The drive to lead: One woman’s quest to break barriers in Morocco
By Maggie Proctor
December 3, 2018
When she was a girl, Soukaina Sriti looked for ways to be involved in her community, starting at the local community center in Sidi Boujida, the neighborhood in Fes where she lived. Ever since then she’s been forging a new path for herself and other women leaders in civil society.
After high school Sriti started looking for ways to continue being active and engaged and became a founding member of the youth council of Fes, and a member of a local civil society organization named Citoyens de Rue (“citizens of the street”). She later joined the organization’s board.
Despite taking on these decision-making roles, she began to see that in practice her ability to lead was limited by a critical factor: her gender. Though she and her female colleagues were elevated to positions of leadership, they held little more than token authority in these groups, and they were typically assigned to more “feminine” projects focused on children and illiteracy, while men worked on everything else.
“But why?” Sriti asked herself. “We have the capacity, so why can’t we do it ourselves?”
A realization, a drive to lead
Nevertheless, Sriti was determined to continue building her own skills and expanding her capacity as a leader. As a participant in the Fostering Peaceful Communities in Morocco program, implemented by Creative Associates International, she was trained in facilitation skills, program management and countering violent extremism and worked with religious leaders and civil society actors from Fès to implement community violence reduction projects. She traveled around the country with the program and forged bonds with men and women from other cities and town in Morocco. The program was funded by the U.S. Department of State.
In March 2018, Sriti traveled to Washington D.C. as part of an Fostering Peaceful Communities in Morocco delegation, where she shared her experiences in the project with international stakeholders, met with U.S. government officials and engaged in dialogue with interfaith leaders.
Sriti says this experience opened her eyes. She saw how seriously she was taken, and how other women had assumed active leadership in their organizations.
She described a moment of clarity when she heard another member of the delegation speak about his organization’s work with mothers and young women: “Why does a man need to lead this work with women? Did he provide what they needed, and did they have a say?”
Right then, she thought to herself, “We know our priorities, and we can speak for ourselves.”
Putting ideas into action
When she returned from her trip with renewed commitment to be a leader in her community, Sriti and her colleagues decided to establish their own civil society organization, Association Orchidée pour le Développement et la Citoyenneté (Orchid Association for Development and Citizenship).
“If you think you can’t do it, you can’t. But if you believe in yourself, you will.”
Sriti says the association’s main goal is strengthening the capacity of young female leaders in civil society, women like herself.
The group has already begun planning for its first projects, working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to teach women to read and another seeking to raise awareness of migrants’ rights in the Fes and Meknes region.
As the organization’s president, Sriti hopes to empower women through projects that build their skills and advocate for their rights, and to establish a more equitable and transparent organization that fosters women’s leadership from within.
Her advice for other young women working in civil society is simple and powerful.
Sriti says, “If you think you can’t do it, you can’t. But if you believe in yourself, you will. Of course, you will face challenges, but when you believe in yourself you will overcome them.”