Morocco: Four Perspectives on Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined by intimidation, bullying, or coercion of a sexual nature and is, by all accounts, something that happens the world over.  Although cases of sexual harassment in Egypt have received global media attention of late, bloggers in Morocco have been assessing the situation closer to home.  The bloggers, both male and female, foreign and Moroccan, offer a variety of perspectives on the issue.

Liz, a Fulbright scholar working in Agadir, in southern Morocco, compares her experiences in the United States, Egypt, and Morocco in this excellent blog post.  Of her experiences in Morocco, she remarks:

My experiences with sexual harassment in Morocco have been 99.9% verbal. Unlike in Cairo, where I was often physically grabbed on the street, here the harassment comes mainly in the form of catcalls. It can be anything from a man whispering “Ca va?” as I pass on the street, to a glue-sniffing teenage boy in my old neighborhood shouting broken vulgarities at me, to a man following me and a friend for 15 minutes, asking us all the way if he can practice his English with us. In more escalated cases, men in cars will follow women, commanding them to get in, or will use a crowded city bus as an excuse to grope and fondle.

The blogger notes her realization that sexual harassment is about power struggle rather than sex itself, linking to another excellent post on the matter and, assessing how the paradigm relates to her country of residence, states:

How do these ideas apply to the Moroccan context? Firstly, it's hard to argue with the assertion that Arab states, Morocco included, are patriarchal. Family is perhaps the paramount social institution (often, multiple generations live together under one roof), and within the family roles and authority are clearly defined: Younger members defer to older ones, women defer to men. Women are, first and foremost, wives and mothers, roles which relegate women to the home, whereas men have freedom of mobility. This structure leads to what Kandiyoti refers to as the “patriarchal bargain”: younger women buy into a social structure that restricts and subordinates because someday, as older matriarchs, they will be able to restrict and subordinate the wives of their sons.

Bisahha is a blog written by a Dutch anthropologist living in Rabat, Morocco's coastal capital.  In a lengthy post documenting her feeling of otherness, the blog's author assesses how that otherness affects her treatment on the street as a woman:

All women receive attention on Moroccan streets, but I doubt a Moroccan woman is told in syrupy slick English that she is “very niiiiiice,” or that he “likes your size.”

Peace Corps volunteer Duncan, writing about racism in Morocco, touches on a similar theme. He notes that foreign women who look Arab are often subject to different treatment than other foreign women:

If a woman appears Moroccan, different dress and behavior is expected of her. White female volunteers certainly receive harassment, but with my limited experience I would argue that it is of a different sort. Because of her appearance, the volunteer who (sort of) appears Moroccan was held to the standard expected of Moroccan women, exposing the double standard. Dressed conservatively by American standards, but with her hair uncovered, the volunteer received lots of vulgar sexual harassment from Moroccans – harassment that a white woman would probably not get in the same situation. Swimming in the ocean, the volunteer received vulgar invitations that a white volunteer probably would not receive in the same situation. In her site, the volunteer was assaulted in public, in plain view of several people. When asked, after the fact, why they didn’t come to her assistance, the people said, “Because she looked Moroccan.” The volunteer speaks Arabic well, making it easier to confuse her as Moroccan. She says that she sometimes intentionally makes mistakes so that people will be more likely to perceive her as American.

The discussion comes full circle in a blog post by Moroccan Abdelilah Boukili, whose blog is based on questions asked on BBC World's Have Your Say.  Asking the question, “do men need protecting from themselves?” the blogger assesses various dress codes and clothing traditions across the Arab world, noticing the emphasis on women's modesty.  He concludes:

Men should have control over themselves. They shouldn’t be controlled by instinct and fantasy. Women should dress for self-respect, not by wearing a burqa and also by not wearing clothes that reveal too much when they are sure they can be seen just as a sex object and not as persons whose personality should be respected.

Although the four bloggers quoted above offer excellent perspectives on sexual harassment in Morocco, each person's experience is unique and none of these should be taken for gospel.  Those interested in further reading on gender issues in Morocco might be interested in Fatima Sadiqi's excellent book, Women, Gender, and Language in Morocco, or in the following blogs, which regularly cover such topics: 760 Days in Morocco: the experiences of an American Muslim in Morocco and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: a blog by Moroccan-American Sarah Alaoui.


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