Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Some kind of insane, genocidal purge..."

“It’s like a fucking Twilight Zone episode.”

“A plague or something...”

“Some kind of insane, genocidal purge...”

John and I stood at the edge of the beach; swim trunks and t-shirts, a football tucked under my arm. A large crowd occupied the waterfront; sunbathers, footballers, some walking hand-in-hand, some staring. Two hundred or so. ...All men. Every last one of them.


I’m making it a point to write this carefully. One of my objectives is to avoid causing offense unnecessarily. So, if anything here does cause offense – I probably meant it to.

I’ve met a lot of interesting people since arriving here in Morocco. The experiences of the women, however, as related to me, have been the most interesting. The women I know best are here to work – usually on contracts ranging from 1-3 years. Teachers, mothers, artists, NGO workers. Some of them are even diplomats working in Casablanca as representatives of major Western powers; well-traveled, and specifically trained to be culturally sensitive and highly tolerant. Of the tourists, single females choosing to travel alone through North Africa are a particularly tough, brave and independent breed.

These should serve as the preface of my post. Some were related to me second-hand, but I have absolute faith in the veracity of each.

  • A female friend of ours came to visit Casablanca for 2 nights. Over the course of a single day, she was assaulted twice in broad daylight in neighbourhoods I frequent – once in front of a group of male onlookers. Nothing similar has happened to me in 8 months.
  • I have spoken with four female students who are not allowed to use Facebook, by order of either their fathers or boyfriends. Two of them are also forbidden from using email.
  • An Australian couchsurfer missed her train because the taxi driver refused to deliver her – insisting that they “get lunch” first.
  • Our apartment is a fairly social one. The ratio of Moroccan male to female visitors, however, is probably around 10:1. A vast majority of Moroccan girls and women we know are A) Not allowed in men’s apartments, B) Not allowed to socialize with unmarried men, C) Not allowed out of their homes after 8 or 9pm, D) Must check-in frequently if not at home or in a pre-determined location.
  • I have removed two men from my Facebook list because they were soliciting my female friends – apparently based on the “quality” of their profile pictures – for attention/companionship.
  • A friend of mine who works at an NGO has frequent difficulty walking 3 blocks from her apartment to her office. She often ends up running into work.
  • Police will stop you on the street if you are walking with a woman they believe is Muslim. (This may be profiling, rooted in an attempt to solicit a bribe – but it is also well-fitted to a trend).
  • Several female travelers who have left my company to explore other cities have been subjected to aggressive and unrelenting pressure for marriage or sex from Moroccan men who had volunteered, ostensibly, to accompany them for safety purposes.
  • Two female diplomats who have lived in this country for the last 2 years have a combined total of zero numbers from Moroccan men in their phones. They bemoan and regret the fact, but will flatly ignore or deflect public conversations with domestic nationals.
  • I have lost count of the complaints that have been relayed to me of marriage proposals, sexual propositions, catcalls, passes and gropes from Moroccan men directed at foreign women.
  • I have seen women being assaulted on the street, amongst a group of men, with more men watching. Twice. When men fight on the streets, others typically intervene.
  • On days when the local soccer teams play, women do not leave their homes in our neighbourhood (near the stadium) out of fear of the groups of men and boys that wander the streets before and after the match.
  • There are (many) public cafes in which women are explicitly disallowed. Public cafes that do allow women tend not to have them.
  • This weekend, I walked a pair of female friends to the big mosque on the waterfront. I left them there to walk a mile along the waterfront to a popular beach. Alone. 5 minutes after I left, they were being followed by a group of men. 5 minutes after that, one of them was bleeding. 5 minutes after that, they were in a police station...

My perspective has evolved to the point where I now feel neglecting to escort a female friend from one point of the city to another is tantamount to reckless endangerment. I’d sooner drunk-drive a forklift through my kid’s playground than let anyone I cared about walk through the downtown area alone at night.

The bullet points above are in no way meant to be a blanket condemnation of all men in Morocco. I have met a number of Moroccan men (and women) who are better people than I can claim to be. But simply put; women are second-class citizens in Morocco. This is further substantiated by the litany of other statistics on gender equity within the country (see: literacy, higher education, healthcare, employment, political office and violence).

Women do not have the same freedoms or opportunities as men. Most troubling is the fact that Moroccan laws appear to be far less restrictive than social convention.

In one of my classes, we were doing an exercise on unreal conditionals (“if ____, then ____”). One of the exercises was to express what each student would do if they were a member of the opposite sex. Among the responses from women (aged 17-30):

“If I were a man, I would go out with my friends every night.”

“If I were a man, I would get a promotion at my job.”

“If I were a man, I would be safe at night.”

One of the men in the class joked, “If I were a woman, I would kill myself.”

Unwillingness to acknowledge a problem (along with some sickening hypocrisy) is seemingly endemic amongst men here. “Women in Morocco are free to do whatever they want,” is something I have heard repeatedly. This is often suffixed with “no, I wouldn’t let my sister see a male friend at night” or “no, I wouldn’t date a woman who danced at nightclubs”.

I don’t want to get into the causes for it all in this particular forum. Hell, I have developed a veritable fusilade of attacks for it over the past 8 months... unfortunately, I’m still in a place where they could get me in trouble. But here’s a hint: I’ve been to poor, uneducated countries before. I’ve seen ancient, tribal practices integrated into modern, gradually-liberalizing societies...

I have seen nowhere else on Earth where the socially-institutionalized mistreatment of women is worse than here. It is nauseating, and I’m not going to miss it when I’m gone.


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