By Women's Voices Now
Day two of the symposium began with another musical performance. This time, the act involved two Moroccan female students from Moulay Ismail University. With one girl on an acoustic guitar and the other creating human beatbox sounds, the audience was very soon snapping and clapping to keep the beat.
We were so pleased to see that not only did the Peace Corps contingent return, and the university students, but also the women from the Association pour la Protection de la Famille Marocaine. Indeed, for two afternoons and evenings, we created a cohesive community interested in discussing the status of women in Morocco.
The speakers presenting on the second night were Professor Ouafae Bouzekri, representing the Association pour la Protection de la Famille Marocaine; and Majda Alaoui, a nurse for 26 years, representing the Clinic Meknes.
The final speaker was Rabii Jawhara, a student of Prof. Ouafae Bouzekri. He gave a fascinating analysis about the female roles portrayed in the Moroccan film, “Deux femmes sur la route (Trek Layalat),” directed by Farida Bourquia.
Prof. Bouzekri opened the second session by giving an overall description of the way in which women’s centers function in Morocco. In respect of the Islamic orientation of the typical Moroccan family, many of these centers approach women by way of seeking ways to improve the quality of life for the family as a unit. Some ways in which these organizations facilitate these improvements include: making possible extra hours for after-school tutoring, hosting literacy programs for women of all ages; teaching women Arabic, especially learning to read and understand the Quran so that they may read material that feel relevant to them, as well as information that is accepted by their husbands and families.
In a slide show and video clips of women from the Associationgiven by Shelby Truitt, one of Prof. Bouzekri’s international students, she interviewed women about their experience at the center and what they feel they have gained by being involved. Short yet incredibly moving moments recorded with these women reveal how impacting learning to read the Quran, or simply having a place to vent about the hardships of married life and raising children has been for these women. One woman exclaimed how her newly acquired ability to read the Quran meant that she no longer felt lost and is no longer ignorant; she doesn’t ever feel bored and doesn’t need to rely on others to get around. Other women expressed the importance of literacy and learning English, too, so that they can learn how to go online and learn what their children are learning and help them in school. Other women viewed becoming literate as a way to connect with their children and to be more involved in their lives in a significant manner.
Prof. Bouzekri continued to explain the imperative of developing Moroccan society as a whole by focusing on women and children. Protecting women and their rights is a key way to ensure Morocco’s future. But the greater challenge is educating women about their rights in cases of divorce, non-discrimination laws in the work place, domestic violence, and so on. To that effect, the Association is able to bring in experts or specialists that conduct one-day workshops on women’s rights education. For example, each year on March 8th, International Women’s Day, there are teach-ins for women on Morocco’s family code – theMoudawana. This approach allows for women to become empowered by learning to advocate for themselves; and through these kinds of associations, the objectives are gradually achieved in a safe and socially sanctioned environment.
There are also practical economy building and charity-based activities sponsored by these women’s associations. These are places where women can sign up for sewing seminars to produce clothing, after which they receive a certificate of completion that can be used as a credential to find a job outside of the center. In the past year the Association hosted 200 circumcisions, meaning proper doctors were provided and ceremonies took place in a clean and hygienic setting, allowing for mothers to rest assured that their sons would not face any complications following this rite of passage. In the week leading up to Ramadan, Prof. Bouzekri visited the nearby city of Ifrane to deliver 200 Ramadan baskets to families who simply don’t have enough to properly observe and celebrate the feast (iftar) that happens in the evenings of the month-long fast. In addition, donations will be made to orphanages in Meknes from time to time. Furthermore, women’s associations also seek to meet whatever other need that arises in a community, often filling in the gaps that the government fails to address.
Despite financial difficulties and the need to expand in order to provide more opportunities to the growing number of women coming to theAssociation, Prof. Bouzekri remains optimistic that what she sees happening in Morocco today regarding women promises better times in the future.
Majda Alaoui, a nurse with 26 years of experience, shared her pride in the work she has been able to do for women in Morocco. By working closely with women in the medical setting, she has been able to remain actively involved in much needed health education among common Moroccan women, and advocating for the importance of health education for the well being of children, too.
Over the years, Majda has seen an improvement in awareness among Moroccan women: that they need to go to the doctor during pregnancy for regular check ups, as well as for anything abnormal that may occur. But there is still much work to be done. For example, a woman arrived at the Clinic Meknes about to give birth. Prior to her arrival, she had been bleeding without stop and instead of going directly to the clinic, she listened to other women in the community who prescribed “potions and herbs” to stop the bleeding. The remedies did nothing to alleviate her pain or stanch the bleeding and by the time she arrived at the hospital she needed a blood transfusion. It happened that her husband was on the police force and was able to quickly arrange for blood donations. Due to the hurried and urgent nature of the situation, however, the blood wasn’t tested for diseases or abnormalities. As soon as a match was made, the woman received the blood. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the origin of which was traced to the transfusion.
This anecdote, says Alaoui, is indicative of a trend in Morocco wherein women are aware of the services they can receive, and know about the treatments and attention they need in pregnancy but they wait until the last minute when something is wrong. So the preventative approach to medicine is not implemented, but not for lack of knowledge of its existence. The solution to this, Alaoui believes, is education. Health education needs to start from an early age, in schools, so that women grow up having the courage and knowledge to seek the appropriate assistance at the appropriate time. In keeping with the holistic and culturally appropriate manner in which to deal with these sensitive issues, Alaoui mentioned that it is an Islamic duty to seek out the necessary information one needs to live a healthy life. Women’s associations have played a crucial role in helping women navigate their rights, the medical system, the legal system, and a number of other institutions that may intimidate a woman from seeking out her rights.
“Deux femmes sur la route (Trek Layalat)”
“Deux femmes sur la route (Trek Layalat)” follows the adventure of two Moroccan women coming from two different generations. The younger woman, perhaps in her 30s, is dressed in typical “Western” fashion – tight jeans, heels, a tiny jean jacket and a t-shirt that leaves little to the imagination. She is escaping from something, or running to something, it’s not quite clear. Waiting for her car to be repaired, an older woman decides to latch onto the younger, and the two embark upon a strange and complicated journey to reunite with family members from whom these women have been estranged. With the older woman often waddling and running after her younger counterpart, stymied by the layers of clothing and heavy head covering that she wears, the two make a rather comical pair. Along the way, we see the younger woman exhibiting behavior not particularly condoned by Moroccan society. In one scene, she drinks and becomes inebriated in a bar, and men assume this means they can take advantage of her. But her older friend, ever on the lookout for her troubled young companion, comes to the rescue time and again.
Somewhere along the way the two women find what they thought they were looking for, only to realize that what they really yearned for was each other. The younger woman was looking for a mother to care for her, validate her, and to love her for whom she is. And the older woman was looking for something similar, someone to belong to. Willing to accept each other for who they each are as individuals, with all sorts of imperfections and contradictions, they drive on, into the future and whatever it may hold.
Rabii Jawharaintroduced this film by talking about the way in which Moroccan cinema often perpetuates the patriarchal structure of Morocco. Portraying women in simplified extremes leaves little room for Moroccan women to form a female identity that is nuanced and respected in Moroccan society. Watching Moroccan films, then, tells a lot more about the way in which society denies women the right to development and express who they are as individuals, and less about the reality of Moroccan women in the day-to-day. Keep posted for in-depth analysis of Moroccan film through a feminist lens by Rabii Jawhara in upcoming issues of The WVoice.
The evening ended with a closing ceremony and gifts of appreciation to the speakers and organizers for their dedicated efforts to make the symposium happen.
The diligent efforts of the ISA and ELAP staff, the students and faculty of Moulay Ismail University, and WVN Global Tour Coordinator Elyse Whitehead made this two-day exchange possible. WVN looks forward to many more opportunities to learn and share with our new Moroccan friends and partners. Shukran bizef!
Mennouni Cultural Center, Meknes, Morocco
June 19-20, 2013