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Tabletalk Europe - Interview
Women’s lived experience in and outside of Morocco

Morocco
© Colourbox

Tabletalk Europe wants to go beyond the readily available presentation of refugees by talking to people directly. Especially when it comes to the topic of women, their struggles and needs, people tend to talk about rather than with those affected most. That's why I sat down with Gina (28) from Sweden, Piedad (31) from Spain and Hala (24), a Moroccan currently studying in Barcelona to hear about their experiences as well as their ideas on the possibilities and limits of solidarity between European and Middle Eastern women.

Von Asal Dardan

Gina, tell me about your time in Morocco. When and why were you there?
 
Gina: I was there in autumn 2013. I studied at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, which has a reputation of being for rich kids. They would say “no we are not rich” but I think they were. The university was gated and you lived in separate houses. All international students were housed with Moroccan students, which was great. We also rented apartments outside of the university compound so we could be with friends, with people who aren’t women. We always partied and watched series and hung out outside of the university because there were guards stopping us from entering each others’ rooms. I had the perception that the Moroccans really wanted to hang out with the international students. It was very different from my time in Canada, where the international students were a separate group. In Ifrane it was quite mixed. Still, it was like a little bubble. I remember talking to a Moroccan friend and she said something about “oh, you were always that person”, which made me realise that being blonde made me stick out a little bit. I looked different. I wasn’t always aware of it but I might have been in a little bubble. I only saw a part of Morocco, there were people I wasn’t aware of and I only realised this later when I had the time to sit back and reflect on the life there.
 
Hala, you also studied in Ifrane but you grew up in Rabat, right?
 
Hala: Yes, I was in Ifrane for five years but I am from Rabat, which is the capital. I was born and raised there. It’s a pretty cool town, I love it. When I go home I still live in my parents’ house, which means I don’t have to stress about anything, and most of my social network is still in Morocco.
 
When I researched Ifrane, I was surprised because it reminded me of a Swiss chalet town. It doesn’t correspond to one’s preconception of a North-African settlement. Why did you decide to study there and would you say it is quite different from other North-African places?
 
Hala: It is the best university in Morocco and also the top university that offers full programmes in English. It is sort of like an American-style university. Ifrane is quite unique because it’s the only part of Morocco where it snows every year. Also the architecture is completely different from anywhere else in Morocco. Ifrane was the former king’s favourite Moroccan city. When there were diplomatic tensions going on between Morocco and Saudi Arabia and when they settled it, they decided to open a university together as a gesture of unity. That is Al Akhawayn University, it translates as “the two brothers”, which refers to the two kings.
 
Tell me about your time in Morocco, Pie.
 
Pie: I was studying translation and interpreting in Barcelona and happened to choose Arabic as one of my languages. I was about to get my diploma in 2009, which said that I was a translator from English, Catalan, Spanish and also Arabic but I couldn’t even order a coffee because I didn’t know the dialects. I had just learned standard Arabic, so I was able to talk about the independence and about the occupation of Palestine in Arabic but I couldn’t even order a coffee. I decided to go to Tangier for eight months and returned to spend two years in Casablanca teaching Spanish.
 
Was that what you were taught, talking about politics?
 
Pie: We had a Palestinian teacher in Barcelona who taught from his own book. So we talked a lot about Orientalists, about war in the Middle East and co-existence of different religions. When I went to Tangier I quickly realised that the Arabic they spoke there was not the Arabic I had learned. Also in Tangier they speak Spanish a lot because they watch a lot of Spanish tv and listen to Spanish radio. When I arrived at the airport and talked to the taxi driver in my fusha [formal Arabic] he looked at me as if I was some Al-Jazeera reporter. [laughs] He thought I was funny and asked me in Spanish where I wanted to go. Eventually I learned the dialect because I was the laugh of everyone with my fusha. I was quite ignorant. I thought that everyone would understand me. I just didn’t expect the dialects to be so different. I also didn’t know how mixed it was, they speak French, Spanish, Amazigh [Berber language] and it’s a real mix.
 
Gina: Yes, I loved that. When my roommates talked it was Arabic, French and English mixed in every sentence. It is very fluid. But speaking French is perceived as more educated.
 
Pie: Yes, when I was in Casablanca I realised that I had to speak French to get by so I took French classes while I was there.
 
Hala, the writer Laila Lalami wrote about the influence of French language and culture on her childhood in Morocco: “In those days, in the late 1970s, nearly all of the children’s literature that was available in Moroccan bookstores was still in French. The characters’ names, their homes, their cities, their lives were wholly different from my own, and yet, because of my constant exposure to them, they had grown utterly familiar. These images invaded my imaginary world to such an extent that I never thought they came from an alien place. Over time, the fantasy in the books came to define normalcy, while my own reality somehow seemed foreign. Like my country, my imagination had been colonized.” Can you relate to this? How would you describe your relationship with foreign languages and foreign influences in Morocco?
 
Hala: You see, I grew up in the city and there were not so many Amazigh people. I went to a French school and we mainly speak French at home, more than Arabic, because that was also the language my mother learned at school. My father picked up French later. My boyfriend and I also speak French with some English and Arabic mixed in. He went to an American school and so his main language is English. When I was still at school at some point my teachers at the private school figured out that I really suck at Arabic and that it would be a shame for me to go to an Arabic school so I went into the French educational system.
 
So would you say Arabic is still a challenge to you?
 
Hala: Yeah. I read and write Arabic but writing or reading an academic article in Arabic would take me a while and that would be a struggle. You see, I actually consider myself as more North African than Arab. In my opinion there is a big difference, culturally speaking, between North Africans and Arabs because our histories are very different. Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring countries did not go through what North Africa went through with the protectorates and colonialism, or even Egypt and Lebanon. I feel we are closer to them than to Saudi Arabia. We all still live with the impact of that history of colonialism. We have so many influences and are so multifaceted.
 
Could you say a bit more about your background and family and how you would place yourself within Moroccan society?
 
Hala: I was lucky enough to be born into a family which is kind of open-minded. My mom is super liberal, my dad is more conservative. So if it was just my mom or my dad was a bit more like her, I would be able to have my boyfriend over at my house. My mom knows everything about my boyfriend, she knows that I am sexually active, she knows that I drink and smoke, all those things that are considered bad in Morocco or go against the ideas of how a proper Moroccan woman should be. In Morocco dating is illegal, so legally speaking you are not allowed to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. If unmarried couples get caught they both get charged. So everything has to be done in hiding. The more conservative a family is, the worse it gets. For instance, there are some girls who will decide to put on a hijab just to allow themselves some liberties. Then their families think their daughter is religious and is not going to do anything stupid. However, as soon as she leaves the house she will take her hijab off and change into different, more revealing clothes. Especially girls are forced into leading double lives, where they are one way with their family and another with their friends. This creates a social schizophrenia. It might work the first few years but if you live your entire life like that, then you don’t know anymore how else to live. I think this is a huge problem.
 
Is this something you also witnessed, Gina and Pie? How were your interactions and conversations with your Moroccan friends?
 
Pie: Well, I feel especially my male friends were sometimes a bit conflicted about being with foreign friends. One of my friends at university, he was around twenty-two and a very conservative Muslim, he already had ideas about his future wife. For example she had to be a virgin. He felt he needed some experience anyway so he saw foreign girls for that and I found that interesting. I had debates with him about it but those were his views. They didn’t all think like that but it was a thing.
 
Gina: I know this from my Albanian friends. I don’t know in how far it is more a thing of religion or tradition but chastity was an issue.
 
So the attitude towards women and sexuality was quite different from your own?
 
Pie: In Tangier it was different than in Casablanca, it was much more conservative. People were following you, they were catcalling and insulting you. I was called a prostitute or an amazing woman several times a day. One day a man followed me and my friends and masturbated under his djellaba, that was crazy. Once a guy was following me and I went up to a policeman so the guy wouldn’t know where I lived. When the stalker left the policeman asked me for my number. In the end I didn’t want to go out anymore. I would take the taxi from my flat to university.
 
Gina: I experience things like this in other countries as well, possibly because I am blonde, so I just ignored it in Morocco. Even in Italy everyone touched my hair. So I felt used to it. But something I realised in Morocco was that the only girls who are out when it was dark were foreign.
 
Hala: Yes, girls who are out past ten o’clock, that’s a big deal for their parents because what is a girl supposed to do after sundown on the streets if it’s not partying, drinking or having sex? So parents are protecting their daughters because their honour rests on their purity. That creates even bigger problems because firstly, they are not sexually educated, which means sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancies, and secondly, they are just as sexually frustrated as the boys.
 
Pie: It feels very easy for us to be angry or condemn the situation. I don’t want to defend anyone calling me a prostitute or harassing women. Not in the least. One has to understand where it comes from though. The public space is the only place where men and women can meet. There are no clubs, hardly any mixed cafés. So in order to meet a girl you wait for her running her errands or going from one place to another. It was an eye-opener for me to see that it sometimes worked. I did see girls being happy about the attention or reacting in a positive way. I once watched a woman wearing a niqab and I have never seen a look like that, she looked at a man and what she did with her eyes I could never look at someone with that much information all at once. Now I know I am only using ten percent of my eye potential. [laughs] So I only was aware of the men at the beginning but the women also play a part.
 
Hala: Sexual harassment is not only an issue in Morocco though, it is a global issue. It is more prominent in Morocco because nothing was done about it for a long time. We have to have a conversation about it, whoever we are, wherever we are. It is an injustice and everybody should be talking about it. We have to bring it into the light. The more we ignore it, the more it will take root. I am not religious at all but Islam in itself as a religion speaks a lot about empowerment and education and taking care of all the things that make you human. What we see now is a cultural development. The inequality between men and women is an interpretation, just like in Christianity. It is a global effort of some men to take power away from women by all means possible.
 
Hala, last year a new anti-sexual-harassment law was introduced in Morocco to tackle the problem. Do you find the law helpful? Would you say it improves women’s lives?
 

Hala: I didn’t follow the debate so much but I think it is a huge step. Women have been complaining for the longest time and have been moving earth and sky to try and make this happen and force the government to take action into this direction to acknowledge sexual harassment in the public space. Before this law came out what could be considered sexual harassment was very vague. Nobody dealt with the situation until now. As a victim, if you went to the police, you had to bring proof with you that something really happened to you. And since most of police employees are men, when a woman goes there to file a complaint against somebody the first things she will hear is “Well, why do you dress like this? It’s your fault, now go back home.” This is also one of the main reasons among many other reasons why for the longest time I felt like I don’t belong in Morocco and that society. Because my views of the world and my views of how I should live my life are completely different and not accepted by the majority of the population.
 
Hala, would you say that your friends in Morocco, women and men, live very differently from your friends in Europe? How do you feel they express their sexuality, live their partnerships, how they integrate and balance the different aspects of their lives, like traditions, their own ideas and feelings?
 
Hala: Well, as you know, you generally surround yourself with like-minded people. So my direct circle of friends often feels the same as I do, both men and women. However, I do have some other friends that would have different views and are more inscribed in the mainstream.
 
Do you have a sense of the Moroccan expat community? How do you feel expats navigate through these issues?
 

Hala: I hang out with Moroccans when I’m in Morocco. That’s what I think. Here in Europe I try to broaden my horizon and meet people from completely different backgrounds. I think that it makes human relationships richer, it opens my eyes and also somebody else’s eyes towards the different cultures. The Moroccan immigrants who live in other countries and cities, their parents and grandparents probably wanted to integrate when they first arrived, but they also missed their home country. So they held on to their culture and religion and some lived in closed off areas and used religion as cement to hold the community together. Those groups have a glorified image of a Morocco, which does not exist anymore. Then they travel to Morocco and don’t fit in, they even talk differently. There’s this group of European Moroccan Muslims, which doesn’t fit anywhere.
 
Do you feel that women from Morocco, Sweden and Spain have similar views of themselves? Are there differences you are aware of?
 

Gina: I felt it was different, much more complex and serious. They seemed like they had a load on their shoulders but they carried themselves very upright, they carried their pressure with dignity.
 
Hala: Moroccan women, we’re pretty tough. We’ve got thick skin and we are not afraid. We don’t back down, especially when we are fighting for the right thing. We know how Moroccan men function, we know how to talk to them. One has to be assertive bordering on mean to make them realize that things are really happening. [laughs] Moroccan women run things, but in the shadows. Moroccan women are very strong and I think if we come together Moroccan women can lead the country into a big change. There is a feminist movement in Morocco and it is strong.
 
Gina: I mainly know Ifrane, which is considered liberal and I felt that everyone there was fighting for a more open society. Most of the people I knew at university wanted to leave Morocco, they chose their studies based on that. The boys wanted good jobs and the girls wanted to live a different life. It wasn’t always that their families were traditional but they were nervous about their children getting into trouble. It wasn’t a matter of morality but more of keeping out of trouble. I know this from my own parents, they want to protect you.
 
Pie: I felt a lot of people were used to lying in order to navigate themselves through life. Everything was done in hiding.
 
On the other hand the the catcalling and sexual harassment make it seem like sexuality and desire are constantly thrown at you in the public space, right?
 
Gina: But in the private space it is restricted.
 
Pie: Yes, it is sexuality without sex. It is everywhere but at the end of the day everyone goes to their parents’ house and hardly anyone has sex.
 
Hala: And because sex is taboo, sexual education is not talked about in Morocco. When it comes to contraception, there is nothing done to empower the people and educate them. There is no effort to enable people to take responsibility and decide over their lives. There is no freedom, everything has to be done according to the traditions. And it’s bad enough for heterosexual people, it’s by far worse for the LGBTQ community, their rights are very fragile, especially gay men. If you are publicly gay you can actually get lynched and attacked in the streets. Not even the cops are going to help you because they buy into the idea that being gay is a sin and unnatural and a direct attack on their masculinity. The LGBTQ community has hardly anywhere to turn to except themselves.
 
So what about the men?
 
Pie: There is a lot of pressure on young men. Someone who is 20 and doesn’t come from a rich family is confronted with very high expectations. I felt that at times they weren’t seen for who they were but what they had. I feel like nobody should have to deal with that sort of pressure in order to be with someone.
 
Hala, would you say it is possible to be a working class guy without being a traditionalist in Morocco?
 
Hala: It’s difficult because you will be considered an outcast. People reject you and make fun of you or ostracize you because you see the world differently. So in order for these young men to not feel ostracized and feel like they belong somewhere they have to pretend that they share the same visions, that they are mad about the same things, that they share the same sentiments as their peers. That gives them a sense of belonging.
 
That sounds like there isn’t a lot of social mobility within Moroccan society.
 
Hala: Yes, a lot of it is class issues. The divide between rich and poor is very deep nowadays. The less money you have, the more traditional you are and the more money you have, the more westernised you are. And these two parts of society are completely segregated from each other. Not only that, there are also efforts to create animosity and tension between them. People with little income cannot afford to live like Europeans. Often this means they hold on to values and ideas, which they consider a part of their identity. When you look at it, it’s people from modest backgrounds who hold on to these traditional things. To me it feels like an act of active rebellion in order to show that they exist as well because the rest of society has forgotten about them. They want to be seen and heard. Even though our government hides behind religious conservativism they are neoliberals. Until some years ago, I want to say six or seven years, the Moroccan economic system relied on government subsidies for basic goods like flour, milk, sugar, oil, bread, gas and such things. This new government decided to lift the subsidies and the thing is, the prices went up but they didn’t do anything for salaries to also go up. When you take a look at it, it is not about giving to the people, their policies are made to line their own pockets.
 
Pie and Gina, did your time in Morocco change or confirm your views on the country and Muslim countries in general?
 
Pie: It’s difficult. Generally speaking, my time in Morocco changed a lot my views on the country to the better. But I also had a hard time accepting certain realities. I think I didn’t want it to be a confirmation of the stereotypes and prejudices. I didn’t want to go back to Spain and talk about the catcalling and all that and hear “Well, what did you expect from a Muslim country?” or “Oh, but it’s your fault for going to these kinds of places.” So I kept silent on things that were bothering me because I didn’t want to confirm the stereotypes about Muslim societies. So coming home with stories about catcalling seemed impossible. On the other hand it helped me to understand why catcalling and sexual harassment exist and which pressures Moroccan men and women face and so on.
 
Gina: I had the same experience. I wanted to focus on things that didn’t fit into stereotypes and ignore the catcalling in public and the women not being out after dark. I was rather looking for things that were similar to my own life. I was quite busy finding nuances but I didn’t have to look too far because I was in this special setting where things weren’t too traditional.
 
How was it coming back from Morocco to Europe for both of you?
 
Pie: When I went back to Spain I felt this responsibility that I shouldn’t say the bad things about Morocco. I wanted to challenge people in Spain with things that were not as they thought. I did not want to talk about the things that would confirm their ideas, I never wanted to confirm anything. And I also realised that all the efforts to give people a more nuanced view of the realities were in vain.They only want to hear that their preconceived ideas are accurate. So I think that was maybe something that was wrong to some extent. There were people like my Moroccan friend who was very unhappy in the environment and the society around her. I realised I am not doing any favours to those people who want to change society. I am only contributing to cleaning up the image of the country. If those people were trying to build bridges and connect with women in other societies, by shutting up I was dynamiting those bridges. I was basically saying that Morocco was fine. I was not lying but I wasn’t saying the truth either. I was falling into a form of cultural relativism by trying to defend things that, at the end of the day, are making people suffer. It wasn’t just me as a foreigner but people who live there.
 
What exactly do you mean?
 
Pie: I think it has to do with the idea that as a foreigner I don’t have the right to interfere in the affairs of another country. This idea was always very present in my mind. That it’s the locals themselves that need to solve their problems. But now I realise that with that mindset I am also saying that the exchange of ideas and also empathy should have its limits and stick to borders. By not acknowledging certain challenges in the country, I denied empathy with people and organisations that are struggling to change things.
 
You did that because you didn’t want to feed into the clichés?
 
Pie: Yes, exactly. I did not want to confirm people’s prejudices, I did not want to support their racist ideas. Because it is unfair, they’ve got their ideas from the media or press or wherever but they haven’t experienced it. They talk about things even if they don’t know. However, I realised when I talked to my Moroccan friend that I wasn’t actually doing her and others a favour with this. At the same time it is not like I can do much. It’s not that I am important and have the power to change things. Still, I could have said the truth. Now I say it, now I say the truth and don’t care so much, also when I am saying things that are critical of the culture. Of course this is also very unpopular. I’m disappointed with the fact that there cannot be a proper discussion on these matters.
 
Gina: Yes, people are either completely anti or very apologetic. I find that difficult. For a long time I tended to see only the good things about Morocco but my experience was not very political, it was more personal. I can see when we speak about it now that I didn’t reflect on these things much. Looking back and speaking about it, it becomes academic. It feels so theoretical, but it was a very personal experience for me. I learned a lot, yet in some ways culture disappeared. I had friends and related to them in different ways, we talked about our lives and some things were similar. Culture was tangible when I travelled to the small cities and the countryside or when I talked to my American friends. That was almost the bigger culture shock to me. There were a lot of people from the Military Academy in West Point in Washington and some of them literally said “I’m here to get to know the enemy.” I couldn’t believe their view of the people and Morocco. So the American exchange students were more of a shock to me than the overall experience of being in Moroccan society. Even the international personnel at the university would at times promote stereotypes, like telling us not to give any men our telephone number.
 
So what kind of things would you tell people back home, Pie?
 
Pie: For example that I didn’t wear a veil because it wasn’t mandatory.
You know, people were asking me whether there was a university in Morocco! I mean, Morocco is not very far away from Spain and still they ask things like that. And every Moroccan knows more about Spain than the Spanish know about them. Having people ask you about veils and camels is ridiculous. It’s an unfair image of the country. So I did not want to talk about my problems, that men were catcalling me on the street. Even if I had explained everything they would have ignored what is positive just to confirm their ideas. I found it very difficult to have a truthful discussion and conversation with people about Morocco. Before I went to Morocco I had spent an exchange year in Norway and when I told people about that everyone was “wow, this is the future”, anything that comes from the North is superior. Yet when I was in Morocco I was confronted with these negative images even though I managed to have a great life, I was really happy there. It wasn’t always easy but it was really nice.
 
Are you confronted with such prejudices, Hala?
 
Hala: Most of the time people don’t guess that I am Moroccan when they see me so I don’t have to deal with prejudice.
 
Have you travelled to other Muslim countries? Did you see any similarities or differences?
 
Pie: I lived in Amman and Jordan for ten months in 2014 and 2015. One of the differences is that you get a little bit less attention when you are on the street. In Morocco they would talk to you, follow you, but men would not get to the point of touching you. In Amman, I went to a rock concert, I was with a Moroccan friend by the way, and, as we were leaving the venue, I could not avoid being touched everywhere by some guy. Those kinds of incidents would happen sometimes. If something had happened to me in the streets in Morocco, people would have come to help me without hesitation. In Jordan, however, I got punched in the middle of the street and even the person working in the shop where I bought my stuff was laughing. In Morocco, I got a lot of respect and trust just for being a foreigner. It would make me feel uncomfortable that they would treat me better than their own people. Also, I saw many foreigners taking advantage of that kind of treatment. It would embarrass me a lot. 
 
In Germany and also in Sweden there are discussions about Islam and whether it belongs to European societies, whether people from Muslim backgrounds can integrate. How do you feel about these discussions?
 
Pie:  I think anyone who wants to find a way to contribute to a society can integrate. Many of my Muslim friends living in Sweden are much more integrated and have made more of an effort to integrate than many of… what’s even the opposite? My non-Muslim friends, which sounds ridiculous because I don't even think along those lines. I am a Spanish woman in Sweden and every day I work for my integration and put myself in all kinds of uncomfortable situations just to show people that I am here and that I am ready to put in what I’ve got. Most of the times I get something out of my efforts, like a job, a new friend… but at other times I feel I get nothing back. You have to be willing to accept a new situation and that you are going to become a new person. That’s not for everyone whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Of course it does not mean you have to put aside your own culture and just be around Swedes. Actually, being in touch with your own culture during the process is what helps you not to give up. It puts you through a lot of doubt and questions about yourself.
 
Gina: People explain conflict with “culture” but I don’t think the problems we have are connected to culture and I think that the conversation surrounding culture lacks nuance. The discussion is polarized. I am part of a Facebook group for unaccompanied minors and if we take the example of unaccompanied minors the debate focuses on the rough life they are having in Sweden, you know, many end up on the street or in the hands of criminals. So many voices assume that it is culture that toughens them up and makes them the way they are. I mean, why do the men come to Europe? I don’t think the problem is culture but many of them were already on the streets in their own countries, for example Morocco. They went on a hard and dangerous trip to come here to Sweden and this toughens them up.
 
So you feel the problem is the way people look at them?
 
Gina: I did an article that analysed how Swedish newspapers talk about Middle Eastern refugees. One interesting aspect is to compare how Swedish newspapers reported on people coming from the Balkans in the 1990s. It’s very similar to how they present refugees today, “they won’t integrate”, “they will drain the system” and so on and so forth. My belief is that in a few years people in Sweden will think of Middle Eastern refugees as part of the Swedish identity, just as we do with people whose heritage is in the Balkans. It is kind of a hyphenated identity, which is an American expression, I guess.
 
What do you think are the conversations we should be having, especially here in Europe?
 
Pie: I think the most important thing is to actually ‘have the conversations’, let people talk, try to understand where they are coming from with their opinions instead of directly labelling them racist, naive, oppressors or whatever. Debate is more important than ever. You can respect or disrespect certain ideas, but don't disrespect the person. I have lived in many different countries now and I am currently settled in Sweden. I used to find it annoying when people would ask me if I dance flamenco and sleep siesta, but now I realise that it's important to welcome all kinds of questions and answer them with respect or even with humour. Sometimes in Sweden people don't want to ask me anything because I understand they want to be correct or not be perceived as “discriminatory”, but that can have worse consequences. I work in school and what I like the most about my job is that kids don't limit their curiosity, they ask me all kinds of things. When I answer their questions with respect I realise how much power I have to change or confirm their assumptions. Adults are curious too, but we don’t ask at all and then we go and vote. Imagine!
 
Gina: I think we are having quite good conversations in Europe already. The problem is that you have to turn off social media and put down some newspapers in order to find these conversations, that’s the issue. It is quite easy to scroll through a polarized discussion on Facebook where the atmosphere is quite worked up. It is easy to scroll through memes and status updates, which ridicule and hate on the opposing side. I agree with Pie that the most important thing is to keep having the conversations. I think it is important to not shut people down and not always try to convince them of your opinion…. as well as it is important to walk away from a conversation when the other party won’t listen to your arguments. I just wish that all these conversations would convince people to think more nuanced. The most frustrating part is that many people don’t listen to arguments or don’t believe in them. People are scared of change, of how society will change: how will the economy develop, what will our society look like? I just don’t know how we can ease the situation and the public debate down.
 
Hala: There will always be people who are afraid of change and dream about this golden past era to come back. I know that deep down they know it’s not going to happen but they fight for it anyway because it makes them feel better about who they are. Women and men should have the power to choose for themselves. So if a woman chooses to veil or unveil herself, it has to be of her own doing and choice. As feminists we have to accept both situations and cannot assume that a woman who is veiled is oppressed and the decision was imposed on her. This takes the power away from women. Trying to unveil a woman is exactly the same as trying to veil her. It’s another layer of oppression. It is true, women in Europe and in the western world are more emancipated, they have more rights, but sexisim still persists. For example, I thought that once I would come to Europe I wouldn’t have to deal with catcalling anymore. That fantasy got shattered within half a second of arriving here. Sexism is a global issue and women’s rights are also a global issue. I think that rape culture and catcalling in the US is probably worse than in Morocco. In Morocco you can turn around and scare them off but in the US you don’t even know what kind of weapon they might have. We have to stand hand in hand together no matter where sexual harassment and oppression happens. These are things we have to talk about. Men and women share their views and experiences on the internet and that adds to the universal bank of knowledge so that we can know what it is like to be a person of a specific gender in another culture. That helps to open people’s eyes and minds.
 
 

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