Rabat - Another year has gone by, and the fight for women’s rights in Morocco is still relentless. 2016 has been quite the eventful year, albeit a gruesome one for Moroccan women.
Rabat – Another year has gone by, and the fight for women’s rights in Morocco is still relentless. 2016 has been quite the eventful year, albeit a gruesome one for Moroccan women.
As one sorts through every piece of news and events related to women issues this year, the lack of good accounts is baffling. Cases of rape, murder and violence have piled up, while actions against perpetrators of abuse have been very scarce.
The list below describes a few of the year’s events that say a lot about the status of women in Morocco:
1. Mmi Fatiha, Scorched Alive in Protest
Faced by the tyranny of Kenitra’s local authorities, Mmi Fatiha found solace in flames. A humble crepe street vendor, Mmi Fatiha set herself on fire after being humiliated by a Qaed and his aids in the Moroccan city.
According to several witnesses, a municipal official threatened the woman, saying he would “run her over with his car” after slapping her, confiscating her commodities and taking all her money.
After being forced to the police station and undergoing investigations in poor conditions, Mi Fatiha would be let go to, soon after, immolate herself in an act of protest and desperation.
2. Khadija Souidi: A Trial of Flames
Martyred by her freed rapists, Khadija became the second Moroccan woman to set herself on fire this year.
As she poured gasoline on herself on July 30, Khadija was ending a long-lived nightmare on her own terms. Late 2015, the then 16-year-old girl was kidnapped by 8 men who drove her outside the city of Ben Guerir to rape and torture her.
Her assailants were arrested soon after, but immediately freed after a botched trial. As if Khadija hadn’t suffered enough, her rapists tracked her down and threatened her. They told her that if she didn’t drop the case, they would leak her rape tape.
Anxious and desperate, and with her struggle being overlooked by authorities, the Moroccan woman set herself on fire on a summer day. The next day, she succumbed to her wounds in a Marrakech hospital.
3. 2M’s Makeup Tutorial
What better way to deal with domestic violence than to teach women how to hide the evidence of their abuse? This is what the Moroccan local channel saw as adequate to broadcast on November 23, in anticipation of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women later that week.
A perplexing lapse of judgment? A disturbing lack of tact? Or simply the honest reality of a deep discrepancy between a society that aspires to be modern and the obscurantism of a culture that is still deeply rooted in the values of another age? Interpretations can go as wild as interpretations can go.
The channel later expressed its apologies, but the fact that the segment was even allowed to air in the first place is concerning.
4. Hakkaoui: Respecting Women is a Sign of Virility!
Bassima Hakkaoui, Minister of Solidarity, Women and Family, and the government’s spokeswoman for the time being, was the subject of controversy this past November when she said that “violence against women is proof of cowardice [while] respecting women is a sign of virility.”
Soon after 2M’s makeup tutorial scandal, Madame the minister came up with the slogan within the context of the national campaign for the elimination of violence against women, which some feminist activists think is emphasizing some very dangerous and outdated stereotypes.
Houria Essalmi, chairwoman of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, expressed her indignation against Hakkaoui’s comments, who claimed that cowardice is not a crime, but violence against women is punished by law.
According to many critics, the use of world “virility” in such a grave context reflected a deeply rooted macho culture and highlights the notion that women are a sexual object between the hands of men.
5. El Hasnae: Another Martyr of Dignity
Barely 18, El Hasnae is a young Moroccan woman who refused to be the victim of sexual harassment inside her own home and by her own adoptive father.
Outraged by what was happening to her, she left her house and spent several nights alone in a Rabat train station. The young Moroccan woman later got help from the Free Feminist Union (UFL), who helped her find refuge in a women’s shelter.
One month later, however, the union that earlier helped El Hasnae found out that she, along with 15 other girls at the shelter, had been the victims of a collective rape from a group of men in Rabat. El Hasnae decided to return home, only to be found a few weeks later at the bottom of a well, dead.
Murder, accident or suicide? We still don’t know.
6. The 103.13 Bill: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
On July 18, the Moroccan parliament voted for the second draft of the 103.13 bill on violence against women.
While the draft has some new interesting additions such as the incrimination of sexual harassment, it is still far from delivering justice to Moroccan women. Vague and incomplete, the new draft was heavily criticized by many feminist associations, which accused it of legitimizing marital rape, only acknowledging physical violence against married women, and dismissing their social and economic rights, amongst other atrocities.
As a reminder, the 103.13 bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives last July, was sent to the House of Councilors in August. No date has yet been set to discuss the bill.
2016: A Difficult Year for Women’s Rights
Unfortunately, this short list only represents a small percentage of the injustices perpetrated against women in Morocco. While the unadulterated violence portrayed this year does in fact depict the reality of women’s situation in Morocco, the other side of the coin shines as well.
There is a silver lining. Amidst the abuse, the indifference and the oppression, are the voices of those who can no longer stand such darkness. The emergence of new young voices calling out the blunt oppression and the guilty silence of the authorities and society. Whether they were militants, activists, journalists or ordinary citizens, many were effective in calling out the injustice. Members of associations, movements or collectives — they all stepped out when needed in an effort to support the cause of Moroccan women.
Respect and gratitude to those who refused to bow down in the face of violence and ignorance, and a lot of love to those who still suffer in the shadows, hidden from the rest of the world.
Edited by Ghita Benslimane