Moha Ennaji, one of Morocco’s leading academics, is also a leading advocate for women’s empowerment. As part of Vital Voices' Policy Advocates program, he has relentlessly worked on an advocacy campaign to reform the family code and abolish underage girls’ marriage in Morocco.
“It is more difficult to change people’s mentalities than laws. You can change laws overnight, but it takes years to change mindsets,” said Moha.
After doing research on women and gender studies for two decades, Moha, a professor at Fes University and director of Arabic Studies at Rutgers University, started getting more involved in civil society. “I have made activism a cornerstone of my engagement with Moroccan society, and it is the guiding principle of my academic research," he said.
“I believe that civil society contributes immensely to women’s empowerment and to sustainable development,” said Moha, a founding member of the Isis Center for Women and Development and the national coordinator of the Union of Women’s Associations. “I also believe that Morocco, like other countries in the region, is going through a transition, and my work as an academic and as an activist is needed to help consolidate development, democratization, gender equity, and respect of human rights.”
Moha wants to support the democratic transition in his country by expanding civil society, and giving a greater voice for women to shape the political, economic, and legal systems. He says he is inspired by the fact that Morocco has been able, through the work of associations, to transform society and achieve many reforms without violence. However, he points out that conservatism is emerging as a force in the region, which might eventually turn against all the recent achievements made by civil society.
As a leader, role model, and mentor, Moha knows how to pay it forward. “Many young professionals and civil society leaders I know tell me that I have changed their lives and that they consider me a role model because I influenced them so much that they have decided to follow my footsteps. Many of them have become successful and proactive in society. I am proud of their achievements and engagement,” said Moha, the President of the South North Center for Intercultural Dialogue explains.