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Criminalize Sexual Harassment in Morocco: An American Expatriate Speaks up

Source : | 7 June 2014 |  Society | 907 views

Sexual-Harassment-under-Legal-Scrutiny.-AFP.jpg

Rabat- Every time a Moroccan man speaks to me in the streets, I am afraid. I am afraid that he will try to grope me, as I have been groped in the past. My breasts, my stomach, and my legs: they have been treated by some Moroccan men as public property.

I am afraid that he will try to follow me home. Once, in the Fez Medina, as I was shopping for vegetables, seven young Moroccan men followed me through the souq, chanting nasty rhymes and calling me a western whore. My crime? Being a woman alone in public who refused to flirt with them or acknowledge them.

I am afraid that he will say something about my face or my body that will make me feel like an object, not a person. Today, as I walked down the street in Rabat Agdal to go work in my favorite coffee shop, a man started telling me how sexy I am and how nice my backside is. I had headphones on, sunglasses, was not looking his way, did not speak to him, was wearing a concealing, large dress and was showing no skin. He made me feel disgusting and unsafe.

I do not want to fear Moroccan men. I moved here because I love Morocco, genuinely. I love the culture of hospitality, the way a stranger quickly becomes a friend. I love the red south, spiked with green cactus, and I love the sea-encompassed north. But I am afraid of some Moroccan men.

Some of male readers will respond to this article by telling me that I solicited the harassment by dressing too sexy, or some other piece of ridiculous nonsense that places the blame on me (the victim) rather than on them (the perpetrators). But I think any Moroccan woman who reads this article will recognize only too well what I’m talking about: the lascivious stares up and down your body, no matter what you wear, how old you are, or whether you have hijab or not.

The catcalls, the men in cars who follow you, the sick feeling of not being able to do your grocery shopping without fear, no matter how many layers you wear or how much of yourself you cover. This is unacceptable. Any person, male or female, who tells me that this is “just part of the culture” or “just the way Moroccans are” is lying to me, lying to themselves, and excusing the inexcusable. This is NOT the way things have to be.

For proof of this, I bring you the example of Egypt. Egypt has an endemic–one might say epidemic–culture of sexual harassment. During the Arab Spring protests, for example, multiple women were gang raped in public, a kind of physical retribution enacted upon the bodies of women brave enough to be politically active in the public sphere. Women did not dare to wear Western clothing, knowing that this most certainly would provoke harassment; but even hijab and burka did not prevent women from groping, rude catcalls, and all manner of inexcusable behavior on the part of Egyptian men, as you can see illustrated in this video.

But the Egyptian government did not sit idly by and ignore this epidemic. Two days ago, outgoing interim president Adly Mansour made sexual harassment a crime, punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds and up to five years in jail. According to an article on BBC News,( http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27726849) harassers will face “from six months to five years in prison,” and harassment is defined as a “seeking to achieve interest of a sexual nature” with an unwilling woman.

When I read this article, my immediate thought was: let’s criminalize sexual harassment in Morocco as well! A bit of research showed that, in 2013, Moroccan MPs drafted a law criminalizing sexual harassment against women. But after a lot of publicity, the law went nowhere. The draft law was never enacted as part of Morocco’s family code, and today sexual harassment is both prevalent and legal.

Parliament promised Moroccan women in 2013 that “from now on, sexual harassment will be taken more seriously.” I ask you, men and women of Morocco, have you seen any change? Why hasn’t the law been passed? And why are Moroccan men and women not taking to the streets of Casablanca, as they did in 2013, to force this law into existence?

The Moroccan government made a promise–sexual harassment would become a serious legal issue–and it should be one. Moroccan women and foreign women should be able to walk the streets of this country without being afraid of some Moroccan men.

So I urge to you join together once again and to fight for the passage of the law that would make sexual harassment a crime in Morocco. It will force those who harass us to think twice before they leer, follow or touch our bodies. It will be an important symbolic victory for Moroccan women, proving that they are a serious force for political change. And it will make me feel just a little bit safer next time I walk down my street in Rabat. I will be less afraid next time a Moroccan man speaks to me, knowing that the law is on my side.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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