2009 Opus Prize Winner
2009 Opus Prize Winner
Aïcha Ech Channa is founder and president of Association, providing services in Casablanca, Morocco, to help unmarried women with children gain the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure their own livelihoods.
During the 1980s, Ech Channa worked in the Moroccan Ministry of Social Affairs, where she was confronted by the ordeals these women and children faced on a daily basis.
“I had just come off of maternity leave,” she says. “This young girl (a single mother) was in an office near mine breast feeding her baby. The social worker came in, gave her a piece of paper to sign and pulled the baby away (to be placed in an orphanage or up for adoption). I remember the time: 5:30 p.m. I couldn’t sleep that night when I got home. I said, ‘This has got to stop.’ I could feel her pain.”
In 1985, Ech Channa established Solidarité Féminine to assist mothers in similar situations. The goal was to allow single women to keep their babies and to promote the rights of mother and child. The association opened a modest canteen where women could work, learn skills, make money and take literacy classes. Programs expanded to teach skills such as cooking, baking, accounting and hairdressing. The mothers also have access to medical services, psychological counseling, legal assistance and day care for their children.
“We have hundreds of success stories,” she says. They are “women who are working, studying, raising their children – a productive part of our society.”
A Muslim, Ech Channa says she gains inspiration from a sense of justice rooted in the value system of all religions. She explains that single mothers have been marginalized and stigmatized for too long in Moroccan society, although she notes the situation is improving.
Solidarité Féminine officially was recognized in 2002 by the government as a charitable organization and has received financial support from Moroccan King Mohammed VI. His wife, Princess Salma, attended the opening of the association’s hammam (fitness center and spa) in 2004.
In addition to the hammam and day-care/training centers, the association operates two restaurants and four kiosks in the city.
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