From Rabat, Morocco
Yesterday I had the great opportunity to meet with, and do some teaching to, women Members of the Moroccan Parliament and, a little later in the day, the journalism school students who want to, one day, cover them.
This trip is sponsored by Legacy International through a grant from the U.S. Department of State.
It was not all that long ago that women Members of Congress in the U.S were still an oddity, and women members of the Senate were a rarity. In the 113th Congress, including non-voting Members, there are 81 women Members of the House and 20 female Senators.
In the Moroccan Parliament there are 67 women among the 395 total members; a slightly lower percentage than the Congress, but still a pretty good level of representation.
Morocco is operating under a new Constitution - only two years old - that requires a minimum number of women to be elected. That may sound like cheating, sort of, but this is an Islamic nation and requiring women be elected is a major step forward. Women have only had the right to vote here since 1963 - exactly 50 years ago.
We did the usual dance about using social media - Facebook, Twitter and Texts - to keep their constituents informed about what the female MPs are doing and how it is helping the people they represent.
The literacy rate here, according to the CIA World Factbook, is about 56% for the total population but is split along gender lines 69% for men and only 44% for women. Much of the illiteracy is in the rural areas which, as it happens, is exactly the territory many of these women were chosen to represent.
Illiterate people are not very moved by Facebook, Twitter, or Texts. So we discussed alternative methods like setting up a table on market day and sending volunteers out to tell people they were in town to help with problems.
My job, as I saw it, was to help them understand why the most important thing they could learn was to communicate with one another - a Women's Caucus, we would call it - and share ideas, what is working in reaching out to their constituents, what is not working, and what representational tools they needed to demand from the men.
Peter Fenn is a scholar and had slides with charts and graphs. I had my hands and sparkling personality, as you can see in today's Mullfoto.
After spending a couple of hours with the women, we headed over to the National Academy of Journalism - a post-graduate school for budding reporters.
I was put off by the notion of a J-School being funded by the government until I thought about places like the University of Missouri School of Journalism - one of the best in the nation.
When I remembered that Mizzou is a state-supported school, my angst evaporated.
The students there had "covered" election night by mocking up TV and radio coverage in real-time and putting out a magazine the next morning.
They showed us a video of the event and made the usual rookie mistakes. For example, rather than video of the activities, they interviewed each other about what they had done.
Fenn is a world-class video guy, so he mostly led the conversation, but when the questions turned to covering the government I had my turn at bat.
They asked very good questions about how to be a good reporter (understand how to tell the story with some drama and in a way that your readers, listeners, or viewers can easily grasp its importance to them), and how it was to be Newt's and Dan Quayle's press secretary (I was a good press secretary because I had had been a good reporter and usually knew were the story was going to be coming from).
The new constitution, to my knowledge, does not have the same protections as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so they may have a rougher row to hoe than their American counterparts.
Neither of these events was terribly hard work for us, but it was uplifting to be able to at least try to plant the seeds of change to two groups that, if they are successful, will help lead Morocco to a new, brighter, and fairer future.
Tomorrow: Casablanca! I'm going there for the waters.