WOMANHOOD AND LEADERSHIP
A So Morocco interview with Nisrine Zalegh, the first female, Moroccan Tour Driver.
Morocco is a destination that every year attracts not only tourists or immigrants but potential investors from all over the world.
In the last 20 years, many of these entrepreneurs were women of all ages who came and invested their money, skills, knowledge, ideas and energy. Bringing some much needed fresh air to build a network in different industries.
The industry of tourism is one of these. But what about Moroccan women? Well, I’m happy to say that it is more and more common to see them stepping up into positions of responsibility in this field.
Feeling powerful enough to dare to pursue a career and set important goals, establish their own power.
Giving a real-life example to new generations. Showing that there is room for more growth, independence and freedom.
A Wild Rose
Nisrine Zalagh is one of these women. Just like the meaning of her name, Nisrine is like a beautiful wild soul that craves freedom and independence.
Working as a self-employed tour driver, she has accompanied hundreds of people in their adventures around Morocco, helping them make the best of memories.
Her family moved to Fès to grant a good education for Nisrine and her siblings. We all know that supportive parents are a key element in children’s healthy growth as humans.
In fact, Nisrine got her university degree in Business with the best grades, a successful student willing to do what it takes to achieve her goals.
How come she decided to begin her own career as a self-employed tour driver?
I had the great pleasure to interview Nisrine at the end of March 2021 to her some questions about her job, vision and next goal.
I was delighted to have been asked to interview her, as I admire women who affirm themselves in such heavily male-dominated societies and after preparing some questions, Nisrine and I had a video call appointment on Google Meets.
NISRINE ZALAGH – THE FIRST FEMALE TOUR DRIVER IN MOROCCO
- Well, to start the interview I’d love to know something about you. Who is Nisrine?
Is there another question? [Nisrine laughs] I think of myself as Miss Freedom, I feel a little different from other women from my country because of my choices.
Being free has always been my priority, even if I worked hard to graduate with the best results I don’t want and I didn’t like to work in an office.
I aim to give my best to what I like and believe in and life as an employee felt restrictive.
- What about this choice for your career? Was it by chance that you got this idea?
It was something in between the two. After my studies, I moved to Casablanca for a job in the insurance field for many years, then I moved to France but I struggled in Europe as an aspiring self-employed and that is why I decided to come back to Morocco.
I have many friends here in the Médina of Fez who is small business owners and I saw tourism as a great industry to work in. They helped and encouraged me by saying “Nisrin you can do it, you have a great and strong personality” so I decided to do it!
- You are offering your clients a unique point of view, one that in the tourism industry they almost never get, as many Moroccan women working in tourism often do it in the “backstage” or in more “feminine” contexts (typical cosmetic shops or riad staff)
Yes, many women are not free to take more space or their own decisions. Maybe in the big cities, they have more freedom but in the villages, there is definitely not much choice because their life is too hard to allow them to think about living in a different way.
The people that live in rural areas taught me a lot.
- Tell me something about your childhood. You do have siblings, right?
Yes, one sister and two brothers, my sister is studying in Germany, one brother is in Helsinki and my other brother is living in the north of Morocco with his family (his wife and my niece Julia).
I had a normal childhood, we are from a modest family, my father is a hard-working and quite open-minded man that saw the education of his children as a top priority. We were good in school and had the possibility to dream but I wasn’t aspiring to a particular job. I was aiming to be able to travel the world and take care and work for myself, be comfortable and free. That’s the kind of success I have in mind, which is different from the goals that my university colleagues had at the time we were studying together, they wanted the benefits and certainty of being employed.
- Women like you are a great role model for your niece! So tell me some anecdotes about your first tour with Paula and Nancy! How did you feel? Were you nervous?
Yes, I was afraid! I did not tell this to anybody, but it was my first time in the desert and I was out with my first clients for 11 days starting from Casablanca to the Sahara (and back!).
I remember on the last day we cried and hugged in the airport, it was very emotional, it was hard and I wasn’t prepared to feel like that!
- What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Meeting people from all over the world is like travelling, sharing experiences with them and helping them learning about my culture, by learning from them, too!
The relationship that grows is fabulous because the people I drive around take also care of me and make sure I am always feeling good.
Most of the people I take around are women and older people, always very caring. Morocco is very safe but I imagine these two categories enjoy the comfort of having a local trusted person to rely on. I love to exceed their expectations and add more value to their trip!
- Do you see yourself doing this job for a long time?
When I think about the future I can see myself doing it for a long time, I worked really hard and I want to make it grow even more, possibly build a stronger network of women. I already collaborate with many female tour guides in the different cities of Morocco (especially Marrakech) and when I will have the possibility and means I would like to give concrete help to women and children in remote villages. It works like a big motivation to me, like a dream. My new goal.
- That’s beautiful and necessary. Everyone should contribute to the well-being of the communities in the mountains that live in really challenging conditions. What’s your post-pandemic view about tourism in Morocco?
I am 80% optimist, Morocco was riding a good wave for what concerns the touristic development and I am sure once it’s all over we will get back on track fast!
Since I started working until the end of 2019 I have been leading many long tours of 10/15 days with a 2/3 days break between each tour. That’s why I expect the industry to get back on track soon.
- I have met many inspiring, successful working women like you in Morocco, are you aware that you’re contributing to creating a new future for the generations that come after you?
Yes, as women we have the responsibility to go ahead and do our best, show our strength and not hide it just to make men feel stronger. I do my job just like my male colleagues and expect to be treated equally. This doesn’t happen all the time but I am not discouraged when it does.
- Is this the conditioning of an old-style perception of what a woman should or should not do?
Yes, you can often see how girls are taught and expected to do house chores since they are 7 or 8 years old. Even when they want to play they are allowed to do so without going far from their home. Boys are often just sent to do purchases but mostly seen playing outside fearlessly.
- Yes, there is the need for girls to witness another narrative. Stories other than the very limited ones they keep being offered by obsolete systems and that they can also be themselves fearlessly. As the interview comes to an end…do you have any advice for all Moroccan youth, especially girls and women?
Yes, I have many – firstly – I advise them to look for their independence, that will give them freedom. I advise them to not look for an early marriage as a priority in life. Secondly, I encourage them to never give up on their dreams.
- That’s great advice!! I wish we heard more of that as a children/little girls. Affirmation of the self is essential to growing as healthy humans.
Thank you for your time and for your words, you are an inspiration for all the women, not only in Morocco!
GENDER PAY GAP IN MOROCCO
Just to give you a rough idea in numbers, according to USAI’s reports “Morocco has made significant advancements in women’s rights since King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne in 1999. It still ranks 137 out of 149 countries according to the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report and ranks 141 out of 149 countries in women’s economic participation and opportunity.”
Education is 100% relevant but not the only answer. In fact, besides the gender pay gap, women are not only paid less but oftentimes have no choice but to abandon their studies or careers to become housewives, creating a family of their own.
This is not sustainable as 50% of the population in Morocco is female.
There is a huge amount of wealth that it’s not accessible because women in villages have limited freedom to look for a job in bigger cities like their male counterparts. They sometimes don’t even have the courage to try and move away and this is where role models are vital.
Many families still discourage their female offspring from going far away (unless is with other members of the family) and often manipulate them into what is “best for everyone”.
WOMEN IN RURAL AREAS
One might say “I saw many women working in argan and carpet workshops, or doing basketry/raffia items!”. That is a very small slice of the life of many women that live in rural areas and aren’t paid well enough for their crafts and talents.
Many of them work from home. A home that they rarely leave and they might not mind the perks of it (time management, privacy, being close to the family) but reveals to be also very isolating.
There are some associations that work into female empowerment funded mostly by foreigners. The number of Moroccan women rocketing to the leading position is increasing fast.
This means that many independent, free and determined women like Nisrine, will show up for their sisters. Will use their privilege to extend tools, help to support their ascent to independence and expect more control over their lives.
What are your thoughts? Should the women of Morocco push for freedom of choice or will this ultimately damage the fabric of Moroccan society? Let us know in the comments below.
Interview conducted by Burcin Yetim for So Morocco Ltd