Extramarital sex in Morocco is taboo, technically punishable by imprisonment, though the law is rarely enforced. Unwed motherhood then, is the ultimate taboo, and women who get pregnant out of wedlock are often shunned from their communities. That's where activist and social worker Aicha Ech Chenna comes in: In 1980, after witnessing an unmarried mother give up her child, Ech Chenna formed a social work practice with the sole purpose of helping unwed mothers. Now, nearly 25 years after its official inception, Solidarité Féminine employs women at two restaurants, a bakery, four small shops, and a hammam (bath), and provides them with health care, child care, and job skills. The organization also provides women with legal assistance, helping them to officialize surnames for their children (in Morocco, women lack authority to give their children a surname, and without a surname, it is nearly impossible to get an ID card).
And so, in Solidarité Féminine‘s 24th year, 68-year-old Aicha Ech Chenna has just been awarded the world's largest faith-based prize for entrepreneurship, the Opus Prize. The prize will provide the organization with 1 million USD (over 750,000 MAD). The Moroccan-American board, based in Washington DC, held an event for Ech Chenna, capturing the event on video and sharing it via YouTube:
Moroccan blogger Hisham of The Moroccan Mirror started his career as a doctor in Morocco, and has seen the plight of unwed mothers in Morocco firsthand. He writes of the experience, and lauds Ech Chenna for her efforts, saying:
We heard terrible stories about some unwed pregnant women being rejected from clinics by doctors or nurses, and about newborns being abandoned near the gates of hospitals and clinics, and we saw those same abandoned babies and infants (“ben X” they were called, or “son of X”) being brought to the maternity unit, malnurished and dehydrated.
To be fair, those women were reasonably well treated, though one could sense the coldheartedness with which their cases were addressed. It was then that I first heard of organizations like “Solidarité féminine,” “Association enfance espoir Maroc” or “Bayti,” and of wonderful people like Aicha Ech Chenna who took upon themselves the burden of helping those young mothers and abondened children, in a society that continues to put the responsibility of extra-marital relationship, mainly on women. A terrible stigma that only people like Ech Chenna might help erase.