Economic independence is a secret wish of all women, especially since de last quarter of the 19th century.
Housework was facilitated by water, gas and electricity in the house. There were schools for young women of the better classes. Women were waking up to the injustices against women in more than one way, but also economically. In those days it was absolutely not done for women to work. So girls stayed at home waiting for a husband, but if he did not materialise, and their parents died, they were thrown upon the mercy of their married siblings. And they had no money to speak of.
In Holland, there was a courageous woman, Betsy Perk, who in 1870 founded an association with the goal to sell the needlework and paintings of women. It was called ‘Labour Ennobles’. They organised exhibits, and it was a great success. Actually, this association still exists today, selling lovely needlework. As a result of the first endeavours, schools were founded to improve the quality of the work shown.
I came to think of this when I visited Marrakech in Morocco this winter. Samira Yassni asked me to visit Dar Maalma. It is a network of 4000 Moroccan women who sell their handiwork in a shop in Marrakech. They are all over the country and housebound. They work in their free time because they have children to tend to or sick family members.
The shop is in a good neighbourhood of Marrakech, surrounded by hotels and restaurants, so tourists can find it. It provides some economic independence to the artisans.
When in Marrakech I bought a book called ‘stories of Berber wise people’ and in there was a story of obtaining economic independence which sounds like a fairy tale. There was a rich merchant upon whose death his business fell to his son. The young man had no business sense and soon he was left with nothing. His wife said ‘I lived of your fortune, now let me make you rich again’. -We have to leave here and go to the capital. On the way there they visited a friend of the family, who had worked a long time with the father. To honour his memory he gave the young couple a house he owned near the walls of the city. When they were installed the young woman said to her husband: Go back to our friend and ask him for a loan enough to buy a weaving stool and a spinning device, and some wool. He did as she had said and come home with the utensils for her to make a tapestry in different shades of yellow, like the sun. She made a tapestry and asked him to bring it to the cadi, hoping he would appreciate it and pay generously for it. Her husband did that and asked who had made this tapestry answered; my wife. The cadi spoke a benediction and sent him on his way. Not daunted by this insult the wife said: Go back, borrow more money and buy red wool of different shades, so that my tapestry will look like an orchard full of delicious fruit, and this time go to the vizir. The vizir did say the same benediction and sent the young man away, keeping the tapestry.
The woman was furious but mastering herself said to her husband, “Today there are ships coming into the harbour, go there and buy all their cargo.” The man laughed and said ‘ are you out of your mind, we have already many debts and not enough to buy food tomorrow.’
She said, ‘Buy the whole cargo’
He went to the port and using his father’s name got the credit to buy everything there was in three ships.
After a few days, the merchants became impatient and came to the door to claim their money. The woman opened the door and gave them the same benediction she had got. And sent them on their way.
The merchants went to the judge, the cadi, who was visited by the vizir and the sultan, When the sultan heard of the case he wanted the culprits brought to him and handle the case himself. When everyone was there the sultan asked, “Is it true that you did not pay for the cargo?” The young woman answered, “We did pay, isn’t it true that I gave you my precious benediction?” The merchants had to say yes.
“You see, your Highness, we are foreigners and when I got for my beautiful tapestries a benediction, I assumed that that was the money you use in this country.”
The sultan asked to bring him the tapestries and when he saw them his eyes shone. The young woman was overjoyed that finally, someone would appreciate her work.
The sultan made the cadi and the vizir pay the merchants with their own money. He said to the husband, ” the merchandise is yours2, and he made the young woman “Queen of Weavers” in his country.
That way the woman had procured their economic independence.