On December 15, I had the opportunity to speak at an Indiana University Women’s Student Association (WSA) meeting and presented Women’s Voices Now to my fellow WSA members. Throughout the semester, WSA member volunteers present specific sociopolitical topics, facilitate a lively discussion, and ultimately question how we as young students can continue to educate ourselves and become potential activists within the issue. Because we had not yet touched upon women’s issues on an international level, I was very excited to share WVN’s initiatives in empowering women in Muslim-majority societies through written and visual expression.
I presented three different types of film from the WVN 2011 Film Festival: a documentary, “Breaking the Silence”, from Yemen, an animated infographic, “Male and Female”, from Egypt, and an interview, “A Voice in Meknes”, from Morocco.
Everyone was impressed at WVN’s vast collection of films and how such diverse filmmakers come together to create compelling works and stories that collectively represent the call for social change. They were particularly inspired by Kaddar, the subject of “A Voice in Meknes,” and her fervent call for fairness and equality, echoing WSA’s mission of “empowering the youth in working to eliminate the multiple levels oppression acting in society.”
Several inquired specifically on how the gender equality movement in Morocco has unfolded. Indeed, Morocco is a unique convergence of the old and new, tradition and modernity, and as a result, the issue of women’s rights touts a long, complex trajectory. And working with WVN allowed me to glimpse this movement in motion as I was whisked away to the centuries-old walls of a Moroccan university and the labyrinthine streets of the medinas. I encountered the diverse layers of Morocco’s social strata as I talked politics and the education system with established women in academia, discussed religion with humble seamstresses amongst their garments, and addressed gender issues with young hip-hop dancers crumping to Tupoc.
To provide some context for our discussion, I began by introducing the history of the Moudawana, the Islamic family code. This is a series of laws and standards related to virtually all aspects of family life, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, polygamy, and inheritance. Established after Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the Moudawana was an official, government-backed recognition of age-old customs. Although women are central to family structure, the Moudawana failed, however, in recognizing women as equal, contributing players in civil society. Divorce laws unanimously favored men, women could not marry without the legal permission of a father or brother, a husband could participate in polygamy without consulting his wife, and there was no minimum marrying age for girls. Despite the impassioned demands for reform by Morocco’s activists, women’s rights groups, and the international community, it was not until the 1990s that their pleas for change and equality catalyzed the first of the Moudawana’s reforms.
These initial amendments remained very limited, however, but with increasing measures to educate Morocco’s general population and to raise awareness on rape, domestic violence, and the importance of gender equality, in 2004, several of the previously discriminatory provisions were overturned. The marriage age was raised to 18, women were able to divorce their husbands, and permission from a guardian was no longer a requisite for marriage. These reforms were an incredible milestone for the women’s rights movement and signified the changing face of Moroccan society and politics.
But the fight for gender equality remains as Moroccan women continue to break down the lingering vestiges of oppressive gender roles and stereotypes and to bridge the educational, social, and legal gap between men and women. “Change must come from within,” was the slogan I heard repeatedly from the Moroccans I spoke to, and to be sure, Morocco’s women’s rights organizations are tailored specifically to meeting the needs of women with respect to where they live, their religion, and their family. Both Moroccan men and women are becoming increasingly aware of their rights and the importance of equality, and the youth, in particular, are emerging as the new leaders of the movement, recognizing the necessity of intellectual freedom as a means of empowerment.
Watching the films and facilitating a question/answer session about WVN and Morocco, I was truly excited to see such a compelling exchange of different perspectives and thoughts on pressing issues amongst my peers. The ultimate goals of WVN and WSA align ultimately in seeking to empower women. As one of my fellow WSA members pointed out, “Women’s Voices Now is clearly an incredible tool for Morocco’s gender equality movement, and for movements around the world, because as we just heard from Kaddar [in a “Voice in Meknes”], ‘Moroccan women can see that they are not alone.’ This is absolutely inspiring.” After such a successful discussion, I am looking forward to continue sharing WVN with the IU community and hosting another WVN event this March for Women’s History Month.
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