To close our conversation I asked Laila to share her thoughts on the overall situation of women in Morocco. She did not mince her words!
Missed the beginning? Find out about the early days of the movement, about Masaktach’s most successful campaign to date, and to be inspired by Laila’s lessons learned from her movement’s early victories.
You’ve told me that each of Masaktach’s campaigns zeroes in on a specific issue, but I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from all of this about the overall situation of women in Morocco. Any thoughts?
There are people in this country who believe, in good faith, that violence against women is a minor phenomenon. They think: “we have do deal with issues like education, health or poverty; why the hell would you bother us with women’s rights?” But it is a serious problem, and it’s not an isolated one. The truth of the matter is, violence against women is normalized in this country.
“The truth of the matter is, violence against women is normalized in this country.”
After I moved here, I first found Morocco to be so dynamic and modern. So I was taken aback when I found out about some social realities, especially with regards to the situation of Moroccan women. It makes me wonder: what do you think most people looking at Morocco from the outside don’t realize about Moroccan women?
Now that’s a tough question! (She laughs) I think people might be surprised to find out how little everyone cares about issues of gender, sexuality and women's rights in Morocco. Nobody gives a damn. Sure, we just bought a high-speed train and we launched a satellite into space. How modern, right? This glossy image of modernity hides an ugly truth: we don’t care about the lives of Moroccan women.
Look, it took this country ten years to pass a law against gender-based violence that only brings a few significant areas progress - like criminalizing street harassment. Ten years!
“When we turn a blind eye, it translates into horrendous consequences in the lives of women who are victims of violence.”
What people don’t realize is that when we turn a blind eye, it translates into horrendous consequences in the lives of women who are victims of violence. Let me give you an example. We now have a law that bans rape and child marriage, but the people who are supposed to enforce the law don’t care. Rapists are sent to jail for only a year... that’s when they don’t get away with a suspended sentence. For victims, it feels like a slap in the face for the victims, you know? Just recently a young woman committed suicide after her rapist got such a minimal sentence. As activists, indifference is our biggest enemy.
How do you feel about carrying a feminist message in the public debate here in Morocco? Often when I say I’m a feminist, I feel like people want to show me some hole where I can hide and be safe!
Oh yeah, you're a witch! (She laughs) This is a country that is Arab, Muslim and extremely patriarchal. In Morocco we can see patriarchy at its purest. People think feminism, #MeToo and all these things as ideas that the West wants to force down our throats. That's why we always make it clear that Masaktach is not #MeToo. That’s why we chose a darija word as our hashtag. We are Moroccans.
Still, some people accuse us of importing Western ideas and plotting to help women take power over men. That’s so ignorant, because feminism is about women getting equal rights, not about overpowering men.
“Feminism is about women getting equal rights, not about overpowering men.”
Does that mean that Masaktach doesn’t present itself as a feminist movement?
Around here, if you say you’re a feminist, people who have not taken the time to educate themselves about feminism will start the "I'm for women's rights but I'm not feminist" debate. For us at Masaktach, the starting point is our action, not a concept. We stay away from debates; we get things done and people join in. Only afterwards do we tell people, "what we just did is feminist, did you know?"
Are you saying that you’d rather show feminism in action than talking about it?
Yes, it's feminism in action, even though we don’t act through programmes in the field like others do. The field we operate in is that of public debate. We use social media – that’s what makes us different from the feminists who came before us.
They did a fantastic job, they scored so many wins. We’re driven by the same aspirations and values, but we have this one tool they didn’t have, and we know how to use it.
Last question – it’s a ritual here at Eyala. What is your feminist motto?
“If you close the door I’ll climb in through the window!”