Report raises alarm over rural Moroccan women’s access to education and health care

In 2014, approximately 60% of rural Moroccan women were illiterate, compared with 31% of urban women.
Sunday 03/11/2019
An elderly Moroccan woman is seen near the village of Imilchil in central Morocco’s high Atlas Mountains. (AFP)
Dire conditions. An elderly Moroccan woman is seen near the village of Imilchil in central Morocco’s high Atlas Mountains. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Women in rural Morocco suffer disproportionately from lack of access to education and health care in spite of attempts to improve the situation, Morocco’s High Planning Commission said in a report.

Rural girls’ access to secondary education is limited despite the progress made at the primary schooling level, the High Planning Commission (HPC) report stated.

The preschool enrolment rate among rural girls for 2017-18 was 25.4% compared with 53.9% for girls in urban areas, 41.6% for girls at the national level and 40.5% for rural boys, HCP’s statistics said.

In secondary school, the net enrolment rate of rural girls was 39.7% in 2019, compared with 80.2% for urban girls. In high school, the rate was 12.5% against 57.4% for girls in urban areas.

The HCP explained that the disparities were because of a very high dropout rate among rural girls, especially at the secondary level, which is nearly four times higher than that of urban girls (16.8% against 4.8%).

In 2014, approximately 60% of rural Moroccan women were illiterate, compared with 31% of urban women.

Saida Idrissi, former president of the Democratic Association of Women of Morocco, said HCP’s statistics were not surprising.

“The illiteracy and poverty rates among rural women are still high. Their social and economic status hasn’t changed that much,” she said.

Idrissi mainly blamed the government for high dropout rates among rural girls.

“Boarding houses and transport are not available in all rural areas, which are major hindrances to girls’ pursuit of their education,” said Idrissi, adding that families often halt their daughters’ education for fear for their safety.

“Some boarding houses are overcrowded while the quality of school food rations is very low,” she said.

Idrissi called on the government to implement a broad policy to improve the infrastructure that would help rural girls further their education.

More than $350 million was allocated to strengthen social support for schooling for vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas, said Moroccan Minister of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform Mohamed Benchaaboun during the presentation of the 2020 draft budget bill before parliament.

Several NGOs are trying to raise awareness among women in remote areas about the importance of education.

Sonia Omar, from Education for All Morocco (EFA Morocco), said the Moroccan NGO was playing a key role in educating girls in the High Atlas region.

“This ensures girls from the remote rural areas can access the schools without the obstacles of poverty and distance,” said Omar.

“It was not always easy to convince the parents to let their girls come to our boarding houses in the early days but now the trust and awareness has grown in the local communities and we are over-subscribed each year.”

EFA’s efforts paid off with a 100% pass rate for the baccalaureate this year and more than 130 girls have been enrolled at university since 2013.

“We also had three girls awarded full scholarships to study in Casablanca and have two in their final year at the Lycee Benguerir and two studying for their master’s degrees,” said Omar.

“This shows how the unique learning environment of the houses enables these girls to discover their full potential despite coming from largely illiterate families.”

The HCP said the mortality rate remained high in rural areas, with 111.1 deaths per 100,000 births against 44.6 deaths in Moroccan urban areas.

Public health centres are understaffed in rural areas and lack medical equipment, which makes it difficult for doctors to deal with the most urgent cases. Geographic and socio-cultural factors are other obstacles to rural women’s access to health care.

Morocco suffers from an acute shortage of health personnel. The North African country had 7.3 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants in 2017, the Moroccan Health Ministry said. The ratio is far from meeting the World Health Organisation standard of one doctor per 650 inhabitants.

Socio-cultural constraints of access to health care, particularly in rural areas, are related to illiteracy, traditional practices and the status of women. For example, men refuse to have their wives treated by a male doctor, said the Environmental, Social and Economic Council (CESE) in its “Basic Health Care” report.

CESE warned that the issue of geographical accessibility was a problem that mainly affects the rural world’s accessibility to basic health care due to the lack of road infrastructure and dire weather conditions.