Time’s Up?

New Orleans  The #MeToo moment may be moving, step by step, in a direction that confronts more than just bad actors and begins to look at the reform of the entire system of sexual harassment, which is simply a manifestation of discrimination, if not outright misogyny. This is good news, even if the debate is unsettled.

Susan Faludi argued an effective case in an New York Times op-ed that essentially argued that the moment needed to become a movement, so that its target was not individual men in high profile positions in the arts, politics, and culture, but the very system of discrimination against women that created these vicious and sometimes criminal entitlements that some exercised as licenses for abuse. She argued for a movement that was comprehensive and did something more than trickle down from the elite to the workplaces of the vast majority of women. Right on!

Interestingly, her argument and the obvious implication it has for the majority of women, seems to have been also taken up by the women of Hollywood. Widely reported and announced with full-page ads, 300 women ranging from A-list actresses to agents, writers, directors and others in the film industry, launched “Time’s Up” with a $13 million dollar kitty raised within days. Their claim is obviously that they are going to cleanup Hollywood where they work, but they were at least sensitive to their exalted place in the sun, and also committed that they were going to devote energy – and resources – to support women farm workers, janitors, nurses, factory and restaurant workers who face much harder and ingrained systemic abuse.

In Hollywood, in the shadow of Harvey Weinstein, it is hard to believe that they can be ignored on their home turf, and that’s not trivial, given the progress that might be made if some real systemic reform there leached into the films they produce. More tellingly than Faludi’s argument was the early open letter from 700,000 women farm workers who had expressed solidarity for the women of Hollywood last fall.

This won’t be Jane Fonda marching with welfare recipients in Las Vegas to protest welfare cuts in the 1970s though. The main thrust of their work seems to be a legal defense fund to represent exploited women that will be administered by the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity. The fact that it will be directed by Tina Tchen who served as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff in the White House is encouraging, because we can also hope that part of the edge of their attack and resources might not be sucked into lengthy, time consuming legal efforts but also into the political arena where reform is needed and impact can be immediate.

This is all getting serious, and that’s great news. Hopefully more women at the bottom, will force more women at the top, with all of our support, to make these changes from top to bottom to finally have more gender equity and to make it permanent. That would be good for all of us!


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