By Nidal Chebbak
Fez – Sexual harassment has been a controversial issue in Morocco for a very long time and it still is. Different people have different opinions about the issue; some blame women for being too loose and others blame men for being unable to control and behave themselves.
As a Moroccan girl, I can very much relate to this issue as any other Moroccan girl. As I believe, every Moroccan girl/ woman is harassed every time she goes out regardless of her age, shape, color, ethnicity, background… and no matter what she wears, even if she puts on potato bags. Any girl who says the opposite is living in denial because that’s the reality we deal with every day.
Sexual harassment can vary through the constant gazes that checks every inch of the girl’s body from head to toe, the harassing words coming from every corner, the following -or as I’d prefer to call it “the tireless stalking”-, the insistence to get the girl to talk, then it can move too far to the undesired touching of her body.
Men would argue that it’s the women who give way to men to sexually harass them in the streets, especially when they aren’t wearing “decent clothes”. Many men feel that they have the right to harass a woman who is wearing revealing clothes and that this type of clothes is actually an open invitation for harassment. This type of women is labeled as loose and immoral, even if they are not. After all, what’s the fine line between decent and indecent clothes for women? As far as I have experienced, seen and heard, no matter what a woman wears, she’s still going to be harassed at some point in her usual day.
I also think that this whole issue of “indecent clothes” is just a very weak and “loose” excuse for men to carry on their horrendous habits. We are a Muslim country where almost every Muslim Moroccan prides everywhere about being a Muslim (of course, in words but rarely in practice) but still we find these horrible acts that are condemned by our religion. In Surat an-Nur, the Almighty Allah states: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That is purer for them, verily Allah is All-Aware of what they do.” (24:30). Isn’t this a verse where the Almighty Allah asks men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty? Did He by any means in this verse or in any other verse state that, well if women aren’t dressing decent enough then you shall harass them? No, He didn’t. Muslim men take pride in being Muslim, but as long as they don’t abide by this and other verses, their pride amounts to bigotry.
No woman is immune from sexual harassment, not even women with the niqab. I once had a friend who was unveiled. Life took us in completely different directions but we met after few years and she was wearing the niqab. We engaged in different conversations that somehow led the issue of the sexual harassment in the street. Her statement about her personal experience was very striking to me that I never forget it. Here is what she said: “You know, I wasn’t always wearing the hijab. At first I was harassed every time I went out, sometimes it was awful and just too much to bear. Then I wore the hijab and thought now that I’m a bit covered and more modest in the way I dressed, harassment would stop or at least diminish, but it didn’t. Then, I felt all guilty about it and was wondering maybe it’s me, maybe I’m not well covered and maybe I’m still a source of “fitna” and I felt very bad about it. I decided to wear the full niqab, no more colors (very dark colors, mostly black), and no more clothes that shows the figure. I felt and still feel very good and at peace with my decision, but I would lie if I say that harassment stopped because it didn’t.I still get the harassing gazes and the harassing words about my eyes (though my face is covered). But at least, I feel that it’s not my fault.”
This conversation was an eye-opening experience for me. It was the first time that I engage in such a deep way about this topic with a friend who wears the niqab and it made me realize that we, girls/women, aren’t immune no matter what we wear.
I highly salute every Moroccan female who goes out and defies all these harassments as bravely as she can, for it has become a daily battle that we sometimes complain about but we mostly accept as an inevitable evil.
Nidal Chebbak is a first year doctoral student at Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah University of Fez. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in English Studies in 2009 after completing a research paper on Advertising Moroccan Women in Moroccan Magazines, in addition to a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies: Cultures and Identities in Morocco from the University of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah in Fez; her MA thesis was entitled European Women through the Eyes of Moroccan Travelers 1611-1919. Nidal is also the vice president of the Moroccan Association of Friends of English (MAFE). She served for a year as Morocco World News’ correspondent in Fez.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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