Sunday, November 2, 2008

Morocco - social observations

One of the things I didn't expect about going to Morocco, was that of having my assumptions about women and men in Moroccan society challenged. I carried with me, assumptions about dress, social codes and division of labour.

Dress: Yes the majority of Moroccan women wear the djellaba and a head scarf. In the Berber villages they wear traditional long skirts and long sleeved tops and head scarves. It appears that about 70% of women dress this way. About 20% of women wear the long djellaba or skirt and shirt with no head scarf, about 8% of women (mostly under 30) wear western dress, particularly jeans with a long sleeved top, some with a head and shoulder shawl, and about 2% have the full bourka, complete with veiled face. The wearing of the djellaba is interesting because you often see it being worn as a sort of outdoor coat, rather than a constant feature of dress. The workers in the riads wear jeans and a white tunic style top, and the kids going to school wear jeans with a white tunic top over a western style long sleeved T or a jumper. You also see the djellaba being worn over apparently bare legs, with naked ankles and sandalled feet showing, or over very smart western style dress. The headscarf is an interesting feature of dress as I often saw it being worn with tight fitting jeans and a tight T-shirt or jumper top.
There seems to be a wide ranging choice of clothing styles, most are utilitarian and suit the work or lifestyle of the wearer.
Social Codes. We were constantly told by our tour guides, how women in Morocco are free to study and work, have land and marriage/divorce rights and are not oppressed. The King held a referendum on polygamy and as a result, polygamy is now abolished. What I observed, is that after late afternoon, women are not seen on the streets unless accompanied by a male, during the day and evening, the streets are full of males from the age of 8 up, hanging out, working, playing sport etc. You only see women, shopping or on their way to work or study. The young men in the 16 - 30 year old age group are everywhere in big groups, especially playing sport (usually a form of football/soccer, or basketball). I constantly asked myself - "Where are all the girls?"
Division of Labour. There is no question that in a country that prides itself on its agricultural economy, there is still very segregated division of labour. What did surprise me is that Morocco is NOT a `third world ' country - poverty is relative and the majority of Moroccans I saw in cities and in Berber villages, are housed and fed and have ample access to education for their children. Access to medical care is basic, and dental care seems restricted, from the looks of many of the mouths I saw. However there is not the amount of begging that I thought I would see. Food in the regional/rural areas is a matter for the family to ensure that there is enough. Farming is still a village economy. In the regions in which I travelled, there were few large or collective farms. Everyone has a garden and the most incredible stony and arid plots bore figs, almonds, walnuts, olives, lemons, tomatoes, lemon balm, cucumbers, corn, barley, egg plant, chick pea, bee-hives, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, etc. Everyone in the family contributes to the labour needed to manage crops and livestock. Yes the women tend to the vegetables and the chickens and bring the water up from the river or town tap, but the men are doing plenty of work ploughing, harvesting and looking after the large animals. The children still graze the goats and sheep. The men were not just hanging around the town square. This observation needs to be balanced with what I saw in the villages where kif is grown, there the young men were stoned and not doing much at all, but the Moroccans themselves despise this behaviour and recognise it as a problem for their society. It's harder to see what is happening in the cities. Many women are working outside the home. Western pharmacies seem to be mainly run by women, all the tourist ventures are staffed by women, although I didn't hear of any female tour guides. The medina market stalls are run by men, but I saw women in some of them, although they didn't seem to be doing the front line selling to tourists.
Morocco is on the brink of sweeping change. The under 40 year olds are literate and internet literate. The under 25 year olds are well educated and becoming worldly wise. In the cities, there are internet cafes on every block. I sat next to a young woman one day, who was happily watching American dance/exercise videos; (I'm pretty sure she told her parents she was studying). I saw 8 year old boys with mobile phones. In the villages, you find situations where the 800 year old stone and mud brick village has no electricity, but the richer families have solar panels and satellite TV. It's quite confronting to see a roofline of mud brick houses adorned with dozens of satellite dishes.
The real issue for women in Morocco is the same issue that we still deal with in western countries, freedom to choose. Freedom to decide if you want to opt into or out of the fashion culture, freedom to decide if you want to pursue a career in science and wear a lab coat, freedom to decide if you want to earn good money and keep it to yourself. Freedom to decide if you will have children or not, and if you do, how many you will have. Freedom to live without the fear of violence in your life just because you are female. Freedom to access information that will inform your decision making about how you want to live.