The constraints of an absurd tradition
The Moroccan woman, and by extension the Arab woman, is still, alas, in the middle ages stuck in obscurantist and absurd traditions, and the situation is even worst since the advent of political Islam.
With the arrival of Mullahs in power in Iran in 1978, and the Islamists in the Arab political scene, there has been a steep retrograde movement in the areas of achievements of true democracy and real modernity. So, the woman after being freed from her veil, litham, finds herself obliged to wear the integral veil ni9abor bur9a3, to, supposedly, protect her from sexual fantasies of men. In reality, she is viewed as a source of emotional disturbance, fitna, for males within a society created by males for males, where, unfortunately, females’ role is to give sexual comfort, do housework and procreate only.
In the mind of this retrograde society, the woman is the source of all evils. She is attractive if she shows her face and curves, dirty because she is prone to menstruations cycles, unable to think and reflect and always immature, na9sa 3qel. The woman is referred to in Moroccan Arabic as: dal3a 3awja, distorted rib, in reference to the biblical and Koranic story that she, supposedly, came out to existence from between the ribs of Adam. Common Moroccans, speaking of her say in the popular idiom say unashamedly: lamra 7achak. 7achak is a term of darija, vernacular Moroccan Arabic, used when one wants to talk about a subject that is 7aram, illicit or impure. So, the woman is an impure human being just because of her sex, no more.
This iniquitous behavior towards the woman, originated, not in Islam, but in the pre-Islamic tribal culture, where the patriarchal system used to make out of the woman a simple object of the house, both for pleasure and procreation, no less no more. During the period of life of the prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun Caliphs, the discrimination against the woman was proscribed, but after this period, Muslim monarchs and their ministers and governors, strong in their tribal habits, imprisoned women in harems that were guarded by eunuchs. The people, taking the example of their administrators, returned to their ancestral habits making of women a mere ornament of the house for pleasure and daily chores.
The pseudo-religious clergy, including their political or military leaders reinforced, without proof, that Islam, because of the laws of inheritance, wants the woman to remain a minor in society, and this way, during centuries, she remained a prisoner of tribal practices whether in palaces or huts. In rural areas, where life is harder, the economic necessity liberated the woman from the home prisons as well as the hijab. She went out to work in the fields but soon she regretted this “freedom” because she was, unashamedly, exploited threefold: in the field, in the house and in bed. In a word, she is supposed to do all the donkey work without the slightest expression of gratitude from the men folk or society that is male-oriented, anyway.
This woman’s destinies and long term drama were studied amply and skillfully by renowned Arab sociologists, such as Fatima Mernissi in Morocco and Nawal Saadaoui in Egypt. Obviously their studies were never accepted by the Arab chauvinist and autocratic establishment, which sees in women’s liberation a prelude to man’s freedom from autocratic governance and therefore access to democracy and rule of law. For the Islamists, these two Arab women, where brainwashed by the Western world to enfeeble Islamic culture, and have been declared, as a result, to be in a state of Koufr (infidelity to religion), for their writings that denounce women’s exploitation in the name of Islam.
The despotic subconscious
The exploitation of women in Arab society, in general, and Moroccan society, in particular, is, without a shadow of doubt, the result of a cultural accumulation of several centuries of tribal despotism. Girls are raised by their mothers to always serve males at home without the least expression of disrelishing or aversion, and when they go to their husband’s house they are literally bethralled by him and his family and total obedience is required from them by the entire society at large. A lot of traditional mothers teach their daughters blind obedience to the husband, on the grounds that he is both a protector and a provider, worse they inculcate them that obedience to man and his desires and whims is a form of obedience to God.
This absurd tribal education strengthens and inflates the man’s ego, beyond belief, and creates in him a feeling of superiority and impunity. So he believes, strongly, that his wife is his own property, she belongs to him, he can satisfy his craziest sexual fantasies on her, even if she doesn’t want to without considering this a form of rape because it is done without consent, In the local culture of course. He can hit her, anytime he wants, because the woman is always a minor, and his role is to educate and lead her into the right path, even if she expresses some form of dislike or distaste.
I remember in 1978, I returned to Morocco in the summer, after my first year of studies at the University of London, very proud of myself because I was accompanied by a beautiful blonde with blue eyes. After one week, the English girl, Named Margaret interviewed me singularly:
– Mohamed you are well educated, intelligent and a good person, nothing to say, except that your behavior with your sisters is abject and inconceivable.
– What do you mean, Margaret, I love them and I treat them well, I replied with much amazement and disappointment.
– What you say is true, but you are always calling on them, like all males in your household, to serve you diligently, once you get home.
– It is our culture, Margaret.
– I know, but as an intellectual you must rise up against this enslaving and degrading culture, it is a pure exploitation. You must learn to serve yourself, without asking your sisters in unrewarding way to bring you water, and you do not even say, “please.”
– This is implied …. hhh
– There is no implication in politeness, actually, you behave like sultans, and the harem is there to serve you and to satisfy your desires.
– In a sense you are right, but in reality I never saw things from this angle and then household females always serve men without taking offense.
– It is absurd; please act in line with your intellect Mohamed.
– I will improve, I promise.
Since, Margaret’s words and their subsequent effect is always with me, every time I am with my sisters, I never dare to ask for a service for fear of being reprimanded by my intellect. Margaret brought to my attention a reality that I never took into consideration because of the kind of education I received from society.
In our culture, the mother, lmima is the dearest human being of them all. The sweetest, the most beautiful, the most human and without her presence at home all family members are orphans, without any possible support. And the mother is also, the sister we cherish, the girl we adore and the wife who holds our hand along the path of life. But, unfortunately, we forget that we exploit all the loved ones of our household without reluctance.
We like to exploit women
In Morocco, rural women are exploited on all levels, they are supposed to work all day in fields, hard and physical work, taking care of children at home and satisfy their men in bed. In this environment of ingratitude and misery, the woman is supposed to be there for others, the whole family to cry on her shoulder, but in return, no one is there for her.
In this environment, the woman is trapped in her female status: religious orthodoxy makes her guilty even when she is proved innocent, because of misogynist and absurd traditions and her illiteracy condemns her to remain a human being in total bondage in the 21st century. No development, whatsoever, can be achieved without freeing the woman from all her chains which hinder her progress in society and in life.
This does not mean that the urban woman lives in better conditions, she, also, suffers. She must wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, to take her children to school, to go to work, where she suffers the dictatorship of the chiefs and their sexual harassment, once back home she has to prepare food again for the whole family, in bed she is obliged to satisfy her husband, In the total indifference of her other half. It is only when she gets sick that everyone realizes that she is indispensable, but as soon as she gets better, they forget this important detail, and because of her goodness she forgives their proverbial oversight.
Moroccan society must change, at once, its behavior, its habits, its philosophy and perception of women, in order to be able to make a firm step into modernity. The woman is neither an object of passion, nor an object of possession; she is a human being, with feelings and desires. People must get rid of such medieval ideas, which make of the woman a public danger, fitna, when she is beautiful or tries to make herself pretty and attractive. The poor woman wants only to please herself and/or to please her family and her husband.
The obscurantist forces that have come to power and prominence in the last years think that if men are unemployed today, it is because women are hampering them with their presence and competition in the labor market. These Individuals think that the woman must return to work at home and let the man the chance to earn more money for the whole family. This unenlightened argument implies that women hinder men to achieve their goals, worst they think that the right place for the woman is home with pans and babies.
In theory, all Moroccan political parties have women’s associations; however these associations exist just for dummy presence and showcasing, which is practiced in this country with much dexterity. Moroccan political parties are far from democratic, which means that the candidates’ lists for all elections is made by the central party office and not by the local party, and the choice of women for this job remains a luxury tainted with nepotism.
Fortunately, the progression of social and human political thought towards gender equality has duly inspired the Moroccan political environment to create a safety valve for the emancipation of women: the activation of the concept of positive discrimination. Without the formalization of this concept in Moroccan political life, women would have never been able to be in the parliament and government, because despite the economic development of the country and the woman access to education, she is unfortunately stuck in the concept of: “be beautiful dear and shut up”.
Thanks to the culmination of women’s empowerment in democratic countries and, also, thanks to pressure from the international community, Morocco has introduced positive discrimination in favor of women but this beneficial discrimination is limited to the parliamentary level. In principle, it ought to be extended to government, major state offices and all state institutions, as well as the private sector, and also army, gendarmerie and police. In fact, there are women soldiers, gendarmes and police, but they are still at the bottom of the professional scale, with some exceptions of course.
Also, gender parity must be extended to all areas and walks of life, in employment a woman must not be deprived of a job opportunity just because she is a woman, and no institution, corporation or business ought to refuse a job for a woman only because she wears hijab, it is unconstitutional, undemocratic and immoral. However, there is something more serious in public and private administrations and businesses that affects negatively women empowerment: salary discrimination. For the same job, a woman and a man do not have the same salary; men always get the most of the situation just because they are men.
The silent revolution of the Moroccan woman
The Moroccan woman has successfully initiated with firmness and courage a silent revolution on independence by entering schools to learn, since the number is increasing over the years, nowadays the percentage of women in universities is apparently 54%. The downside is unfortunately in rural world, especially in the Amazigh-speaking mountain regions where Illiteracy is almost 80%. In these areas, Morocco is trailing behind compared to the rest of the world: a real national shame.
Rural women’s literacy is a must in these poor areas for much-needed women empowerment. Literacy, is supposed to be undertaken in accordance with scientific rules far from any political demagogy or populism. If done in this manner, it can be greatly beneficial at several levels:
1- Learning the 3 Rs: Writing, Reading and Arithmetic;
2- Intellectual and professional development;
3- Learning the rules of hygiene and reproductive health, especially in an environment where infant mortality is very high, and
4- Creating opportunities for self-employment.
Moroccan woman due to her legendary courage, her temerity, her patience, and wisdom entered all domains deemed masculine: she pilots a plane, drives a bus, a taxi, and a tram, manages companies, teaches, etc.
If today the Moroccan woman is a national subject of honor and pride, it is mainly due to her massive exploits and proverbial persistence, and also thanks to the King Mohammed VI, who extended a helping hand to her cause by showing his wife Princess Lalla Salma in public, a first in the annals of the Moroccan monarchy’s history, and entrusting her with public missions. Lalla Salma is not only inspiring Moroccan youth with her gestures and doings, but also sets for them an example to follow in doing volunteering work. Moroccans are very proud of all the royal princesses: Lalla Meryem, Lalla Hasna, Lalla Asmaa et Lalla Soukaina, who, through their humanitarian actions on the national and international scene, show clearly that the monarchy does not only have historical legitimacy but is, also, popularly loved and without any form of ambiguity.
A few years ago King Mohammed VI, entrusted his cousin, Lalla Joumala, laureate of the prestigious University of London, with the ambassadorship position in the United Kingdom, a highly strategic mission in view of the important secular relations and strategic alliance between the two kingdoms.
But this Moroccan women silent revolution would have never succeeded if King Mohammed VI had not introduced decisive laws for the future of the Moroccan nation mainly the family code of 2004 which has completely transformed the old moudawana into a modern family code without causing any breach, whatsoever, in tradition and religion. Nowadays It is considered as the most groundbreaking code in the Arab world, and an example for other Muslim countries to follow.
The Moroccan women spring
The Moroccan woman takes several social roles: she is the beloved mother mima, sister, daughter, wife, fellow worker, she must absolutely benefit of the country’s total recognition. This recognition should be expressed as follows:
1- Recognition of the primordial role of women within family and at home;
2- Assisting the housewife by sharing housework chores;
3- Helping women in education of children at home;
4- Getting rid of sexual stereotypes about Moroccan women, she is a honorable human being;
5- Adopting a spirit of parity with women;
6- Criminalizing acts of violence against women, either sexual aggression or physical misbehaving; and
7- Adopting the principle of positive discrimination in public life: a woman can easily be chief of government like in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Moroccan women spring, for once does not only concern women but the whole nation: women and men; governors and governed. Steps forward have to be diligently taken to liberate women from constraint, bondage and slavery, and, also, from traditional prejudice and stereotypes, as well as archaic laws to achieve real economic development.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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