Rabat - In an Easter week sermon delivered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis recently told young people around the world to stand up and fight for their beliefs and their legitimate role in shaping society. “It is up to you not to keep quiet,” said the pontiff. He was reacting in part to the response by hundreds of thousands of young people and teenagers across the United States who marched on state capitols and in Washington, DC to make their voices heard on gun control following the shooting deaths of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida on February 14.
Rabat – In an Easter week sermon delivered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis recently told young people around the world to stand up and fight for their beliefs and their legitimate role in shaping society. “It is up to you not to keep quiet,” said the pontiff. He was reacting in part to the response by hundreds of thousands of young people and teenagers across the United States who marched on state capitols and in Washington, DC to make their voices heard on gun control following the shooting deaths of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida on February 14.
The youth-inspired grassroots nature of the March For Our Lives movement caught the nation by surprise. But it shouldn’t have; gunshot-related violence is the third leading cause of death in the United States for children and young adults ages 1 to 17. In the 1960s, young people participated in acts of civil disobedience to demonstrate their commitment to social justice issues and to highlight the fact that if an 18-year-old American male was old enough to be drafted into military service then he was old enough to participate in public policy debates, too.
In Morocco, public revulsion was widespread this week when cell phone video surfaced of the sexual assault of a teenage girl. The assault reportedly took place in January; the cell phone video that captured the assault has led to the arrest of the suspected perpetrator, a 21-year old man. So began another round of public outrage and soul-searching concerning sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender equality challenges in the kingdom. More raw nerves for equality advocates, especially considering that a new national law was passed in February which more precisely identifies sexual harassment, “ill-treatment” and gender-based violence, as well as strengthening penalties for the same.
For young adults looking to confront the sexual harassment epidemic head-on, a performance lab conducted Friday night at the Renaissance Café by young Moroccan activists called Zanka Bla Violence (streets without violence) represents a visceral in-your-face learning experience that—similar to the March For Our Lives movement—harnesses the voices of young people who have come face to face with a critically important issue.
Using both video and live re-enactments of common street harassment situations, the Zanka collective deconstructed the sexual harassment phenomenon that many young women deal with everyday. The activists challenged audience members to question their preconceived notions of appropriate behavior in public spaces. The need for this kind of honest dialogue will grow as more women pursue education and vocational opportunities across Morocco. Tahadi Association, a Moroccan association working to combat sexual harassment in public places like buses and trams, conducted a survey of 200 women in 2017 and found that 75 percent of women reported being harassed on public buses.
Emma Gonzalez, a senior at the Florida high school where the February 14 shooting took place, has now become a leader of the youth-led movement to reform gun laws in the US. Whatever one’s beliefs on gun control in the US, the power of young Americans to mass organize sends a message to politicians and policymakers that the legislation that they support and the laws that they pass affect those who may not now be of voting age but they soon will be. If the throngs of new student activists want to bring about change in the nation’s laws, they’ll need to stay actively engaged in the political process for months and years to come.
Somebody Else’s Job?
During her Washington, DC speech, Gonzalez’s admonition to young Americans was clear and blunt: “Fight for your life before it’s somebody else’s job.” A message that’s relevant, too, for young Moroccans who will enter adulthood in a new era where women rightfully expect the same opportunities for personal accomplishment that men enjoy, as well as the same expectation of public respect. Creating momentum that leads to change is difficult but it requires a personal commitment that can prevent the kind of apathy that led one frustrated young Moroccan woman, in reaction to the cell phone assault video, to tweet, “I am so done with this country.”
While young Americans take a stand on public safety principles related to the nation’s gun regulations, young Moroccans can stand up and demand more of each other when it comes to gender relations and mutual respect. As Pope Francis said, “You have it in you to shout.”