“In Morocco, walking outside and wearing lipstick makes you a whore, but the hijab makes you a saint. Just kidding—that makes you a whore too”, according to hotel worker Ghizlane Ahblain: “In Morocco, everything you do, you’re a whore.” That’s what journalist Morgan Meaker wrote down when she interviewed Moroccan women.
Ahblain is a 30-year-old living in Marrakesh who experiences sexual harassment on a daily basis. In her article—which sounds more like an extract from a novel—Meaker writes: “The word ‘whore’ is a constant refrain in the soundtrack of her [Ahblain’s] home city, Marrakesh. A stomach-punch of a word, it’s hurled from the pink-tinged doorways and from the rickety motorbikes whose engines gasp for breath on the city’s choked main roads.” It sounds to me like these men should spend less time gawking and more time in the garage—motorbikes that gasp for breath?
A few years ago, Ahblain started to fight against harassment by making a scene. If he tells you how lovely your legs are at the bank, “loudly accuse him of theft. More people should denounce this behaviour,” she says. “Men in my country don’t know when to stop.”
In Rabat, Meaker meets with Mo who, like Ahblain, wants to teach women how to end sexual harassment. “When someone harasses them, I dream of the women breaking his face,” she tells the journalist. Mo has tried to start a self-defense class—her application to the government was ignored.
The government is considering a recently drafted sexual harassment bill, where harassers could soon face one to six months in prison or pay fines of £170 to £800. It seems like a good idea, but American expat and women’s rights campaigner Stephanie Willman Bordat is skeptical. “It’s really just making minor adjustments to the existing criminal code,” she says. “The whole problem is that women don’t report, police don’t investigate and prosecutors don’t prosecute.”
Bordat shows Meaker an email from 2015 from two women in Inezgane in south-west Morocco. After being harassed by a group of men, the women hid in a nearby shop where they waited for the police. The police arrived and arrested the women—their dresses were “too short.”
What’s the point of drafting a bill when men in authority don’t respect women? How will it be enforced when the police’s behaviour towards women is just as bad? Women don’t want to fight back, as is the case with Mo’s friends. They prefer to avoid friction and confrontation. Businesswoman Gitana, for example, travels everywhere by car—this way she doesn’t get comments and gropes.
Meaker ends her piece by quoting another: “It’s definitely not easy to be Moroccan and a woman.”