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?
To be continued.