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This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating the women of Virgin Limited Edition. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge which highlights our responsibility and efforts to challenge gender bias and inequality and, importantly, to celebrate women’s achievements. On this day of huge historical, social and economic importance we spoke to four women at the Eve Branson Foundation in Morocco, highlighting their extraordinary achievements and what being a modern working woman means to them.
Fatima Imni is the Sales Supervisor at the Eve Branson Foundation Shop and Berber Boutique. Fatima was the first girl whom Eve Branson encountered when she walked to Tansghart hoping to share some of her own craft skills in the late 1990s. Amina Ait Larbi is the Embroidery & Textiles Teacher for the Eve Branson Foundation at the Tamgounssi Weaving Centre. Manna Ait Laarbi works in the Berber Bread kitchen at Kasbah Tamadot, supporting the Eve Branson Foundation. Fatima Gouansa is a Berber woman from the village of Asni in the High Atlas Mountains, she is the Health & Safety and People Manager at Kasbah Tamadot, she is also the Vice President of the Eve Branson Foundation.
Read our accompanying International Women's Day interview with Hannah Mbugua who is the Guest Relations Manager at Mahali Mzuri.
What are your responsibilities at the Eve Branson Foundation?
Fatima Imni (FI): My responsibility is to sell the artisanal products made by the girls at the Eve Branson Foundation. I also greet customers and explain to them where and how the items were made.
Amina Ait Larbi (AAL): I am responsible for helping women to secure living expenses by teaching them traditional crafts and how to be creative.
Manna Ait Laarbi (MAL): I am a bread maker at Kasbah Tamadot. I make at least six types of wood-fired bread. I inherited this tradition from my mother.
Fatima Gouansa (FG): I am the Health & Safety Manager, People Manager, and, at the same time, the PA to the General Manager at Kasbah Tamadot! Also, I am the Vice President of the Eve Branson Foundation.
Fatima Imni outside the Eve Branson Shop
What are you most proud of?
FI: The thing I am most proud of is learning the English language despite having dropped out from school at the age of 11. I am also proud of working as a supervisor at the beautiful boutique at the Eve Branson Foundation.
AAL: One of the accomplishments that I'm most proud of is one of the girls that I was teaching was able to benefit from my training and started her own project which was successful and helped her in her life and to support her family.
MAL: I live my day waiting for the next to see what it comes with.
FG: I am so proud of balancing all of my life with my responsibilities at work.
What does being a woman in your workplace mean to you?
FI: It means something huge to me because it is a question of challenge, all the different circumstances that face us as Berber women because women in the rural world do not generally work and can become marginalised.
AAL: To be a woman in the workplace means letting your talent and passion thrive, standing up for what you believe in, aiming for results and success. And this is achieved through patience and facing the challenges and difficulties that any woman in society may face.
MAL: To be a woman at the Kasbah is a wonderful feeling as I work somewhere that I have never dreamt to be working in.
FG: It’s a big success for me personally, especially in my area.
Manna preparing bread. Image reproduced with kind permission from Charlie Dailey
What would you say to a young woman just starting out in her career?
FI: I tell any girl who works in the Eve Branson Foundation to focus on work and try to set her own goals. She should learn crafts because it is a way to change her life for the better. If she educates herself, she will be independent and will never depend on her father or brother.
AAL: My advice to anyone who wants to start in the craft centre: you must be passionate and committed to your work and also be respectful of those who teach you and those who learn with you and finally and most importantly, be like a family and help each other.
MAL: Personally, I would advise them to learn and think about how to improve her family’s situation.
FG: Go ahead and don’t stop. There’s always a way to achieve success.
What does International Women’s Day (IWD) mean to you personally?
FI: International Women's Day for me is a special holiday in which the efforts of women are appreciated, and this motivates me to work and learn.
AAL: To me, International Women's Day is a day to celebrate women who have changed perceptions, it is about recognising women who are challenging the society to create a gender equal world.
FG: It’s a day where I reflect on improvements made for women, especially in our [Berber] community.
How can men get involved in International Women’s Day?
FI: A man can participate in IWD through supporting her plans, being alongside her and to be proud of her.
AAL: Men can get involved, for example, by helping out at home or saying supportive words that will contribute greatly to raising morale.
MAL: Men can get involved for example through helping out at home, treating ladies with great respect and pushing them to achieve their main goals.
FG: We can involve them in our projects and ask for their support.
What advice would you give to your younger self or tell us the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
FI: The best advice I received was from Eve Branson when she told me that nothing is impossible. I have learned that is true and I really acted on her advice. I always share it with my friends especially the girls in the Craft House.
MAL: I am sorry I couldn’t have access to education because nobody insisted on that in my family.
FG: I would say that to be positive, look to the future and learn new things.
Fatima Gouansa at Kasbah Tamadot
How do you balance your work and home life? Or what advice would you give to a woman balancing work and home life?
FI: I try hard to balance my time between housework and outside work. I wake up early and follow my schedule. I use my days off and holidays to do my own things for me.
AAL: Being a working woman means that I face many challenges, including balancing my home and work life. Like waking up early to prepare food for my husband and children, getting my children ready to go to school and then I go to work and my husband also goes to work. When I go home, I do housework and my daughters help me sometimes in their free time, then I help my little boy with school homework and attend to dinner at the same time. My husband also helps when he can. My advice to balance this is that you should know how to organise your time, be patient, and set some time for yourself to rest because it is not easy.
MAL: It’s hard to balance between work and home. I really get tired. I get up very early to do the housework before I leave to go to work. Luckily, I am living with my mother. We live alone and I am the one who takes care of her because she is elderly. I spend a full day at work and when I come back home I finish the housework and do the cooking. It’s very hard some days.
FG: It’s not easy in the beginning, but it’s just a question of organisation and time management.
What women support and inspire you on your career path?
FI: My inspiration is Eve. She is a good example in terms of challenging whatever are the circumstances. To do what you think is right. I have learnt from her never to give up. I have struggled to achieve my identity. Eve is a giving woman. Eve has kept beautiful memories in my heart and her work will go on in the world.
AAL: My mum is the one who encouraged me and continues to support me, she made sure I went to school and helped with homework. It was my mum who suggested that I joined a course at college for traditional crafts. I learned so much from it and now I am teaching the women what I learned to help them in their lives.
FG: It would be my mother. She gives me lots of support, especially on the family side of things.
Amina Ait Larbi with Eve Branson
Find out more about the Eve Branson Foundation here
Find out more about Kasbah Tamadot here
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