Tag Archives: gender issues

Book Club, Episode 3!

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Yeah, because I haven’t published Episode 2 yet. It’s decomposing in the pile of half-baked drafts and ideas that I haven’t gotten back to, so I’ll probably just publish these all out of order. WOO!

Anyway, if you’re into gender studies, feminism, Islamism, or anything to do with gender discourses in Morocco, you should TOTALLY read Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco by Zakia Salime. It’s a fairly new book and Zakia Salime’s first, but it’s great. The following is what I have to say about it, and a rather detailed summary of what’s in the book. It’s no substitute for reading it, but it’ll sound pretty impressive because I got into Academic Writing mode. Here we go!

Introduction

Morocco’s triumph in achieving independence in 1956 seemed to herald a new era for women: girls were permitted to attend French schools, women were seen walking around the streets of Moroccan cities, and the secular, liberal feminist movement gained popularity and legitimacy in the public eye. Princess Lalla Aisha’s public removal of her veil during her controversial speech in 1947, the prevalence of what would become the liberal feminist movement even among sequestered women, and the gradual decline of the segregation of the sexes all pointed to a more open society for women. Moroccan women looked on as Tunisia revolutionized their family law in one fell swoop, guaranteeing rights for Tunisian women that would take another fifty years for Moroccan women to achieve.

Since then, however, the movement to liberate Morocco’s women has accrued a formidable set of political, social, and religious complexities that must all be taken into account in any discussion about gender equality in Morocco (and, indeed, Tunisia, though I use Tunisia merely as an example to set the stage, and will not further explore that particular episode in the history of gender equality in North Africa). Women’s issues, let’s just say, informed every aspect of Moroccan society.

In contemporary Morocco, particularly in the recent years following the second major revision to the family law, these issues have become all the more complicated and inflammatory. Controversy still surrounds the reaction of Morocco’s only female minister to the story of Amina Filali, who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist; the minister voiced the opinion that the law allowing that marriage is a just and viable solution to the problem of rape. The fate of disowned single mothers throughout Morocco remains the arena of NGOs willing to stray from societal traditions and laws that would leave these mothers uncared for. Unbiased discussion of gender issues in Morocco is next to impossible, while heated partisan debate on the subject permeates every facet of society, from everyday talks about catcalling to public forums on abortion. It is into this rapidly changing, clamoring throng of opinions and scholarship that Zakia Salime has cast her first book: Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco.

General Information, Reviews, and About the Author

Salime, Zakia. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis/London: 2011.

This book presents an insightful examination of the relationship between the two major discourses concerning gender equality in Morocco: the liberal feminist and the Islamist movements. Salime uses in-depth ethnographical analyses of three “movement moments,” or benchmark events in these movements’ mutual history, to illustrate what she calls their “interdependent trajectories.” Rather than rely on the default binary interpretation of these two discourses, which hinges on the polarization of the two movements’ ideologies, Salime argues that the two are mutually influential. Ultimately, her book aims to show how the movements’ interaction over the past twenty years has resulted in dramatic changes in both Moroccan Islamism and Moroccan feminism.

Salime’s methodology is central to understanding her thesis. She uses an ethnographical approach, which is a qualitative research method that aims to explore cultural phenomena through the perspective of the cultural group in which it occurs. Thus, Salime avoids the common pitfalls of postcolonial, Western, or Islamist biases in her approach to writing this book. Furthermore, she investigates with great depth and detail three specific movement moments, which makes her book a focused and incisive study, rather than a generalization of women’s issues or a survey of feminism in Morocco.

This book is recently published, so there are few reviews to be found on it. However, I predict that it will make a lasting impact on the way that gender equality in Morocco is studied, because it challenges conventional ways of interpreting and understanding the relationship between the liberal feminist and Islamist movements. The few reviews I found on the University of Minnesota Press website echoed my own sentiments about the book, including positive reviews from Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject and Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East. Salime’s approach to writing this book is academic and methodical, and maintains an at-once professional and personal engagement with the issues addressed. Between Feminism and Islam is an altogether formidable first publication, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Zakia Salime is a Moroccan sociology professor at Rutgers State University in New Jersey, and received her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005.

Thesis & Content: Movement Moments and the Gendered Lens

Introduction: Struggles over Political Power: Entangled Feminist and Islamist Movements.

In the introduction, Salime identifies the major issues and events that characterize the liberal feminist and Islamist mobilization through a gendered lens. She introduces the traditional, binary approach to talking about these movements, and then moves into a discussion of her own methodology, which reverses the conventional method and studies the enmeshing ideologies that shape these movements.

She introduces also the three movement moments that will form the body of her work. The first is the One Million Signature Campaign that took place in 1992, which marked the first mass mobilization of feminist groups to reform the mudawwana, or family law. The second is the Islamist mass rally of 2000, which marked the decisive entrance of Islamist women into the political arena. The third and final movement moment, a momentous one for both groups, is the terrorist attack on Casablanca in 2003, which she uses to discuss the centrality of gender in Morocco’s changing position in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Salime also addresses the problematic terms “feminism” and “Islamism,” and the colonial, post-colonial, and identity politics informing that terminology throughout the history of North Africa and the Middle East. Liberal feminism carries the added stigma of encroaching Westernization, while Islamism carries the stigma of the wholesale oppression of women. Vilifying Islam and its perceived subjugation of women was central to justifying the colonial agenda. In recent years, scholarship has also addressed these connotations of a “monolithic, ahistorical Islam and a normative Western modernity” (Salime, xxiii), recognizing their problematic etymologies and the way those etymologies inform the identities that surround those terms. This is not a major focus of Salime’s work, but an important side-note as we delve into her scholarship.

The rest of the introduction she spends summarizing her chapters, and then begins her study in earnest.

Chapter 1: Gender and the Nation State: Family Law, Scholars, Activists, and Dissidents

In this chapter, Salime outlines the major players in the movements: the monarchy, the ‘ulama, the Islamists, women’s groups, and political parties. She talks about how questions of political legitimacy, democracy, and access to political clout are all part of the gendered space of social discourse. The patriarchal hierarchies that inform the political system of Morocco limited the range of freedoms afforded women both in the public and private spheres, and Salime identifies the political parties and women’s groups that both challenge and propagate these structures.

Chapter 2: Feminization of the Islamist Movements: The One Million Signature Campaign

Chapter two explores the One Million Signature Campaign of 1992, which mobilized women’s groups and liberal feminists across Morocco in favor of the reform of the mudawwena. Salime identifies the global economic shift, the focus on state liberalization in the wake of the Years of Lead, and the rise of Islamist radicals as a political force in Algeria as important forces influencing the One Million Signature Campaign, and talks about the opposite effect of the campaign in setting the stage for the 1995 Beijing Conference. In this way, the campaign marked strides for both the liberal feminist movement and the Islamist movement with regard to women’s issues.

Salime also talks about the “feminization of the Islamist women” in this chapter, examining how Islamist women endorsed a discourse of women’s rights and repositioned themselves within the feminist movement, and began to take decision-making positions in Islamist groups.

Chapter 3: Reversing the Feminist Gains: The Islamist Mass Rally of 2000

The second movement moment that Salime discusses is the Islamist Mass Rally of 2000, in which the Islamists in Casablanca put forth an overwhelming show of force in response to the liberal feminist march in Rabat on that same day.  This chapter challenges the reader especially to reexamine the way the march is conventionally interpreted; rather than a march against women’s rights, Salime points out the other vested interests and motives behind the liberal feminist agenda, and talks about how the march decidedly marked Islamist women’s entry into the political arena. Islamist women had easy access to grassroots activism, were effective organizers and demonstrators, and formed a formidable political force hitherto unseen.

As a result of such a strong showing of Islamist women, Salime argues, one can see an Islamization of the liberal feminists developing in the wake of the march.  The liberal feminist movement was forced to adjust their discourse in order to keep their movement alive, and this included an adoption of both feminist and Islamist policies within feminist groups. This included redefining Sharia to fit feminist ideals, incorporating the ‘ulama in feminist activities in order to legitimize their ideals, increased interaction with the male-dominated political parties, and a greater role of grassroots organizing.  Though the liberal feminist movement remained grounded in the secular UN basis for human rights, this movement moment was important in legitimizing both the liberal feminist and Islamist discourses for the future.

Chapter 4: Feminism and Islamism Redefined: In Light of the 2003 Terror Attack on Casablanca

Chapter 4 identifies the major challenges set before both movements in the wake of the 2003 terror attack on Casablanca, particularly in light of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Though these are not normally events one associates with gender issues, Salime talks about the way these events shaped gendered discourse, particularly as (since the rally of 2000) feminist movements were seen to have lost steam. The Casablanca attack “undermined the legitimacy of political Islam…and provided feminist groups with their missed opportunity to reposition themselves as the agents for the new era of fighting ‘terrorism’ through ‘state feminism’” (Salime, xxix). Thus, feminists were able to associate themselves with democracy and modernity when contrasted with radical, old-fashioned Islamic extremists.  In response to this, the Islamist groups also had to redefine their movement, and attempted to position themselves as the moderate group between religious extremists and liberal feminists.

The position of Morocco in the global arena is important in this chapter as well; the close friendship between the United States and Morocco put Morocco in a precarious position during the War on Terror. On the one had, Morocco was a member of the Arab-Muslim world; on the other, Morocco provided a doorway into that world for the United States. Salime explores what happens to the formulation of Moroccan identity in such an explosive situation through a gendered lens.

Chapter 5: Subversive Veiling: Beyond the Binary of the Secular and the Religious

The final chapter identifies how the traditional binary is now blurred, and uses veiling as her main example. Moroccan women today choose to wear or leave off the veil independent of their political or religious identities; thus, veiling has become a gendered area of Moroccan life in which the secular and the religious overlap. In this chapter, Salime points out that these two movements are indeed intertwined, and yet still divided along ideological lines.

Conclusion

The book is heavily academic and rich in detail, and so if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a great introduction to many themes that I’ve been studying this semester: the politics of liberation, the interplay of religion, gender, and politics, the significance of the veil, the gendered space in all areas of Moroccan society.  Salime is a Moroccan author with a personal interest in the issues researched as well, and I believe that this lends her writing credibility and authenticity.  She is able to apply a personal familiarity to an apersonal qualitative research method, which makes the book altogether more readable.

On the whole, I would recommend reading this book. I believe it should become a standard text for anyone wishing to study and understand the dynamics of contemporary gender issues in Morocco, and even as time passes, the book will serve as a valuable historical resource, an important methodological study, and an excellent exploration of the varying discourses that inform the debates surrounding gender issues.  I think this is an important book, rich in detail, factual evidence, testimony from many of the major leaders of these movements; the book is well written, and will hopefully have a positive influence on these movements and the scholarship surrounding them in years to come.

IF YOU READ ALL THE WAY TO HERE, YOU ARE A MACHINE.

Gender Talk, Part I

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Gender is a pretty touchy issue in Morocco, even today, which is why I’m starting a series entitled Gender Talk. Welcome to Gender Talk! Today, we’re going to talk about the Moudawana, and learn a little bit about sexual harassment. Stay tuned!

Let’s hop in, then. CANNONBAAALLLLLL!!!!!

Until 2004, women did not enjoy the same marital rights or citizenship privileges as men. Since the enactment (2000) and enforcement (so, really 2004) of the Moroccan Family Code, or Moudawana, the lot of Moroccan women has improved a great deal. However, they don’t enjoy those legal privileges free of the traditional and societal stigmas still surrounding women and women’s issues in Morocco, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

From Independence in 1956 until the enforcement of the moudawana, women were legally considered minors in Morocco, always subordinate to a father, brother, or husband. The moudawana made significant changes to women’s rights, though it’s difficult to bridge the many culturally ingrained views about femininity with these new laws.

Here are a few significant changes that have been effected during the past eight years:

  • legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women; originally, it was 18 for men and 15 for women. This was met with dismay and anger by many Moroccans living in the country, where covert arranged marriages still occur with younger women.
  • a woman may now initiate a marriage of her own free will, without the consent of a male relation; many women still choose to have a male relative sign the marriage papers, though. A Moroccan woman may not marry a non-muslim man, though a man can marry a non-muslim woman.
  • Polygamy is legal but rarely practiced; under the moudawana, the husband must obtain his first wife’s permission before entering into a second (or, very rarely, up to 4) marriage. Furthermore, the husband is required to specify how many wives he plans on having on his first marriage license, though he’s not required to fulfill it.
  • both the man and the woman can initiate divorce, for equal reasons.
  • citizenship is passed both paternally and maternally (originally it was only passed paternally, which made paternity tests a nightmare for an unmarried, divorced, or widowed woman. 12 witnesses are no longer required to prove the paternity of a child, either.)
  • overall, Morocco is a pretty good country for women’s rights, out of North Africa and the Middle East. Women enjoy equal status as men, and most of their rights are protected by law.

If you’re interested in reading the full, unofficial English translation of the Moudawana, you can find it here: Moudawana – English. More installments of Moroccan Gender Issues to follow in future posts. And now, for something nearly completely different!

The main issue I face here: sexual harassment.

Despite a culture that preaches conservatism when it comes to relations between men and women, there is a prevalent tendency to catcall both Moroccan and foreign women alike. On my first day in Morocco, a man called out to me, “fifty camels for you!” It was pretty hilarious, but I can also attest that I have been catcalled every day since coming here. “Oh, easily,” says Alexandra, when I said that aloud just now. At the very least, catcalled every day. As a matter of course, catcalled every day. We were briefed by a representative from the American Embassy upon our arrival, and that was a large part of the talk.

Sometimes it’s harmless whoops, sometimes it makes me laugh, and sometimes it makes me want to flip them off, march over to them and kick their faces in. Sometimes they follow me, saying I’m beautiful in French, asking for my number in broken English. Sometimes it’s impossible to ignore. It doesn’t always bother me, but sometimes I wish I could walk down a street without parrying a come-on, without fearing eye contact. I wish I could figure out their intentions (do they just want to hang out? my pants? marriage? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!), or at least discern a sort of middle ground between blatantly ignoring it (that feels rude) and reacting (that only encourages it).

Part of it, I think, is a function of where we live: our commute is a walk from school to the tram or bus, and then a much longer walk through the bustling medina, through the kasbah, and finally home. There aren’t too many tourists around this time of year, or maybe they don’t hang out in the souk (they hang out in the baazar, which is also cool); either way, we stand out as foreigners in the liveliest part of town, and foreigners are (I guess) attractive. Lighter-skinned, I guess. New looking. Different.

Moroccan women ignore it, sometimes see it as an ego boost. I’ve been doing my best to emulate them, and I’m getting great at looking everywhere but into someone’s eyes.

Thus far, though, I’ve only been followed and catcalled. Sometimes the catcalling can get nasty and the following can get creepy, but nothing really awful has happened; no kids throwing rocks (apparently that happens), no grabbing or slapping or attempted kidnapping or anything. I’ve reached the two-week mark, and only been proposed to once!

However, I’m used to the safety of anonymity often granted by life in the city in the U.S., and that just doesn’t carry over here. I’m getting used to the staring, I’m no longer jumpy at car horns, to the whiffs of the sewers and piles (and piles and piles and piles and piles) of garbage (oh but it’s not all bad smells, just wait till I tell you about street food), I’m slowly learning which buses to take, where the tram goes, how to be a woman in Morocco. Schwiya, schwiya.

Coming up next…

Secret boyfriends in Spain?

Virginity: turning a blind eye?

Sex: double standards?

Dating: taboo?

To be continued.

C’est baasl

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Or, Katie uses Rage Faces to talk about Uncomfortable Subjects

BAASL. That means YUCKY. It’s a very important word.

Not everything in Morocco is wonderful. For example, they drink this stuff that I thought was milk. Took a gulp…

The taste most closely resembles liquified sour cream, but really it’s sorta just spoiled milk. I suppose I could develop a taste for it, but I’m not sure I want to try.

Today, one of our host sisters played a very unsettling game of make-believe: Alexandra and I were her wives, and she our husband. I mean, that’s fine, except for the frequent pretend wife-beating and I’m-angry-with-you-because-you-won’t-obey-me sort of things. UUUUUHHHHHHHHHH

I masked my discomfort, because a harmless child’s game is just that, and she plays games modeled from what she knows—but internally, my discomfort quickly evolved into anger. Gender issues in this country are delicate, and have been in flux for decades, but it infuriated the little-incredible-hulk-feminist inside me that explodes every so often. I WILL NOT PLAY THIS GAME AND I WISH—I WISH—

The men tend to order around the women, and will raise a hand-just in play-against them (it’s still uncomfortable). ijust-don’t- I need to get used to it? I don’t really know how to handle that.

Other yucky things: if you make eye contact with a guy, it means you want to sleep with him. I guess. That’s pretty dumb. I was followed by multiple men multiple times today, and there’s not much I can do about it except tell them to leave me alone. The catcalling I can deal with (Moroccan women often see it as a confidence boost, oh I look good today), but I think foreign women get the short straw. I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, though it’s a bit weird that so many men seemed to have nothing better to do today than follow us around.

Me: laissez-moi tranquille, s’il vous plaît. (and other such things, eye rolling, etc)

Group of 2 or more men: ton numéro téléphone? Ooh la la! (Follows around for 30 more minutes)

Me:

Less important things don’t make sense here, too: walking in sandals outside makes you sick. Not having slippers/sandals on inside on the tile makes you sick. Having uncovered wet hair outside makes you sick. Not eating enough makes you sick AND ugly. All of that is charming, actually, but it can get overwhelming trying to remember when to take off and put on shoes, having to say schvet! schvet! shokran! Schvet! —I’m done eating! I’m done! No, really, thank you, I’m done!—and nobody hugs here. I miss hugs.

Random fact, nobody really drinks water here, so we all got super dehydrated during the first week. What?

Public transit: PUSHING. SO MUCH PUSHING. AAAAAH!

Well, I don’t want this to be a completely downer post or anything. I’m happy, and this is all part of the Experience, the Journey, the Growth, right? There’s all sorts of other uncomfortable things, too, so now imma write about a funny one, in this blog post.