By Sarah Goodman
Rabat- When Moroccan feminist blogger Yasmina Benslimane uploaded her International Women’s Day video, the online reactions were swift and strident.
While Benslimane’s video, a multilingual compilation of women’s testimonials, garnered praise from some, others responded with the vitriol that typifies anonymous corners of the internet.
“I was surprised,” the 24-year-old told Morocco World News. “I hadn’t expected anything like that.” However, Benslimane chose to engage with her critics rather than rebuff or eschew their perspectives. In fact, she responded to each one individually.
“I wanted to see if I could change their minds.”
Benslimane sent private messages to her various critics and came away feeling the discussions had been “constructive.”
“They were mostly sexist men,” she said of her interlocutors. “But it’s important to make them feel heard.”
In her activism and outlook, Benslimane positions herself as a feminist emissary. She believes that feminism has a “negative connotation” in Morocco, chiefly rooted in misunderstandings and “distortions.” These revolve around people eliding “feminism with ‘man-hatred’” or, alternately, thinking of feminism as an “exclusive, Western construct.” In her March 8 video, Benslimane defines feminism as a “range of political and social movements and ideologies that all share a common goal: to achieve and establish social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
“Not everyone is going to agree with you,” she told Morocco World News. “But they will respect my point of view.”
Benslimane speaks openly about her interest in politics, calling it part of the “struggle for a better world.” Indeed, although she speaks with the measured fluidity of a diplomat, her commitment and enthusiasm feel genuine. Her inclination to engage her critics in discussions of gender issues is, in itself, formidable; but she is also a rare person with the linguistic dexterity to do so. Born in Morocco, she grew up speaking Moroccan Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, and French; her undergraduate and postgraduate coursework have been in Spain and Costa Rica; and she spoke to Morocco World News in her flawless English.
Benslimane has always been “fascinated” by gender issues. Recently, she started a blog, Politics4Her, as a platform on which to explore and debate various political issues from a feminist perspective. “My blog is an initiative of providing women the opportunity to break stereotypes, grow more informed, and encourage active participation in civil society.”
Being a Moroccan in Costa Rica comes with its own hurdles. However, “Most people don’t know where that [Morocco] is, so I have to explain it’s a country in Africa. And then, I have to explain that we’re francophone, and the history of colonialism. And then, that we’re a Muslim-majority country but not everyone wears the hijab.” However, Benslimane takes this in stride. Laughingly, she says that by the end of these lengthy stereotype-debunking conversations, “usually everyone wants to visit.”
Benslimane keeps a tight schedule. Outside of her coursework, she is preparing with her team for the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, a simulated trial with prefixed topics for law students. She also has a UNHCR internship focusing on relations with El Salvador.
When asked what frontiers she looks to cross next, Benslimane says that she “definitely” plans to return to Morocco after she finishes law school. “That’s for sure!”