Are Women Rising or Falling in Morocco?

Laila Nassim

New Orleans   Sitting in a popular restaurant in Rabat, as we enjoyed great Moroccan food, having finished the last meeting of this edition of the Organizers’ Forum, we went around the room and listened to the evaluation of the participants. It has been a moving and important experience for everyone, including the Moroccan organizers who were part of our delegation.

The remarks started on a high note as Laila Nassimi, one of the ReAct local campaign organizers, brought us news in the aftermath of our visit at the home of a political prisoner, Aldi, and our visit to the rally to support the families of political prisoners at the prison the following day. Aldi had been allowed to have a cell phone so he can communicate with his family. Nine prisoners had ended their hunger strike after authorities agreed to stop solitary confinement and allow all of them to be in cells together. Laila claimed that the organizers were crediting some of the results to our participation as foreigners, given the government’s sensitivity to foreign pressure and opinion. It was hard to believe that we had had much impact, but we were delighted to hear that progress had been made.

Several participants remarked how impressed they were by young women and their leadership and how it had given them hope for the future in Morocco. I wasn’t so sure. My overall impression was more measured. Without a doubt we had met some outstanding women, but when I went back and reviewed my notes and the agenda, other than the firebrand director of MALI, most of the women warriors highlighted in the presentations were our own ReAct organizers, Bouchra, Marwa, and of course Laila, herself. The journalists and economists the first day were men. The political leaders and activists the second morning were men. The leaders of the UMT and ODT unions were all men. The cultural organization and NGO, Racine, and the Theater of the Oppressed were also run by men. The housing committee organizer was a man. At the ACM, though the project coordinator for domestics was Rose Monde, her co-director and colleague who presented much of the work was a man, and the ACM was run by a man. We met an NGO head of a community center who was a woman. Indonesia remains the only Islamic country visited by the Organizers’ Forum where almost all of the organizations were run by women.

Bouchra Rhouziani

When we met the head of one of the country’s oldest women’s advocacy group, who was a woman, her report on the status of women in the country was very mixed, much of which was confirmed by the women organizers in our own delegation. The family law passed over a decade ago had been important for the MENA region, but progress had slowed, and in most reports, was moving backward after the 20th of February. In a surprising development, the social pressure against women and their place in the public space seemed to have become more conservative and right wing religious forces became more aggressive after the movement slowed.

The bias against single mothers was horribly shocking. Sara Sojar of the Democratic Feminist Movement told us that the level of discrimination of single mothers included leaving jagged scars, poorly sewn when they were forced to have Cesarean births. Discrimination and misogyny doesn’t get much more personal or despicable than that.

Women are our hope all over the world, and certainly in Morocco as well, and our own women warriors carry great weight into the future, but the tide of progress has been moving against them recently in Morocco, and men – and religion – are still in front leaving women’s issues and very lives too far back for hope to be a plan, when the fight needs to be joined immediately.

Sara Sojar

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Contradictory Worlds of Political Struggle in Morocco

inside the grand mosque in Casablanca

Montreal   The magic of the Organizers’ Forum is that we immerse ourselves in the work of counterparts in diverse areas of change making, along with as much of the local culture as we can absorb. The risk and constant caution is not deceiving ourselves that this deep dive ends on solid ground once on shore. We seize on clear visions, even while recognizing that they may only a mirage. Where we think we see democracy, may only be a face mask for a subtle repression. Where we embrace the energy and passion of individuals, we have to be careful to examine where everything is going and whether it is sustainable, whether it will actually work.

We always want to be positive and supportive, but we recognize that we are visitors. We are not tourists. We want to be seen as comrades in struggle, looking to learn, but we recognize that as North Americans and Europeans, we are seen as privileged and often opportunistically, no matter how humbly we try to represent ourselves. Finally, we are organizers, bred and trained to question, to be skeptical, to analyze and doubt, to test words against action, presentations against reality, all integrated into our every thought. In that spirit, a first-time participant turned to me after a long and exciting presentation from a labor organization, and asked me if I thought it was a “real union” or not. That’s just how we are.

working cart

All of which led me to reflect on some of the contradictions that emerged from all of our meetings that, if accurate, concern me. Among the people we met there seem to be divisions, perhaps irreconcilable, between the forces for change. On our first afternoon I was surprised to hear a journalist and activist from the 20th of February movement express an opinion indicating that most nonprofits and unions were essentially tools of the state. One activist pointing out the problems of minorities laid the blame on the King, but was also clear later that he did not want his photo used, and that he was leaving the country to make money in hopes of making change later. Other activists, including our favorite firebrand, Betty Lachgar with M.A.L.I., the Movement for Alternative Individual Liberties, resisted becoming nonprofits in the same way because of the requirements of the state. The issue was the usual requirement that in registering with the government, the organization was required to express some allegiance to the state, and in Morocco that also means the King and Islam, the state religion. Is that so different from the requirements that many US and Canadian organizations accept in order to get tax exemptions by pledging not to be political? Yes and no, but it’s only a difference in degree.

clock tower in Casablanca near old medina

On the other hand we met with cultural organizers with vibrant programs in art and theater and deep community roots and political programs, who had registered and received most of their support from foreign and EU sources, and were enthusiastically embraced by some of the same activists that scoffed at unions and organizational registration. Women’s organizations were also extremely politically active and essential in changing the family code and winning protections for women, but also registered and supported by the younger activists.

It seems the contradiction was more between activists and organizers. The organizers accepted the compromise of state registration in order to build more stable structures to sustain and fight for change. The activists were more committed to movements, solidarity, direct action, cultural events, education in the public space, mobilizing rather than organizing, social media rather than institution building. For the younger activists, their commitment was deep, but it was not their work in the same way it was the full-time commitment of the unionists or even the cultural and community center nonprofits, who also saw it as their life job. I’m not sure either realized the trade-off or the consequences.

In Morocco, they clearly knew each other and in many cases got along well and with respect, but would they have the ability to come together and find that they had built the capacity to make change when the opportunity presented or not? That question would stay with me a long time and leave me waiting to watch and see.

stop sign

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail