Women have been and will always be the backbone of society; it is truly astonishing how the patriarchal system has misrepresented them. I would like to shed some light on their incredible contributions as well as their struggles in the Moroccan society.
Some of the women of my generation try to stand up for themselves against the injustice placed upon them, but unfortunately, some elements of our society can be very biased. From a young age, I have witnessed how cruelly some women are treated.
For hundreds if not thousands of years, the global patriarchal system has promoted a typical image of how women should look, think, and act. In the 20th and 21st centuries, throughout many countries, this image largely entails subordinate women toiling in the kitchen, caring for children, and doing housework.
Patriarchal pressures in Morocco
Morocco was not immune to this influence, and many Moroccan women continue to face patriarchal pressure and objectification. It is time to achieve justice for these women, shed light on their contributions, and show their power instead of pushing a patriarchal agenda that aims to belittle women.
Many women in Morocco are afraid to voice their opinions and pursue certain careers and freedoms because men often present an obstacle to their aims. Moroccan women have had their share of injustice throughout the years. It is time to remind them and the rest of the world of what the patriarchal system failed to deliver.
Western media often project an image of a purely patriarchal Moroccan society, but when you encounter Moroccan women and understand their lives, Moroccan society takes on a more matriarchal form. Without the contributions of these women, Moroccan men would not be able to achieve what they have. Their success is based on the sacrifices of a mother who gave up on her dreams to raise her children; a wife who gave up on her career to be there for her husband.
Despite their resilience and selflessness, Moroccan women still face oppression, one of the most striking examples being child marriage. It is not only a horrifying phenomenon, but it is also a crime that should be taken seriously by the authorities.
Child marriage as an example of women’s oppression
Some Moroccans argue that in the past, society suffered from ignorance and illiteracy, specifically in rural areas. Women were the primary victims of such setbacks, and many families would marry off their young daughters to secure them a “better life” while accepting a bride price in return.
Morocco has made progress in this human rights issue, but thousands of women and girls are still suffering from the barbaric tradition that rips away their childhood and innocence. In 2004, Morocco updated its family law, Al Moudawana. Among many provisions to encourage gender justice, the family code attempts to resolve the issue of child marriage. Morocco raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 in this legislation, but child marriage is prevalent all over the country, particularly in the countryside.
I had the honor of exploring this issue and have interviewed child brides; I cannot find the words to describe the grief and hurt I have seen in these children’s eyes.
To address the challenge of ending child marriage, it is important to delve into the main factors that lead to marrying a child. I will tell the stories of three young brides, each representing one of the main reasons behind early marriages in rural areas.
Child brides and their dashed dreams
The first story involves the pressures of social norms and the concept of honor. Chadia was 17 years old when a 40-year-old man came to marry her. She was known for being hardworking and always performed well at school, but this marriage forced her to drop out during her last year of high school. She had tears in her eyes while telling me about the big dreams she used to hold.
Instead of encouraging her to follow these dreams, her parents forced her to marry. They did so because they claimed people would gossip about her if she refused. They told her the woman’s place is next to her husband, representing his honor. They said her place as a female is not outside the house. Rather, as a woman, she should look after her husband and give birth to children. They did not believe she was meant to be outside “surrounded by men,” and said a woman does not need to work to earn money, but instead depend on her husband.
The second story highlights economic hardship. Amina was the most beautiful girl in her family. She was 13 when a divorced 45-year-old man approached her family asking to marry her. Her family struggled financially, and Amina sacrificed herself and her future to secure her family’s economic well-being. As a young bride, she was exposed to domestic violence and sexual harassment, all the while caring for his children from his previous marriage.
The third story is about tradition, the concept of shame, and ignorance. Returning home from school one day, 14-year-old Milouda found a man had come to her family’s house asking for her hand. Due to his old age, Milouda’a father refused to give the man his young daughter as a bride. Without surrendering, the old man kept begging to marry Milouda. He acted according to customs and traditions, slaughtering a sheep in front of Milouda’s house. This act is a tradition that evokes shame, indicating the family’s responsibility to offer their daughter to appease God. Milouda’s parents, like those of the other girls, surrendered her rights and freedoms, forcing her into early marriage as a victim of rural illiteracy and ignorance.
Child marriage as a cycle
Child marriage compounds difficulties for the child bride as she moves forward in life. When the girl drops out of school to marry and is forced to abandon her education, she loses her rights as a human being. Should she divorce, nobody would save her. In such a scenario, her parents would likely not accept her back in their home because of the fear of what people might say: It is shameful for a woman to get divorced in Morocco’s culture, because all the blame is put on the woman.
If these young rural brides are illiterate, they are especially vulnerable to hardship moving forward in life. Some are left to care for their children without support after divorce. A woman who is not educated cannot easily find work, and a cycle is born: The less education a mother completes, the less likely her children are to complete their education.
The young divorcee’s children will unknowingly face marginalization, increasing the risk of them engaging in harmful behaviors such as drug use to escape their difficult reality. The ignorance of previous generations and “hereditary” illiteracy are also to blame for this practice that takes girls’ freedom and rights at a very young age.
The heartbreaking experience of getting to know these young women made me the woman I am today—a voice of every woman who was told not to speak up for her rights, a voice of every woman whose life has been hijacked by a man. I truly wish to be the voice of friends, daughters, sisters, and mothers. To all the women out there, you are not alone and I will continue doing everything I can to lift your voices.
Only women can effect the change we need
In order to write this article, I tried to gather information about the oppression of Moroccan women from people close to me, including my father, my little brother, my mother, and my friends. I was shocked by the answers I received.
After interviewing my friends and particularly my mother, I realized that what needs to change is not men but women’s attitudes. Ending immediate issues such as child marriage requires broader stakeholder involvement, but sustainable, long-term changes comes from changing mindsets.
We as women enable men to treat us in a degrading manner. I would like to tell women not to shrink themselves or feel inferior to men, work on becoming brave women, and not to let someone stop them from voicing their opinions.
Mother Nature is the basis of life. My dear woman, men would not exist without us. Instead of underestimating women let us try to create equality and adjust gender roles. Women indeed have proven their wisdom and brilliance in different societal sectors, and their performance should not be limited to the kitchen or bedroom. Real men talk about women as a soul, a heart, and a mind.
Last but not least, the patriarchal system I experienced growing up infected every aspect of daily life such as education. I have been told to stay silent and not speak up. Men have the luxury of living their lives to the fullest while some women are essentially owned by their families; the inequality and injustice placed upon us is unbelievable.
Women in Morocco have suffered from the injustices of patriarchy and misrepresentation in the media. I truly hope women will continue to fight for justice for their mothers, sisters, and all the women who society has belittled.
My mission is to show how strong these women are. I have been targeted by the twisted ideology of patriarchy, but I always wanted to stand up for myself. It is time for a change, it is time to bring back justice to us women—but are we all ready for a change?
It is truly inspiring to see women use their voices for a noble cause. Hopefully, the women of my generation will stand up against oppressive misconceptions and pursue their dreams.
Soumaya El Joundi -- Morocco World News