Nearly two thirds of women in Morocco have experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse.
“Walking in the streets in Morocco is a real challenge for women. Men from all ages feel permitted to harass women,” said Amal Ben Hadda, a Moroccan engineer living in Casablanca.
She is talking about the widespread problem of sexual harassment in Morocco.
Sexual harassment and assault are possibly some of the worst and most widespread phenomena occurring on our planet at this time. Whether it is lewd staring, aggressive sexual comments, or physical assault, sexual harassment certainly causes tremendous harm.
It is a problem that spans the globe and Morocco is no exception.
While it is difficult to get accurate statistics on sexual harassment and assault in Morocco, one national survey indicates that nearly two thirds of women in Morocco have experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse.
A 2016 Moroccan Crime and Safety Report by the US Department of State said, “Harassment of women is somewhat prevalent in both urban and rural areas. Moroccan men will often engage in whistling, hissing, staring, yelling and on occasion, inappropriate physical contact.”
The report adds, “In 2015, there was an increase in reports of sexual assaults and rapes. Incidents of assaults and harassment affect women walking alone at night however, assaults have also taken place in broad daylight and in public events.”
Another Moroccan woman, who will be referred to as Chrif, says, “Sexual harassment is so common in Morocco that all women have been subject to it at least once.”
“Sexually harassing a woman in public spaces is a way of asserting a dirty manhood. A so-called fundamental right of men,” she added.
Chrif partly attributes the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in Morocco to a weak judicial system and lack of consequences for actions.
“Sexual abusers are often not punished for their actions because victims do not pursue prosecutions or abandon their complaints under pressure from a very intimidating, slow and often ineffective judicial system. A judicial system were victims often feel as if they are invisible,” she said.
“When victims do have the courage to talk about it and seek help, they are often judged which often leads to secondary victimization,” Chrif explained.
Numerous studies have shown that women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault can experience long terms symptoms such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and may suffer from problems such as an inability sleep and persistent feelings of fear. In cases where sexual harassment is a daily problem, women may feel afraid to walk on the street or travel on public transport alone, go to school or go to work.
“The majority of women who have been sexually harassed, particularly in public spaces develop traumatic memory. An emotional memory where a victim can become confused by what is in the memory and what has happened from the aggressor. This can be real torture for a victim and can sometimes make her feel like she no longer wants to go outside,” said Chrif.
Recognizing the serious of the problem, in 2018, the Moroccan government, with support of activists, implemented a new law criminalizing violence against women which has included sexual harassment.
A number of other countries in the region have passed laws to criminalize sexual harassment in an attempt to curb the problem in their own countries.
In 2014, Egypt officially criminalized sexual harassment and introduced penalties including prison terms and fines. A decree was approved where offenders of sexual harassment could be punished for up to five years in jail or receive fines between $400 and $7000.
In Algeria, a person convicted of sexual harassment is subject to imprisonment of two months to one year and a fine of 50 000 to 100 000 dinars.
Tunisia has perhaps been the most progressive North African country to make changes to protect women from sexual harassment and abuse with the introduction of the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women earlier this year.
The new law makes it easier to prosecute domestic abuse and it imposes penalties for sexual harassment in public spaces. It says that citizens are entitled to notify the police if they witness violence against women.
The law has also made it criminal for law enforcers to exercise pressure or any other form of coercion against a woman to force her to abandon her complaint or to change it.
While implementing laws to criminalize sexual harassment are essential, it is also essential to shift attitudes that tolerate acts of violence towards women.
“There is a need to condemn anyone who imposes their perverse behavior on others,” said Chrif. “We must also increase education and value respect for women.”
Ben Hadda agrees that men should have to adhere to social rules that require men to show respect towards women. “Men have one simple rule,” she says. “Lower their gaze, and yet they cannot or do not want to respect it. If they cannot fulfill their own obligations in accordance with Islam, then they should not expect others to fulfill their religious obligations,” she said.
It is essential that in Morocco and throughout the world thatsexual harassment is at all times considered unacceptable. As a global community we should be shared in our outrage and we should be shared in our desire to bring all forms of sexual harassment and assault to an end.
We must work together to make men who sexually harass women feel afraid. They must fear consequences for their actions because if they do not, then we will continue to see such a high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, not only in Morocco, but around the world.