Since I arrived in Morocco in late January, not a day has gone by that I don’t think about gender issues. The latest women’s rights issue to gain attention in Morocco is the case of Amina Filali, who committed suicide on March 10th after her parents and the government arranged a marriage to her rapist--a practice allowed under Article 475 of Moroccan Law. She was 16-years-old.
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, I made my way to downtown Rabat for a gender equality rally. Women-Shoufouch, a progressive women’s organization in Morocco, had organized the event and mobilized via the Facebook group “Slutwalk Morocco.”
The SlutWalk movement--well-known in the States-- began in Canada, where a police constable’s comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” provoked the ire of women who sought to re-appropriate the term “slut” from those who thought that wardrobe choices were an invitation for assault.
The SlutWalk movement is now International, and Women-Shoufouch has adopted its icon, which states “Because We’ve Had Enough!” However, the rally/ parade that I attended was uniquely Moroccan, and very different from the “SlutWalks” Collegiettes might have heard of or participated in across the Atlantic.
I decided to attend the Moroccan version of Slutwalk after a male member of my host family told me that the reason why I am harassed in the street is because I'm “so beautiful.” I wanted to know if victim blaming is a percieved issue in Morocco, like it is in the States. As I type this, there has been renewed backlashagainst victim-blaming in the United States in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.
Moroccan men and women alike define women's rights differently than in the West, so it is important not to impose Western views of feminism on Moroccan society. Knowing that my conceptions of gender equality are confined by my own Western background and bias, I made this video of footage and interviews from the rally to try and better understand the Moroccan perspective:
The first and last interview heard in the video are the same man, who lays out two conflicting views of gender equality in Morocco. At the rally, he explained to me that there is a universal argument: that human rights as defined by certain U.N. conventions should apply globally, and then there is an argument that Moroccan principles, in particular Islamic norms, were not considered at these conventions—invalidating them.
You might be surprised to learn that there are women that agree with that second view, although not the ones who organized the rally. Morocco has recently undergone constitutional changes that are supposed to increase the rights of all its citizens. At the parade I recognized one of the young, female members of the February 20th movement (the Arab Spring in Morocco), the movement responsible for putting pressure on the government to produce a new constitution. The music and theatrics in my footage were first used by the February 20th movement to make protests less aggressive, and therefore less likely to be broken up by the police.
The parade on March 8th, despite blocking traffic on one of the city’s main roads, went off peacefully, and I was glad to be able to attend and gain more insight into some very complicated issues. I will continue to ponder the status of women in Morocco as the case of Amina Filali's death evolves.