each day out of wedlock, 24 of them are abandoned. Sex education remains absent from public school education. Although the numbers are sometimes bleak, hope springs eternal for Ech-Channa. For her, lasting and progressive social change can never happen overnight. Incremental, yet positive changes are happening in Casablanca and the rest of Morocco concerning single mothers. We just have to be as patient as Aicha.