Women’s Argan Oil Collective – inspiration for International Women’s Day
In Morocco we stopped at an Argan oil making women's co-operative.
I had heard of Argan oil and knew it had amazing health-giving properties. I knew that it is often processed by women’s co-operatives giving women independence in a mostly male-dominated culture. I did not realise that Argan oil came from trees which only grow in specific areas, which were pointed out to us on the way.
We arrived at a long low building. As we got out of the car a young woman wearing the full hijab introduced herself to us in excellent English. She asked whether we would like to see where the oil was made. We were half expecting to be asked for money but were led across a small courtyard into a long room.
Manual production of Argan Oil
Women were sitting on the floor pounding the Argan nuts. No machinery or chairs or tables in sight. We knelt down to be more on the same level as it felt wrong to be standing. Our guide explained that they were pounding the nuts in their bowl to extract the oil. The women were a lot older than our guide, and smiled at us and were friendly.
After a few minutes we moved on to two places at the end of the room where women were behind a pane of glass, turning handles on closed bowls of the liquid Argan oil. This apparently was quite hard work. So as work is shared equally each woman only spends an hour on this task.
Products for Sale
Our guide explained more of the process and after a little while led us out of the long room across the courtyard. We then went into a larger room where the oil was on sale in numerous products. I was pleased that we could contribute by buying if we wished. But there was no forced entrance fee.
Our guide then left us, and another young woman offered us a sample of bread. We were to dip this into the oil. I wasn’t sure what it would taste like. It was similar to olive oil but much nuttier and lighter – and really exquisite.
She then showed us all the products on display with clearly labelled prices, in beautiful packaging. No bargaining or jostling as happens in the souk. Everything felt very orderly and well organised. I remember we had a joke with our new guide, and loved the feeling of laughing with a young woman from such a different culture but of being sisters under the skin.
Women's Co-operative creating opportunity
The co-operative has been going for about 6 years and only employs women. The younger women who do speak some other languages interact with the visitors but they all share the same amount of money to take home. So they all had new opportunities. Help and advice had been given about packaging and marketing but it is a straightforward business: - everything they make is simply sold in the shop to the visitors. All the women we spoke to in the shop were courteous and friendly, full of vitality, but very dignified and not at all pushy.
You often see Argan oil as an ingredient in cosmetic products here in the UK. I bought some cream with Argan oil for myself and for my daughters. But it felt like a real honour to see the products being created by a collective of women. They all seemed delighted to have work in such a remote rural area without going to the city, and to work together in collaboration.
It was extremely inspiring. My lasting memory was my bottle of Argan oil for the table. I was devastated when it was finished and will have to go back and see them again.
And more importantly a question. Where could I bring the quality of a woman's collective more into my life? In work and in social life. There was no doubt in my mind that it wasn't only the money that was shared equally, but a sense of community and that lives can be improved by working together.
What about you? It is a good question for International Women's Day.