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On November 9, Georgetown University celebrates the remarkable accomplishments of Aicha Ech-Channa, a Muslim Moroccan woman who has earned wide respect for her advocacy of human and civil rights for single mothers and their children. She is a finalist for the Opus Prize, a one-million dollar faith-based humanitarian award, the winner to be announced November 4.
Having witnessed, as a social worker in Casablanca, sexual violence and the terrible suffering of young, unwed mothers, Mrs. Ech-Channa founded the Association Solidarite Feminine in 1985. Beginning in a basement, the Association helped Moroccan women gain the necessary skills to care for themselves and their children. Today, this ambitious civil society organization provides psychological counseling, job training, daily child care, workshops, and medical treatment for unmarried mothers. Mrs. Ech-Channa has worked for more than five decades to advance women’s rights, pushing for changes to traditional gender roles within Moroccan society.
Aicha Ech-Channa, a gutsy Moroccan woman, has worked for five decades to help young unmarried mothers. They are, from many perspectives, at the bottom of the social heap, condemned as prostitutes even if their pregnancy resulted from rape, thrown out by their families, their babies stigmatized as bastards. Mrs. Ech-Channa formed an organization that welcomes these women, teaches them skills, helps them care for their children, and works to find them jobs. She is a tireless advocate for treating these women with dignity and respecting their rights. She sees her work as inspired by the values of equality, human dignity, and compassion that underpin the Muslim faith. But she would not describe her organization (Association Solidarité Feminine) as faith based. In the early years of her career, her determination to advance women's rights and to empower unmarried mothers clashed forcefully with the established Muslim order. Even today, she and her organization are subjected to critiques and attacks from some Muslim clerics and other Muslim Moroccans. But over time, Morocco's Royal family has personally lent her support, and a new family code (the Mudawana) was enacted after an active and open debate that engaged religious and secular bodies across Moroccan society. It advances women's rights in important areas. Morocco's new family code is noteworthy for its effort to combine positive values and social benefits of religion and tradition with changing norms. Gender roles and relationships are part of a sensitive and complex environment where religion, culture, and politics are woven together. Working from within the society and also taking into account evolving international best practice, traditional ideas about gender roles and family structures are challenged and changing. People like Aicha Ech-Channa are propelling such change in positive and effective ways.