Sitting outside the medina in Marrakech at midnight waiting for our bus, I watch as my host family brags about the steals they made in merchandise haggling with the street vendors. I turn my face to the left for a second, hoping to see our bus make it’s way through the forever busy streets. Instead, my eyes fall on an elderly lady fighting off a young male attacker.
I watch at first in puzzlement, and then in dread as the man dressed in all black attempts again and again to grab the old woman’s face and plant a kiss on her horrified face. She is shouting and shoving, but nobody is coming to her rescue. Quite the opposite, many male onlookers are laughing while women duck their heads and hurry past.
He doesn’t stop badgering the old woman until she hands him what looks to be like 20 dirhams. After he walks away, she picks up her bags and hurries to wait for her bus on the other side of the square.
Satisfied for mere seconds, the young man dressed in all black continues on the chase after any woman who appears to be leaving the square alone. I watch as countless women run away from him or fall prey to his trickery.
Upon my arrival in Morocco, I attended an orientation session that included a class in Moroccan Arabic, Moroccan history, and finally a segment on street harassment.
It’s harmless, they say. Keep your head down and you won’t be bothered, they tell you. What I witnessed did not look harmless. Women did keep their heads down and ignored the man’s catcalling, but it only seemed to encourage the man to victimize them.
Although Morocco is one of the most progressive and advanced countries in Africa, there is still a troubling wide gap in their system.
In 2012, a sixteen year old girl named Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. Her suicide prompted a revolution to get Article 475 of the penal code, a law allowing rapists of underage girls to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, amended.
Article 475 declares a prison term of one to five years for a person who “abducts or deceives a minor, under 18 years of age, without violence, threat or fraud, or attempts to do so.”
However, the second clause of that article specifies that when the minor marries the man, “he can no longer be prosecuted except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed.” Essentially, a victim cannot pursue prosecution independently.
The article was successfully repealed in January 2014 due to international outcries over Filali’s suicide. But Morocco still has a long way to go.
A recent study conducted by the state planning commission (HCP), states that one out of two unmarried women in Morocco were subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence in 2012. The study also claims that 9% of women in Morocco have been subjected to physical sexual violence at least once.
These numbers can’t go on. The abuse women are experiencing every day must end, and it shouldn’t take a suicide to make the world call for gender equality in Morocco. The country has so much to offer its citizens and outside travelers, but first it must change the way in which women are treated.