By Firdaouss Boutaba
By Firdaouss Boutaba
Rabat – Imagine smiling after a slap in the face; then think of doing it all your life. This is the way women live in Moroccan society. Women’s lives are shaped by deadlines; that is, we are taught to believe blindly that as women we have a very short period to live, marry and have children, or else we will fall into the dungeon of spinsterhood or simply become scrap. Raised to take on responsibilities at an early age and to stop thinking about their own dreams, young girls often end up as unfulfilled and miserable women.
Moroccan women are expected to meet society’s standards. Based on a long list of do’s and don’ts, these standards are not created in a vacuum but are an accumulation of the way society educates women and the way women accept their roles. I am by no means blaming men; rather, it is the whole society – institutions, men and unfortunately women themselves – that creates and maintains these standards. What exactly is the role of society in educating women? How and why do women accept the way society raises them? And, most importantly, is there any voice raised against the social disapproval which limits the life of women?
Clearly, the education and treatment of women is at the root of masculine domination and women’s dependence. As women are guided into their role — one that is chosen by society and transmitted from generation to generation — the various do’s and don’ts become embedded conventions and beliefs. At the top of the list is marriage. Marriage, along with many other conventions, limits women’s lives, enclosing them in a circle of house cleaning and child rearing. Maddeningly, these conventions both suffocate women and make them believe blindly in their role. If a woman deviates from her role and loses the financial support of her husband, there may be dire consequences such as divorce, poverty, and homelessness for both the woman and her children. Sadly, there is little difference between past and present social conventions.
The problem is not that women get married and have children; rather, my irritation arises from the way women and society emphasize marriage over the importance of a woman’s continuing her studies and realizing her life purpose. The role of the housewife is a sacred and a difficult one, but it should not be a woman’s only goal. Marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman after they both have the opportunity to succeed in their careers.
When a woman’s entire life revolves around her marriage, it can sometimes lead to terrible consequences. Domestic violence is a frequent lament, with the marriage resembling a dead end street. Maltreatment and violence often result in divorce, and the woman and her children find themselves wandering the streets. Women in difficult marital situations then are faced with the choice of either accepting domestic violence and living as doormats or begging and scavenging from place to place.
When a woman’s life falls apart and she finds herself alone in a harsh society without any financial support or any kind of help, she is vulnerable to further victimization which can lead to drugs and prostitution. The accumulated injustices and grievances may cause her to feel angry all the time and sometimes behave aggressively, mainly with her children. Victimization leads women to an abyss of despair, and instead of fighting courageously to change their bad conditions many of them just crumble and accept the social stigma bitterly. Yet women — divorced, raped or faced with violence – desperately need second chances. They are the backbone of our society, yet they are the victims of the way society has limited their lives. They deserve a second chance to live equally and happily in our society simply because they are human beings.
Associations that help women are leading the fight against maltreatment and injustice and are taking a real step forward to change negative social attitudes towards women. One such association, Ain Ghazal, is situated in Oujda and is doing great work with women in the eastern region of Morocco. The association accepts women in difficult situations for a period of one year to work through a three-step process: 1) identify and accept their problems, 2) recover psychologically and physically, and 3) integrate into society. One remarkable feature of the program is that women live together, help each other, and share their stories of suffering and sorrow. The women are kind to each other and help each other by working through their difficulties together.
At the beginning, women often find it hard to open up to the association, but when they get to know the place, they begin to talk about their misery and to accept their situation. Some women are so desperate that they may think of suicide, wishing that the earth would open up to swallow them. However, when other women take their hands and let them know that they are not alone, it helps them. Most of the women say that they wish to turn back time a little, to become children again, but what they do not acknowledge is that they are still kids raising kids. In the first step of Ain Ghazal’s process, women begin to feel secure and not alone and, most important, to meet other women with the same struggles.
The second step involves treatment for the women’s psychological and physical problems. Women who come to this association are frustrated, broken, and weak. They were victims of torture, rape, or violence. They were forced to have sex, often in brutal ways. They are in very bad shape, both psychologically and physically, and they need immediate treatment. Every week, volunteer doctors come to the association to treat and to talk with the women. It is often not easy for them to accept treatment, but once they feel secure they start to believe in the possibility of hope and change.
Last but not least, the third step is integration in society. This step helps women to face society once again, but only after they break down the social conventions that have surrounded them. These women have left home and are now meeting new people; it may be their first experience of living with strangers. This process changes their perspective on the way society educated them and helps them recover from the accumulation of old conventions so that they can now face society with courage and strength. After leaving the association, women may return to their families, decide to work, or finish their studies. If they return to their families or adopted families, the association will check on the women frequently to see if they are being treated well or not.
Ain Ghazal and other association are thus taking the first steps toward helping women and challenging the way that we, as a society, look at women. The real change, however, starts when the whole society changes the way it educates women. The whole sorry existence of women must be transformed into a new spring, when a woman is as free as a butterfly to realize her dreams of living a fruitful life instead of being the doormat of society.
Edited by Esther Bedik
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