"Activism is part of our DNA" - Laila Slassi, co-founder of Masaktach - Morocco (3/4)

I love the energy in  Masaktach ’s logo!

I love the energy in Masaktach’s logo!

In this third part of our interview, Laila tells me what she believes has made Masaktach so successful. She shares advice that is useful for activists all over Africa and beyond. Missed the beginning? Click here for part 1 about the early days of the movement and for part 2 about Masaktach’s most successful campaign to date.

Masaktach was launched less than five months ago, but you've had some impressing results already. Is your next step to establish Masaktach as a formal NGO?

Absolutely not. Masaktach is not an NGO. For starters, none of us feels like going through the administrative process or having to elect a leader. That’s just not part of our state of mind. Not to mention that all of us have a lot on our plates already! In the group we have a lawyer, that’s me, but also a journalist, a painter, a few entrepreneurs, a public servant, etc. We all have jobs and families to take care of.

More importantly, we know what we cannot achieve. We are aware that there are NGOs around Morocco that are doing an extraordinary job on the ground. They have shelters and hotlines for survivors, and so on. The state has totally dropped the ball, so civil society is doing most of the work here. We are not equipped to do what these NGOs do. We don’t have the resources they have and we don’t have the same ambitions either.

Activism is part of our DNA. That’s why we don’t have any programmes in the field, apart from our follow-up on Khadija’s legal case. We attend all the hearings and we live-tweet what happens there. We’re also helping the family as they try to start over after the tragedy, especially with getting Khadija back to school and getting the family to move to a new area. Basically, we do what we’re best at doing,and we stay focused on our goal.

“We do what we’re best at doing,and we stay focused on our goal.”

Okay then tell me about your goal. What are you trying to achieve with Masaktach? 

In short, our goal is to raise awareness. We want to tackle gender-based violence, an issue that has long been hidden on the last page of the newspapers, after the soccer section, and we want to make it front page news. We want everyone to talk about it.

You see, in Morocco there’s this standoff: on one side there is the state, with its laws and policies. On the other side, the NGOs are moving mountains out there in the field and calling on the state to do more. The model we’re experimenting with is about occupying the space in between. We’re not begging the authorities to take these issues seriously. If politicians don’t care, too bad; we’re take the conversation to social media and we’re talking directly with people. We make a case to ordinary people that gender equality is an important fight, so that even when the politicians stay idle, at least citizens can act.

“If politicians don’t care, too bad; we’re taking the discussion to social media and we’re talking directly with people .”

Does that mean that you’re not engaging with the government at all?

We only reach out to the government when we don’t have any other choices. Just recently we had to do so for the first time, as part of our, #Huelva_Gate campaign.  

The campaign is about 130 women who migrated to Spain as seasonal strawberry pickers, and who are accusing their Spanish employer of using rape as a domination tool. That’s on top of the horrendous working conditions they were already in. We called on the Moroccan Embassy in Spain to provide financial support and legal aid.

It sounds like flexibility is critical to the Masaktach model. Was it a conscious choice to make it part of your DNA as well?

Definitely. We didn’t want to change who we are so we could fit into some pre-existing model. We started out with our goal in mind then we identified people who believed in that goal, based on what they had tweeted in relation to Khadija’s case. Only then did we start talking about how we could make it happen together. That's the benefit of being a collective and not an NGO.

One of our strengths is that we have organized horizontally, not vertically. Masaktach is twelve people. We don’t have one individual leader. We trust each other, we try to decide by consensus. Whenever something goes wrong, we sort it out quickly and we move forward.

“One of our strengths is that we have organized horizontally, not vertically. Masaktach is twelve people. We don’t have one individual leader.”

Our flexibility keeps us free from bureaucracy. We’ve never held a meeting that required us to meet in person. Actually there are at least four members I have never met in person since we are not all based in Morocco. I guess we’ve had two phone meetings, but it was to celebrate the success of the whistles campaign. All we have is a private group on Twitter where we communicate non-stop. That’s it.

It could be because I’ve always had to compose with the complexities of the NGO sector, but I find your model fascinating. A lot of what you’re saying would be so useful for other initiatives. Any last piece advice?  

Maybe something about how we determine our advocacy asks. Masaktach always aims for small victories, and so we put out very specific asks. That’s why we asked radio stations to stop playing Saad Lamjarred’s music, and we suggested for women to blow a whistle against street harassment. That worked right away. Keep it small and keep it specific.

Many thanks to Laila for this masterclass! I hope you’ll find it as useful as I have. To end our conversation I asked Laila to share her thoughts on the overall situation of women in Morocco. She did not mince her words! Read more here.