Tag Archives: women’s issues

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.

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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.

Feminism

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I know I promised you all a travel blog, and have thus far bombarded you with some weird poems, stories, and philosophic rambling, and I promise I am going to Morocco and will soon be updating this blog with vivid, enjoyably readable accounts of my various adventures there.

With my departure looming in less than a week and my bedroom growing steadily messier as I alternately clean it out and pretend to pack by setting out the clothes I plan to bring, I’ve been occupying this endless free time with books and books and books. This brings me to the title of this post, a subject I hope to illuminate further once I’m immersed in the culture I’ve read so much about.

I’ve always been fascinated by women’s issues, and could spend entire minutes telling you all about diversity and privilege issues regarding womanhood in contemporary Western society. However, I wouldn’t have been able to shed any meaningful light on issues facing women in Muslim societies (except for a vague inkling that they might prefer to keep their heads bare) until I began to read Fatima Mernissi.

Whether you are interested in feminism or not, I highly recommend her vibrant, humorous, and compelling Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, a collection of stories about her childhood in (you guessed it) a domestic harem in Fez. She combines brilliant storytelling with insightful commentary on the role of women’s rights in the ever-evolving conflict between tradition and social change.

If I sound a bit like a Washington Post book review, it’s because I’m planning on learning a bit more before I write the blog post that demonstrates my admirably critical engagement with this fascinating subject. This evening, I began her weightier work Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, and hope to give you a window into the opinions and stories of the Moroccan women I hope to meet in a little less than a week.

So, here you are, a mildly educated sort of blog post to balance out the silliness of these previous posts. Hit up your local library. Read the book. Woo! And let’s go to Morocco!