NGO Round Table
Participant Discussion (with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton)
June 17, 1999
Ali Belhaj: On behalf of the associations represented here today, I would like to welcome you among us in the city of Fez. I would like also to thank you. Thank you for being among us today. Thank you also because during your last trip to Morocco you talked about things that represent our deepest values. Those values are: tolerance, respect of human rights, education for everyone, and the necessary fight against poverty, with the involvement of the population and the empowerment of individuals. Today also is a very important day for us. By meeting a few associations among the thousands that exist now in Morocco, you are helping civil society get the visibility and recognition and respect much needed for its success in its day to day fight. Thank you.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton: Thank you very much Mr. Belhaj, and thank you all who have participated and joined us. And I wish to thank the governor of the medina for opening his beautiful office for this meeting this afternoon. I am delighted that I could return so that we could hold this meeting since I was unable to keep my original commitment. I am looking forward to hearing from each of you about the work that you are doing, because I very much agree with what Mr. Belhaj just said. The work of the civil society is essential for any society to function. I often speak of society as a three-legged stool. One leg being the government, one the economy, and the third leg being the civil society. And each leg must be strong in order for the stool to be steady, and if one leg is weak or too big, or if one leg is missing, the stool is not as it should be.
So I thank you, and I thank our ambassador, Ambassador Gabriel, for helping to give me this opportunity to learn more about your work. And I would very much like to listen and learn as each of you share with me what you are doing and the challenges and the successes that you see. Thank you. (Applause)
Mr. Belhaj: We will go for a brief round around the table just for brief introductions of each of us. I will start by saying that Maroc 2020 is a think tank that has for a goal the strengthening of civil society, good governance, and the defense of free markets and democracy.
Aicha Lakhmass, from the Women's Labor Union, a Moroccan NGO. Hind Al-Khatib, sciologist, and a member of the Bayti NGO. It is an NGO that takes care of children in difficulty, street kids, children that are exploited, victims of abuse, forced labor of children, and also children that are sexually exploited.. Aicha Lakhmass, I'm a practicing attorney in the city of Casablanca, Secretary general of the Moroccan Women's Labor Union, and I'm also the Director of a Center to Aid the Women Victims of Violence. Aicha al-Korche I am a practicing lawyer in Casablanca, and I'm also an advisor and a counselor to the Center to Aid Victims of Violence. Al-Kidiri, Mohamed, Moroccan Handicapped Association, (unintelligble) our base is in Casablanca.
Saad Benkirane, psychologist, I'm the president of an NGO specialized in preventing disorder in children in Casablanca. Rachida BenMassaoud, I'm a university professor, and I also head up a women's association in Fez, and within our society we would like to develop the cultural awareness of Moroccan women.
Aicha Achenna, I'm a social worker, and I preside over and am the founder of a women's solidarity association. We help single mothers who are marginalized in our society so as to prevent them from abandoning their children. Our association has been working in Casablanca since 1985, and I myself, this is my 39th year in this area of activity.
Thank you, I'm Houria Tazi Sadeq , lawyer, I'm president of Alliance Maghreb-Mashreq for Water. And also I'm titular of interdisciplinary share (??) UNESCO system management for water.
Abdelaziz Bennani, attorney. I'm the president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, and I'm also president of the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Human Rights.
Fouad Abdelmoumi, (unintelligible).a Moroccan Association that runs a USAID-funded program of micro-finance. And I'm also a human rights and civil society activist.
Ali Belhaj: Thank you. Now we're going to hear a speech of Aicha El Korche which will present us a brief overview of civil society in Morocco.
El Korche: Thank you. In my turn, let me wholeheartedly welcome First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to this round table. I shall speak about civil society in Morocco, and I shall do so concisely and briefly about one of its components, that is, NGO's of course. One of the fundamental components of civil society is non-governmental organizations. When we talk about NGO's, we mean non-governmental organizations that will endeavor to establish true citizenship in the political, economic and social meaning of the term. In Morocco we have approximately 20,000 NGO's, or associations, according to some surveys. These associations or NGO's have strengthened their presence during the last decade. This development and greater presence was asserted thanks to a greater awareness of public issues from the voters' (unintelligible). In other words, all initiatives used to be undertaken in the past by the government, and now thanks to the changes that have been implemented, these NGO's can contribute directly to this effort.
Secondly, the greater acceptance around the world of non-governmental organizations, as well as the provision of the right resources so as to focus on political, information and material aspects. All these elements have played a fundamental role such that we have now a very active community fabric that is both credible and efficient. Whether these associations are providing services or whether they are exerting an impact or influence, or in serving local or national causes, they are active politically, socially and culturally, as well as in terms of protecting our environment. And the best or crystal clear evidence of this is the diversification that you have here among the representatives that you have at this round table.
So we today have this great number of associations that carry with them their own features, including efficiency and credibility. However, we still need a fundamental framework, and we still need technical skills so as to assure that, as we see, all NGO's in Morocco rely on activism. We also lack material resources because our social needs, particularly those that are to be met by NGO's, are far too numerous, whereas our resources are limited. So without further ado, let me now give the floor to Mr. Fouad Abdelmoumi so he can speak about the challenges met by these NGO's in their everyday activities. And I thank you Honorable First Lady of the United States.
Fouad Abdelmoumi: Aicha has invited me to take the floor and to address the various challenges facing our associations, our NGO's. I have tried to provide you with an overview on the most relevant matters of immediate importance. In my opinion, our associations and NGO's, with all the strengths that Aicha has talked about in terms of the number of volunteers and the quality of volunteers, demonstrate a high degree of activism. As well as the great number of social needs that we have to satisfy, and the Right Honorable First Lady of the United States has just said something of fundamental importance. We cannot think of development today without having a state that will fully take charge of its responsibilities and its role. Without a real dynamic economy that is able to meet the fundamental and basic needs of our population; and secondly, to address all aspects that are not addressed by the state or the private sector and that are simply focused on by all men and women who are moved by solidarity in our society. I think that we have referred to the charismatic presence of some individuals in our community fabric and we are now facing a great challenge, that is, to institutionalize these structures so as to be able to transcend the persona of their leader or founder.
So, in this sense, we have a great need to train a new generation of young volunteer managers who lack a greater scope of visibility and the right skills to be able to play the role of leader within their NGO's. We need to go on from scattered NGO's that have been created according to the relevancy of the past to a community movement that will meet common values and face common challenges that will contribute to the development and the implementation of real community projects for a modern, rational, society moved by the spirit of solidarity. We need to go on now and act, even though our actions remain marginal in out society, we need now to organize our efforts as the state organizes all of its actions and the economy. The solidarity and the collective action of all individuals needs to become the one founding element of our social identity. We need to move from one reality that is very often used as an instrument by the state and by some political trends into something that will be really autonomous and that will be focused on the social need that we all need to address together.
And we also would like to no longer just act in an ephemeral manner and a very punctual manner, but rather in a sustainable, durable way so as to ensure the maximum efficiency of our action. I believe that we are now engaged in a path of meeting these challenges and we need to persevere and be resilient in this sense. And I believe that the other components, being the state, the various forces of the private sector and our economic development, as well as the various international support and assistance bodies, need to play a role with our NGO's, closely to our NGO's. And our NGO's cannot live or survive without these operators, and these players certainly have a role to confer upon these NGO's and support to grant them. Thank you very much.
Abdelaziz Bennani: At the outset, I would like to underscore the symbolic importance of this meeting today, and the Right Honorable First Lady of the United States of America has honored her commitment even though we could not hold this meeting in April. The care and attention that you do confer upon community involvement is testimony to the greatness of your personal career. Many observers are fully knowledgeable of all of your activities and all of your efforts in terms of protecting children and even sense you have participated with the President of the United States of America in all of these efforts who you have always worked (you have always exerted) so as to promote the cause of justice by extending health care to Americans with lower income.
Madam, the organization that I represent was created some 10 years ago so as to support the movement for the promotion and the defense of human rights in our country and in the region. So within this organization, we have hundreds of women and men who are making efforts notwithstanding their ideology or partisan thought, and independently from the state, together to contribute to reconsidering the status of the individual within our society and so as also to assert the rule of law that serves as a guarantee for basic fundamental freedoms.
Our activities in terms of human rights and also our adoption of international standards stem from one very strong belief: that these standards will enrich the values of equality, dignity, freedom, justice and tolerance, and these are values that were asserted by the Islamic religion. All of the efforts we made on a daily basis are multi-phased. We also follow up on every complaint in terms of human rights violations. We also are trying to establish a dialogue with public authorities in terms of these violations. We maintain a strong presence in a number of trials within the courts so as to observe compliance with the principals of legitimacy and legality and even in terms of the elections (during our elections) we have suggested a number of amendments to the constitution and to current laws. And this has been done in terms of the Morocco Prisons Act that is now submitted as a bill to Parliament. So we also hold a number of conferences and workshops on human rights and we write counter-reports that are submitted to international institutions through international covenants and agreements versus those that are submitted by the government. And we also undertake activities for a greater awareness of human rights within our society.
So thanks to all of the development that has taken place in the world and all of the efforts made by international and national NGOs, as well as the will of the public of the state to develop human rights, I can safely say human rights in Morocco have developed very positively. This can also be seen in the royal pardon that was given by His Majesty to the benefit of some exiles and to some detainees.
The government's proposal or plan is ambitious and we have taken note with great optimism of the engagement and commitment of the government to provide institutional and legal guarantees for the enjoyment of these rights and also to promote and defend women's rights and to further develop women's conditions. And also in terms of fighting illiteracy and to establish the rule of law in the great principle of justice.
And finally, last but not least, we also contribute to the establishment of a dialogue between the society and our state. Now on the eve of the 21st century, we all are fully determined to work so as to make sure that all of these vital reforms be translated into tangible terms (into reality that is.) So this will certainly ensure a healthy social, economical, and political development for our nation.
I would like to thank you for your attention.
A. Belhaj: Thank you Mr. Bennani. Who would like to take the floor? I would ask you simply to observe the allocated speaking time, three minutes please.
(Unintelligible), you have the floor. Merci. Thank you, thank you (Ali).
H. Taz Sadeq: Even though I don't have much time to speak, let me simply take some of this time so as to express my heartfelt gratitude and also to express the great honor I do feel in taking part in this historical initiative, and thanks to the Honorable First Lady of the United States of America. I also would like to say that my words will reflect, will mirror, the concerns shared by NGOs that are not present with us today, and who are also working in terms of defending our environment and protecting our water resources.
In the Maghreb-Mashreq Alliance for Water, which was constituted following a regional meeting exploring the definition of sustainable development, we created a network of NGOs to defend our environment and to protect our water resources as this approach will open a way to a very, very complex and delicate set of objectives. We have in these efforts managed to encompass a number of other dimensions, culture, peace and conflict resolution, anthropological aspects, religions. But we have also included different components, ecology, the environment, youth, etc.
The future water crisis calls on us. The experience that we have acquired is such that we should complete the vertical management water resources that is now only ensured by water engineers by horizontal, multi-sectorial, integrated, and interactive approach. This pure disciplinary approach is now replaced by the largesse of supply and demand that would be well controlled and mastered. Social development affirms once more that this can serve as a factor for the (synergy) of networking and as a pretext for national and international solidarity, and also as a pretext for good citizenship and good governments.
Our organization now, in order to reach its objectives, has to face a triple challenge. We need to advocate these changes and also to promote and consolidate the abilities and faculties of the defenders of the environment of our water resources.
And finally, we are called on to underscore the importance of education for all. The capitalization of these efforts contributes to the development of an approach that will protect our water resources in a culture of peace that is based on the right that we all have to water and to safe water. And it is in line with the third generation of human rights. However, these results need to be recognized so as to be reintroduced within any decision making process. They also need to be accompanied with the right/appropriate resources. Great progress has been achieved, but much remains to be done.
A. Belhaj: Thank you very much (unintelligible). Saad, you would like the floor.
Saad Benkirane: I represent an NGO that was created by professionals. Working with children, our association has as an objective to work in terms of preventing disorders and social failure, school dropouts, as well as in terms of health. We are professionals and we have felt one day the need to consider prevention as an economic activity for a country such as Morocco. As we know, prevention is far less expensive than managing disorders that could be ancient. So we have in Morocco many children that do not have access to this type of medicine, and they are in school. And whenever they have such disorders and if they are treated early on, we can avoid such difficulties that could be very costly in the future, be it to the state or be it to the families of these children. So, why prevention? It is simply that these professionals have realized that most lower-income people do not have access to the right information, to guidance and to direction that would enable them to make the right decisions in terms of the education of their children because of the lack of information. And, therefore, these decisions can sometimes have disastrous consequences on the evolution and development of these children.
So we focus in our work on these families. We also focus on hospitals, and on those who deal with these children and also with educators within schools or outside of schools who would have, sometimes, difficulty in managing some of these children. So far, we have taken care of some 3,000 children and our objective will be to make sure that prevention efforts be generalized. And one of the major challenges that we face is that prevention is not something visible and material, like disorders, not easily identifiable and is not considered as a priority. It is therefore put on the back-burner in terms of addressing disorders that are far more visible as they require an immediate treatment.
Our object would also be to develop disciplinary approaches. We have psychiatrists, psychologists in our teams, and we have decided to develop general treatment for children instead of going on to partial diagnosis that very often does not give a way to lasting solutions for these disorders.
Thank you very much. Yes, thank you Ma'am.
Rachida BenMassaoud: Our association is a woman's association that was created in 1987 by the women's association that used to publish a bulletin called March 8th. And this is the history, actually the background for the creation of our institution. I would simply now like to talk about the main points of importance to our association. In 1998, we have held our first conference, and we have actually decided to address women's issues in terms of development programs in a greater sensitization effort directed towards Moroccan women.
And in 1992, (unintelligible) we addressed the issue of changing the Personal Status Code through a petition of one million signatures which was actually a campaign that was organized and that was very successful. This effort certainly enabled the amendments to the said code Act immediately after. So following these amendments, we realized that all of these amendments were simply partial and did not really serve the cause of women in terms of divorce which is considered to be one of the most important problems that women suffer from here in Morocco. So our association considers that this case is not settled as of yet, and we are still making claims as of 1994. Most of our demands were met. In 1993, we also organized a campaign against violence directed towards women. Also in 1993, our federation had organized four mock trials so as to sensitize the public in terms of violence directed at women. In 1997, our association, as well as other women's associations, organized a march for 10,000 women so as to change the Personal Status Code, particularly the section pertaining to divorce. However, this march was postponed. As we know at the time, Mr. Youssouffi was just going to be named Prime Minister and our associations and our leaders were met by the then Prime Minister in 1998, and we had a clear and transparent debate with the Prime Minister then and he promised. He made many promises in terms of meeting the needs of Moroccan women.
And, in fact, in the first declaration made in terms of the government's agenda before parliament, there was a declaration pertaining to the government's commitment in meeting women's demands and for the first time in Morocco, women's issues were addressed directly through a government's declaration. So following that, we held a number of meetings between women's associations and the government body in charge of women's issues to develop a national strategy to promote women's rights and women's conditions. This is the first joint effort between women's NGOs and the government. Thus we were able to develop a clear strategy in this sense in terms of fighting illiteracy, in terms of reproductive health, in terms of including and integrating women in our development and also in terms -- and this is a main priority for Moroccan women -- the amendments to the Personal Status code. So this is an item that is still being debated within the government and there is also submitted to the (unintelligible) appreciation of the parliament (unintelligible).
Our NGOs have also joined a number of government ministries in the development of the five year plan that is to be submitted to the government very soon. So we, as a women's association, and a number of other women's associations, believe in change. With Mr. Youssouffi being our Prime Minister, he is a great human rights activist and women's rights activist, and we believe that this will certainly lead to the positive development of women's rights.
We are supported internally. We also would like and we would hope to receive external assistance and support so as to implement this agenda because women were the first victims in terms of marginalization, in terms of popularization, in terms of illiteracy. And all programs are directed so as to make sure that women will have their lot improved.
So finally, Honorable First Lady, I would like to make an appeal as a Moroccan woman, first of all because you are a woman, and you also are a mother and I would like to ask you to convey to all American women, to lift the embargo on Iraq. Because we as Moroccan women, we would like these women to stop suffering too. And our hearts cry at what is happening in Iraq, and particularly with the women and children of Iraq. Their condition is worsening on a daily basis. And we also would like you to support the peace process in the Middle East, because peace in the Middle East would be tantamount to peace around the world. And I thank you very much.
Hind al-Khatib: L'Association Bayti that I represent was created in 1994 and we work with children in difficulty, mostly street children, but also abused children and children who are made to labor to work. And our Bayti program was the first program to address this type of issue based on a professional partnership and not simply on providing assistance. Our team includes educators, social workers, sociologists, psychologists, physicians, teachers, and artists. And we work in three areas of activity. We work in the streets. This is a capital and fundamental step in terms of our socialization efforts. And in this sense, many workshops have been proposed to young people and children so as to fight behavior disorders, to counter the negative impact of disorders that these children have acquired at home. And we have also provided homes for these children in a partnership between us and the families of these children and the children themselves.
We also have a social insertion program with a priority program for the younger children, and also another program for the older children to empower them. So we have integrated, thanks to our efforts, 250 kids who have gone back to their families, 40 who are benefiting from specialized training, 50 who are being educated, 15 who are employed in the private sector, and 80 children who are sheltered in our shelters at this time. We also have offices in Essaouira, Meknes and Tetouan, and we have initiated similar programs in other cities such as Settat and Mohammedia. We work in partnership with the present administration in terms of providing education curricula to young detainees and to prepare them once they are released for the outside world. We also cooperate with France (unintelligible) in terms of illegal immigration.
Our projects for the years to come would be the consolidation of our efforts. We would also create a woodcraft workshop for these young people. We will open also a school on a farm. This is very important, as we will welcome children who are faced by failure and the objective would be to take the children far away from cities and to train them in agricultural trades.
Bayti's efforts were such that the status of the social workers is now recognized and that street kids' problems are being recognized and we also enjoy international repute. Our association is still working on its legal recognition as an association that will be trustworthy and will also create real re-education centers and not ghettos. And also so as to develop a number of vertical programs in neighborhoods and villages with families and particularly with women and with mothers to create centers that would be specifically there to help children. Thank you.
(next speaker, unidentified): I would like to thank the Honorable First Lady of the United States of America and I would like also to thank her and to pay tribute to her stance in favor of the Palestinian people. And also I would like to recognize her great awareness in terms of developing tolerance and also in establishing a dialogue between cultures, civilizations, and religions. Now with regard to our association the IGDA NGO, we aim at increasing women's presence on the Morocco cultural scene knowing that the cultural dimension as well as cultural development are critically important in improving women's role. We created an association 10 years ago, also including a number of other women in the city of Fez. We have organized a number of meetings nationally and also in the Arab world and sometimes we also participate in some other Arab countries in our meetings. Amongst the topics of interest for these meetings, we were looking at feminine creativity in general, poetry, literature, fine arts, etc. However, the question that we ask ourselves, are women and artistic creativity or cultural activity not considered as a priority since they do not address human rights issues and cultural and social development issues. However, we continue to make efforts in terms of developing this aspect. And I believe that this meeting, in terms of U.S.-Moroccan friendship, can we actually wonder about how we can use this meeting in the future so as to support cultural activity within Morocco, within Moroccan civil society.
On the other hand, as a woman who is a citizen of an emerging country from the south, I believe that we, as women and as NGOs, are facing a number of contradictions. And we also are experiencing dire or very wide gaps in terms of some values and concepts. At the time, when we think that with human rights will really promote the cultural and also individual rights, we believe also that globalization will create a special status for women. Don't you think, Honorable First Lady, that, don't you think that women in emerging countries are the first victims of globalization.
Secondly, we believe that there is a women's renaissance around the world. And this renaissance is represented by the chairmanship of some women in some governments, particularly in Asia and also in Europe. However, we can see that the United States of America has not managed to confer first tier responsibility to women in spite of the cultural and social development of American women. But also in terms of women's representation in decision making centers, such as the Congress. How can you First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton explain this situation considering that you are the Honorary President of the Intra-ministerial Commission on Women that was actually founded by President Clinton during the Beijing conference? Also, with regards to your courageous stance in defense of the Palestinian people to which I pay great tribute, can I ask you, can you actually take a similar position towards the Iraqi people considering that the first victim of such conditions would be Iraqi women and Iraqi children, and you are a woman and you are a mother. And I thank you very much Merci. Thank you.
(Aicha Achenna): First Lady, may I tell you how much I am touched to see those who are excluded by society, I mean the unmarried mothers. Our association was created in 1985 because we were faced with an abundant street-children situation. And we also ask a question: where do these children come from? and therefore we discover the fact that there were mothers who were compelled to leave their babies because they had been excluded from their own families. And therefore we had to think about establishing an association in order to prove to the whole society generally speaking that such mothers were like the rest of all mothers in society and they have only one wish in common, raise their children. And thus we thought about project (to create) revenue generating products, because these unmarried mothers did not have any centers where they could go. So we approached restaurants, for instance, and such activities in order to generate revenues. And we developed such initiatives and ideas and did end up becoming a professional, vocational training center. We have seen and shared the suffering of all these women and sometimes the impact of the mother's suffering on the child, and therefore you have emotional and legal problems, related to the re-integration within society, Moroccan society, of such unmarried mothers.
The problem of unmarried mothers led us to become aware of the fact that in most cases, these mothers were girls who had been unable to go to school in their lives. So we are trying to increase the awareness of the Moroccan society, the average Moroccan citizen at large. Those who can, the non-governmental organizations, the media also because they are conveying the message and with us increasing the awareness of society and telling the society what the situation of an unmarried mother is, because it is still viewed in some societies as something unlawful, but has to be sanctioned by law. So we are also operating on several axes. One of them is the economic axe because we believe that without social economic development, it will never be possible to reinsert these mothers, and we are very keen to see our association be financially independent, autonomous, and self-managing. We are doing everything along these lines.
We also are carrying out an action of increasing awareness throughout the whole society. (Unintelligible) the average Moroccan, the legislatures, decision-makers, political parties, everyone has to be sensitized. We want to put an end to the practice (unintelligible).
That's where they belong and we want to break taboos concerning sexual education. Sexual education still remains a taboo issue in our society. We also wish one day to be able to create a space where young unmarried mothers would be able to find a place, a refugee, where she would rest, where she would take her time and decide whether yes or no she keeps her baby, analysis, tests. Oh, mothers' know who is the father of her child, but none of them can prove it legally speaking, but science is here, science is here with blood test and all that. We can determine who the father is. So, this is long work and an uphill task. We have had cooperation with the French President of Republic Actions of 1995 and we keep the same idea we wish to develop day after day. And I cannot tell you how happy I am that we were able for the first time in Morocco to get a place of our own for vocational training, support for economic projects for unmarried mothers. And we were able to make the Minister of Islamic Affairs participate in this effort. This was a big victory for us and for me. (Unintelligible) Thank you.
Ali Belhaj: Thank you Ms. Chenna.
Mr. Khadiri has the floor.
Mr. Khadiri: I thank Mrs. Clinton for giving us this opportunity to present our achievement in the field of disability. We are disabled ourself, directly concerned by the problem. We have created the Amicable Moroccan Handicapped Association to provide direct support and assistance to the physically impaired people in our country. We are now about 70,000 people in the association. Our (unintelligible) goal is to raise awareness of the problem of disability in the three major directions: prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities. We have concentrated our effort on rehabilitation because our experience on the field has shown that this is the principle, demand, and the basis of inclusion in the society. Until now, there is no rehabilitation center in Morocco. We have organized three (unintelligible): to raise (unintelligible), to build the first rehabilitation center in our country. Thanks to the generosity of the Moroccans, today the dream has come true. The structure is now built and we expect to start operating by the end of this year.
The first (unintelligible) is achieved. Now we are looking for financial and technical support to run the center. Nevertheless, this is just a drop in the ocean. The situation of the disabled in Morocco is still very, very difficult. NGOs achieved great work in this field, but there is still much to do, and the struggle is going on.
Convinced by your commitment in this field, and your close relations with the American NGOs, any support you could give us would be most welcome. Thank you very much.
Ali Belhaj: Before doing a little wrap-up, I would like just to say a word about something almost no one had mentioned, except perhaps Ms. Chenna, about education. I would like to say that communities and local NGOs have been involved in non-formal education and are already schooling more than 35,000 children. But we have a vision, a challenge for the non-formal system. It is to reach one million children in the next few years. The diversity of Morocco makes it almost impossible to manage such a complex issue as education by centralized system. Partnership, flexibility, decentralization and involvement of the community should be the key words for education.
As you have seen this afternoon, a wide, diverse civil society is based on a common concept. The concept of a free and responsible individual who takes his or her destiny into his own hands and takes care to solve his own problems. What is happening now in Morocco is special, I would say exceptional for two reasons: 1) Historically, for the first time in the modern history of Morocco, we can see a real involvement of civil society in public life and we can see NGOs playing a bigger and bigger role in the day to day life of Moroccans. What is happening is also special because of geographical reasons. In a region like the Middle Eastern North Africa, where democracy and civil society are not in (concert?), Morocco is seeing real democracy in progress, which is not yet perfect but really significant. And he is also seeing the irreversible rise of a civil society. We are talking here of a civil society not only as a partner of the state in the development of the State, but also as a watchdog of the State. What is happening in Morocco, could be an example for the whole region. The success of what Morocco is living now could be a turning point for the region. Helping people in Morocco while working for democracy in progress, it is helping everyone in the region to see that democracy and involvement in the population in development are the only ways to fight poverty and the only way to peace, stability, and prosperity for everyone. Thank you.
Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Let me thank all of you for these very informative presentations and for the hard work each of you do through your organizations to address the challenges and opportunities facing the Moroccan people. I heard many familiar themes from the descriptions that you have provided, whether it's advocating for women's rights and human rights or helping to end domestic violence and child abuse or fighting to improve the lives of homeless children or handicapped people or expanding access to the economic tools that people need in today's economy or protecting the environment and the water supply, or making sure that Moroccan boys and girls have a chance to go to school, these are all the themes of a very active an diverse NGO community. It is particularly impressive that the civil society that each of you is a part of has made so much progress over the last several years. Not only has the number of NGOs grown to around 20,000, but the breadth of your activities now reaches into every aspect of Moroccan society.
On my previous trip here a few months ago, I was able to see first hand the work of some of the NGOs. I particularly was impressed with how women's associations and organizations are responding to the needs of their families and their own aspirations. And I saw that not only in urban settings, but in rural ones as well. You know so well that this is part of the development process that is necessary for any society to be successful in today's changing global conditions. It is, I believe, essential that people be equipped and be flexible in order to be competitive in the future economy that is emerging. I believe that you are making that happen here in Morocco, and it is especially important to do so on the ground of citizenship. I like the concept of free and responsible individuals, and in working to ensure that those individuals are effective in the developing society.
I know that some of the NGOs represented here are looking for new ways to educate citizens about their responsibilities and their rights; that you are holding mock trials with sympathetic judges and lawyers to demonstrate how family crises can be resolved and to develop a new way of dealing with divorce; and that volunteers are going into elementary schools to talk about how issues related to human rights can be integrated into the school curriculum. These are the kinds of experiences that are very critical for any society today. And some of the themes that you sounded are very important ones that I would like just to mention, because in addition to the work that you are doing, the creation of a common vocabulary about civil society and NGOs is a very important aspect of the continuing commitment to the civil society. For example, I was very impressed with Mr. Benkirane's reference to prevention as an economic activity. This is a concept that is not yet fully understood or accepted in most societies, including my own. But it is a critically important idea that if we are to avoid social problems, if we are to avoid the waste of economic resources, then we have to pay more attention to preventing such problems in the first place.
I was also very interested in the several references to the role of women in the culture, and the importance of recognizing that globalization often affects women most severely, through marginalization and popularization. And that is a problem that we have to think of new ways of addressing. And the best way that any society can do so is to provide education for girls and women. All of the research that the World Bank, that the UN agencies, that the IMF, that every group in both governmental and private research has concluded is that the single best investment any society can make in future economic and social progress is the education of girls and women. And that is the kind of commitment that helps avoid marginalization and popularization and creates conditions for stronger families and societies.
I was also pleased to hear reference from Mr. Bennani to the rule of law and it being consistent with the values of Islam. That is a message that Morocco has been a leader in promoting and promulgating. I was very honored when I was last here to speak about the rule of law and the importance of tolerance in a setting in Marrakech, because I view Morocco as a leader in the world in demonstrating the importance of diversity, respect for the rule of law, and the very clear connection that Islamic values have to the achievement of those objectives.
I am also very impressed that you are looking for ways to enhance the institutional structures that non-governmental organizations have. This is a great challenge for any society and particularly ones where civil society and NGOs are developing so rapidly as here. Because in the absence of charismatic leaders, in the absence of the kind of initial energy for NGOs, how does an organization continue to do the day to day work, often boring work, of dealing with the problems that a society has. The charismatic leader may come and go, but the handicapped children will still be there, the abused and neglected children, the problems of the environment. So that is something that more solidarity among NGOs is one way that I have seen around the world of addressing that particular issue. And I would certainly offer whatever assistance our government, but in particular, our NGOs might make available to work with associations of NGOs to try to create conditions for those institutional structures.
And finally, I am very pleased that the environment is represented here today. I believe that issues of the environment particularly in this part of the world of water, in other parts of the world of global warming, and the impact of continuing pollution will be problems that we cannot ignore in the next century. And in my own country, we often have a false debate about the environment and economy, and my husband never (unintelligible) emphasize that economic growth and environmental health must be pursued at the same time. And that is going to be a particular challenge for NGO's so that they will continue to raise these issues for all of us to respond.
So I am very impressed what I've heard and the issues that have been raised, and I hope that there will be opportunities for my government, through the embassy's efforts, through USAID, as well as through the convening of NGO's in particular areas, and with respect to institutional structures, to create and continue a very strong partnership that mirrors the strong partnership between our governments and the respect between our peoples. And I hope that there will be a furthering of the association between our NGO communities for the benefit of the people of both Morocco and the United States. Thank you very much.