Morocco's Painted Veil
Morocco has this spark, a visual warmth alluring those to travel where Arabian exoticism is, indeed, still alive.
I was drawn in by the stories of the savory smell of the street, the beautiful, yet delicately scented oils and perfumes, and the almost lurid dance between snakes and their charmers.
All of which I experienced, and I agree that the country is undeniably unique. Yet the sweet mint tea and cerulean medina walls only scratch the surface of Moroccan culture.
Morocco made me uncomfortable, and it wasn’t solely due to the clash against my Western sensibilities. I found the riads*, souks**, and almost all street foods to be this incredibly exciting and interesting way to make their traditions relevant.
Yet amongst those intermittent flashes of beauty, the old traditions were bolder than the new. And I felt many of the re-envisioned traditions were but distractions masking blemishes of crawling cultural change.
Is It Just Me, Or Am I Crazy?
Initially it was subtle, and I wasn’t sure if the wrongdoings were even issues.
I mean being addressed second after any men present or someone holding my gaze for a touch too long is hardly something with which to find fault. However, my paranoia kicked in, and I was quick to find evidence for my unease.
Women dragged by the wrist, being muscled through markets at a gait half-a-step too quick.
Small bandages, tactfully placed scarves, bruises veiled by thin layers of foundation were commonplace – an inevitable survival kit.
Michael’s despondent face after he witnessed a 7 year-old-girl backhanded by her father; she was struck so hard she gasped for cries.
Aubergine rings swelling shut a woman's eyes. She had a female friend guiding her through the train station, lightly lifting a bendy straw to her lips so she could drink her morning orange juice.
So no, it was not subtle once I simply looked past the curated view of what people wanted me to see of Morocco. Moreover, I’d fabricated this emotional connection to the famous generosity and stunning landscapes, which was the reason I didn’t trust what I sensed initially: veiled distress.
I dug a little deeper into domestic violence and the overall treatment of women in Morocco. To state the obvious, it’s not good.
Missing The Mark
Think about any morning show in the States.
Good Morning America, for example, airs segments reviewing makeup products, or even full makeovers. However, below is a clip from a Moroccan news station giving their tips and tricks for covering after-abuse-bruises.
Although the station apologized immediately after the segment, what I find interesting is that the news crew came to a consensus that this information was useful to a majority of their female viewers. Meaning, they were offering a solution to a common, household problem.
Also, for those who have heard Moroccan women are making incredible progress on their rights, you aren’t wrong, and I don’t want to diminish their success.
Women can drive, vote, they hold seats of power. I witnessed social conservatism slipping in some cities like Rabat. The change in the family law, the Moudawana, raised the legal age of marriage for women to 18, it abolished a man's right to renounce his wife simply by saying "I divorce you," it gave women the right to initiate divorce, it provided them property rights in a divorce, and it gave them the right to engage in commerce and conduct business without spousal consent.
I think those victories are significant. Yet, while trailblazers are making the way for women equality, there are still appalling laws only recently being dragged into light.
Until 2014, Article 475 provided a loophole against women who were raped. The second clause states that when the victim marries the perpetrator, he can no longer be prosecuted except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed.
Basically, that effectively prevented prosecutors from independently pursuing rape charges. And in Morocco amongst conservative circles, families are more concerned that there is a de-flowered, unwed woman in their midst that often the marriages were encouraged.
The law was changed only after Amina Filali swallowed rat poison 7 months into her marriage to her aggressor.
I'm Lucky, But I Want To Help...
I want to understand what someone like me could do. Because after leaving Morocco, I’m holding on a little tighter to those incredible men I have in my life.
My dad encourages every one of my intellectual pursuits. My brothers are still some of my best friends, and I’m not convinced anyone can make me laugh quite like they do. And of course, Michael, who often surprises me with his generosity and kindness.
But I want that for other people, other women especially. And I do understand cultural change is laborious, slow, and often generational. Yet the fight for gender equality is ongoing, and not finished until every person, from every culture, is treated with respect.
Organizations & Activists
If you’re curious about how to help or about those aforementioned trailblazers, below are just a few of the organizations and activists fighting tirelessly for women and human rights in Morocco.
Association Solidarité Féminine
A non-profit fighting helping single mother and their children to gain work experience to reclaim their life after leaving abusive situations.
A global leader within a worldwide movement dedicated to ending poverty. Their focus is women and girls, because they cannot overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities.
Chenna became familiar with the suffering of young women in Morocco through her years of social work. She drew inspiration from these women and founded Association Solidarité Féminine in 1985 in Casablanca, Morocco.
*A traditional Moroccan house that’s built around a courtyard, now used for hotels.
**An Arab bazaar.