BELYOUNECH – Fatima Mekhnas’ boots sink into the golden sand as she surveys the last beach in Morocco’s north. Optimism glows from her eyes, a reflection of a dream fulfilled after decades of yearning for a spot on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean.
Behind her, the members of the North African country’s first female artisanal fishing cooperative push a small boat toward the sea, the start of their quest for the life-giving fish the blue waters offer.
As the boat slips into the water, the women jump in and embark on their first-ever government-recognized fishing trip. After two years of training, they have broken through the boundaries of a male-dominated livelihood.
"We live in the sea and if we separate from it, we will die like fish," says Mekhnas, president of the Belyounech cooperative. "The sea is my entire life and that of my children and the people of the village."
Belyounech is located at the foot of Mount Moses, cut off from the world except for a side facing the sea and overlooking the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, seven kilometers (four miles) to the east. The closing of the Ceuta border in the early 2000s played havoc with the economy of the village.
Village men who had worked in Ceuta were forced to fall back on their grandfathers’ tradition, pulling octopus, scorpionfish, squid and red tuna from the waters to feed their families and sell in nearby towns.
Women returned to their kitchens.
“I was a house cleaner and a nanny in Ceuta. I worked for families for 20 euros a day and made a comfortable living. But when the border was closed, I just stayed home for years and years, watching the sea from my window,” said 60-year-old Khedouj Ghazil.