Saturday, October 10, 2009

I have had an interesting series of conversations over the last week with my daughter and various friends.  We were talking  about her experiences in Morocco over the last year and whether she should stay here.  My daughter's life here has been very different from my own.  She came on her own, walked the street til she found a job, has been learning Arabic as she goes, and prefers living on her own to living with me.  Her experience has been an adventure.

People ask me all the time what it is like to live in a place like Morocco full time.  Frankly, it is like any place and despite the differences in language and culture, people are people.  My neighbors have daily routines, disagreements and problems like everybody else.   Some of the people I meet are nice and others are not so nice.  I walk down the street now and I don't always see the "differentness".  But, there is one element of society here that is particularly difficult for women.  I hear about it consistently and it can be the single most annoying problem one encounters in Morocco - street harrassment of women.

My daughter tries to save money by walking part way to work and part way home each day.  Lately, strangers have been following her, slapping her bottom and pinching her bottom.  Cars pull up beside her, encouraging her to get inside.  She is so disturbed by this now that some times she arrives home in tears.  She no longer wears her headphones to block out the catcalls, because she can't hear the "touchers" coming up behind her.  The outright aggressiveness of these men on the street frightens her at times.

There is an unfortunate general perception that foreign women are open to this rude behavior because of their more liberal beliefs and behaviors.  They travel alone, walk the streets alone, sometimes live alone and most obviously, often come all the way to Morocco alone.  These are not common behaviors for Moroccan women, although they also share their part of the harrassment.  Throw in the added the misinformation from satellite television and the idea that foreign women "want" it does not require a quantum leap of logic.  Rather, understanding that women don't "want" it is much harder.

The effect all of this has had on my daughter is disturbing to me as a mother.  I see her becoming angry and defensive and now, even fearful on the streets.  She believes she has every right to walk there as she wants, but I see her looking for ways to avoid it.  There is nothing she can do to confront the situation and there is nothing she can do to find help or a remedy for it.  It is what it is and although people frown on it, nobody can stop it.  There are laws against it, too, but they are almost impossible to enforce.  Women must grin and bear it for now.  And yes, to do anything but smile and take it results in worse harrassment and hefty insults.

I wish I could see my daughter happy and enjoying her experiences here.  I wish I could see her full of confidence in the kind of future she could have.  But right now, sadly, her focus is on whether or not she can achieve her dreams without having to justify her right to that achievement and without having to constantly defend her territory.  I hope there is a balance,

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