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Moroccan Women Enter the Male World of Professional Fishing

In this Feb. 12, 2020 photo, Fatiha Naji, right, Fatima Mekhnas, center, and Saida Fetouh, left, members of the first Moroccan female fishing cooperative go out to sea in a fishing boat on the coast of the Mediterranean, northern Morocco. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Moroccan Women Enter the Male World of Professional Fishing
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Fatima Mekhnas’ feet sink into the golden sand as she looks at the last beach in Morocco’s north. One can almost see a sense of hopefulness in her eyes.

Mekhnas has finally realized her dream of working on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean. Behind her, the members of Morocco’s first female fishing cooperative push a small boat toward the water.

It is time to go fishing.

The women jump in the boat and start on the first government-recognized female fishing trip. After two years of training, they have broken through the barriers of a male-dominated field.

"We live in the sea and if we separate from it, we will die like fish," Mekhnas told The Associated Press. "The sea is my entire life and that of my children and the people of the village."

Mekhnas is president of the fishing cooperative in Belyounech, a village at the bottom of Mount Moses. The village is cut off from the world except for a side facing the sea. Belyounech overlooks the Spanish town of Ceuta, seven kilometers to the east. The closing of the Ceuta border in the early 2000s hurt the local economy.

Village men who had worked in Ceuta were forced to fall back on traditions of their ancestors. They began pulling octopus, squid and red tuna from the waters to feed their families and sell in nearby towns.

Women returned to doing domestic work.

“I was a house cleaner and a nanny in Ceuta,” said 60-year-old Khedouj Ghazil. “I worked for families for 20 euros a day and made a comfortable living. But when the border was closed, I just stayed home for years and years, watching the sea from my window.”

Then she and other women began repairing fishing equipment and cleaning boats — but without pay.

Women have few paying jobs in the independent fishing business. One reason was lack of training. The industry provides 170,000 direct jobs and the money earned helps 5.2 million Moroccans, says Thami Mechti, of the National Maritime Popularization Center in Larache.

“For two years, we’ve been giving women all the necessary training so they can fish safely and professionally and know how to keep themselves from harm’s way,” Mechti said.

Of the 19 women in the Belyounech cooperative, only four earned money from fishing in the past.

“Men didn't like the fact that a woman is at sea fishing,” said Fatiha Naji, who was forced to become a fisher after her husband lost his job when the border closed. She faced insults for working.

She said, “I would often think what if other women in the village were with me.”

The cooperative was launched in March 2018 to help the women enter the market. At first, they repaired equipment — although this time, for money. Then the women began to set their eyes on the sea.

Mekhnas said, “Working in the sea is not easy but it is what my sisters and I love. It is finally coming true.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Amira El-Masaiti and Mosa'ab Elshamy reported this story for the Associated Press. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

beach –n. an area covered with sand or small rocks that is next to an ocean or lake

male-dominated –adj. a society, organization, or area of activity is one in which men have most of the power and influence.

domestic – adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family

nanny –n. a woman who is paid to care for a young child usually in the child's home

comfortable –adj. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings; producing physical comfort