The Moorish Wanderer

Hit’em all, God will reward you

(Pedantic note: the title is a slight alteration of the famous “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His”. Nice story about how the Catholics slaughtered fellow Christians…)

HCP provides all kind of statistics, and violence against women is no exception. Sadly enough, I am not entirely surprised by the figures. Though the numbers need to be detailed (violence as defined in the document subsumes economic as well as physical and moral ones), it is undeniable that the traditional family structure and the gender approach allow and, to some extent, encourage a machist type of behaviour in Moroccan households. But first, let us have a look at these figures, because there is unfortunately little surprising material there;

According to this survey, 63% of surveyed female population mentioned they were subjected to a violent act, and almost one out of two declared they experienced psychological violence (i.e. insults and verbal abuse). The other figures look a bit sketchy –and for once, HCP interviewers are blameless- because the subject is such a taboo among Moroccan households that I was surprised to read ‘only’ 2.2 million rural women went on record to state what they experienced. Tip of the iceberg, I shouldn’t wonder.

It’s complicated stuff. Surveys show that Morocco is on a steady path of modernization, which implies a greater respect for women and gender equality, at least as a stated principle no one would gainsay. This enthusiasm for a shiny and secularist Morocco has to be curbed though, as other numbers also mention a revitalized interest in religion, and a new sort of reaction that justifies itself with modern language. A sort of ‘back to basics’, so to speak.

Tough Love

We are however discussing violence, not something that belongs to our ‘fundamentals’. I mean, no one in their right mind might advocate that violence, whatever its form, is good for women (unless the author of such statement of belief is a one-eyed, insulated, bigoted wahabbi-trained Islamic scholar, or something of the like). And yet, it is much easier to brandish some argument that violence in households and outside in the public space is a collateral damage, and that if you look closer, it’s the victim’s behaviour that brought it on her, and as such deserved it: if a young women gets harassed on the street because she was wearing a jean’s deemed too tight, that’s her fault, because she was too alluring. If a wife gets manhandled during conjugal sexual intercourse, that’s because she was not enthusiast enough to please her husband. Stereotyped instances, to be sure, but do nonetheless convey my point: everyone is against violence, but there’s easy justification for it, because at the end of the day, it’s not the man’s fault; it’s the woman’s.

The values survey –undertook for the 50th independence anniversary did point out that one of the traditional values in the Moroccan society was ‘Sbar’, patience. And when one is talking about the ideal woman in Morocco, it’s a patient one. Better (or worse) still, according to the same survey, 79% of the interviewed sample believes that ‘female obedience facilitates harmony within the household’ (p.29) no wonder that 1 out of 2 acts of surveyed violence happened in a domestic context. Coming back on patience as a reference virtue, the report stress that it is mainly a feminine value (i.e. patience is more expected from a woman than a man, and more specifically from a married woman, whom is expected to be bear with an unhappy relationship, for the sake of their children) Other professed reference values elicited submission (or euphemistically, obedience) parental endorsement (‘rda) or decency (7chouma).

Is there an actual relationship between reference values and the recorded violence? According to the Commissioner’s testimony, there is. Now, these values do not call explicitly for violence against women (save for the Koranic commandment of chastising one’s wife, albeit gently) but because they act as a sort of moral justification, younger generation, due to the confusion of transition (or the sole effect of confusion) resort to it more than often.

It’s not the traditional set of values that should be incriminated directly in the violence against women. The present world we are living in has lost what philosophers define as the intelligibility, it’s meaning for many Moroccans (including women); I am not referring specifically to the elderly or the hardcore traditionalists, but to the lofty, reassuring effect traditional values have on Moroccan society. It might be true that in the 1960’s-1970’s the general setting was more liberal, and that is the case because there was, in my opinion, a linear perception of  struggle between conservatism and liberalism. There was also- again, to my opinion, a wait-and-see behaviour among many Moroccans. This is to say that in their broad majority, Moroccans are not ideologically conservative, and do not systematically justify their behaviour towards women with ideology; indeed, numbers show that economic and social vulnerability are the prime elements influencing violence against women: young, working-class and poor backgrounds, divorcées, large families, inadequate housing are but examples violence is not institutionalized as such, but it so because no one cared about addressing the underlying factors.

The enumeration of these factors is not a sign of solidarity to exculpate fellow males from their despicable behaviour, but rather an attempt to look further, and in depth to understand why they would allow, for a brief moment, or deep down their sub-conscience, a complete dehumanization of women: one shocking instance is that divorcées are 3 times more prone to get harassed at work than married or single ones. (Can someone explain to me why divorcées are always worse-off?)

In matters like these, social engineering takes a bit of time; and furtive public campaigns that are staged from time to time are a shameful waste of public money, and a cruel joke on a reality government and policy makers are too coy to address directly.

Legislation can be useful on the medium term by implementing deterrent measures (where the proof of harassment or abuse is on the male defendant, the so-called reverse burden of proof), but changing minds takes a lot more time, and for politicians, a lot of guts to devise policies shifting minds and reference values from Islamic-oriented, backward and conservative mindset to a more secularist, modern and progressive set of values. It’s much easier the other way round as experience shows.

However, the narrow window of attractive modern values to the younger generations of Moroccans allows for a certain margin for these sentiments to foster, rather than shut them down with half-backed measures, or flip-flops. I understand I am preaching from a utopian perspective –that the Moroccan government lacks the power, and the will to carry out in-depth policies – but let’s just keep on dreaming, for the sake of the exercise itself: violence, whether against women or generic violence, is omnipresent in our society. How could a government get rid of it, or at least make it social deviant?

As mentioned before, there are several axes to discuss for a policy: there’s the strategic setting, i.e. eliminate the economic roots of prejudice against women: it can be proven that when improved, economic conditions (GDP per Capita, material wealth) tend to allow individuals to experiment more freedom, and thus achieve gradual de facto equal status. Such objective is out of reach of direct government policy, and as far as available data tells us, women in Morocco are more and more integrated in labour market, and many of them are actually head of household. The first step to achieve gender equality is that of the general improvement of economic conditions, and the empowerment of female population through work (if it was not for the Nazi-blot on it, I’d say the Hegelian quote ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is a good motto for this kind of policy)

The more down-to-earth policy does not leave government empty-handed: as mentioned before, legislation can be marshalled into making violence, whether physical or moral, so expensive – in terms of financial compensation and ruining reputation- so as to deter machismo display. Some might argue that it is a sell-out to the feminist lobby (and I am 100% ok with it) and the institution of bland gender relationship, but it is cheap a price to pay for respect and equality. Plus our streets would be much cleaner, and safer for the Moroccan women to walk in without the degrading comment on their garment or their physical appearance.

On even more practical measures, it is high time the government was to introduce welfare payment for single mothers, divorcées, and unemployment benefits. The community needs to support the misfits to its values, not ostracize them and harass them. These proposals are certainly politically skewed, ideological and divisive, but someone needs to stand up and channel public money into real policies: the Families and Social Affairs department has an annual budget of about half a billion dirham, in total. The best it can do is to launch educative ads campaigns and open shelter centres. It might have been good some years ago, but such problem needs to be tackled decisively. Many women are left to rely on traditional family solidarity, and when public welfare does step in, the same traditional reflexes cast them aside. Need we to remind the reader of the Fadwa Laroui case? She suffered the double infamous mark of being a woman, and then for being a single woman.

More and more female breadwinners of Moroccan households, HCP Projects says.

A pledge to reform the marriage institution is another policy that needs to be taken into account: the HCP projections show that more and more Moroccan women, now and in the future, are going to be head of households, and many already are the breadwinners, often sustaining large families. The 2003 Moudawana reform has unveiled only a tiny tip of the iceberg, and legislation, even though it recognizes gender equality, still does not empower women as the main breadwinner in many households.

There is a need to re-think the marriage institution in Morocco, as it does no longer suit a growing number of young Moroccans, its supposedly social stabilization effects do not offset its financial cost and even its claim on social cohesion are subject to discussion – number of divorces on the rise after the Moudouwana relaxed divorce law. The socially conservative would argue that ‘now women have it easy to divorce, they just go ahead’. The truth is that marriage as an institution, with all its pomp, and given the circumstances (excuses de pun) is flawed and does not perform the traditional task of social cohesion; If anything, it tends to destroy it.

Deterrent legislation and serious government welfare benefits are two faces of the same medal: legislation provides the institutional framework to secure prosecution possibilities for women (the survey points out that there are more and more women willing to take on their aggressors and sue them) and the stricter legislation is, the more these women are encouraged to file a complaint.

Welfare and marriage reform are, on the other hand, women’s empowerment tools: providing financial safeguards, and recognizing their role in the national economy. Equality is achieved through productive contribution to economic activity.

2 Responses

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  1. kadour said, on March 8, 2011 at 16:12

    Thank you for raising awareness about the dramatic plight of women on this day. Hope you mentionned the sexist moudawana though (inheritance, marriage to a non-muslim, etc.).

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