Morocco

July 21st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Next Gens Hannah Rehak and William Matsuda on underage marriages in Morocco

This article appeared in the GlobalPost. Read it HERE.
Hannah Rehak July 21, 2014 06:22
The Moroccan legal code forbids girls under age 18 to marry, but exceptions are granted most of the time.

RABAT, Morocco — Salima Dakani has a bruised right hand, two children, and nowhere to sleep tonight.

She is only 19, but she bears the weight of a woman who says she has spent years tortured by a man addicted to drugs and violence, a man chosen for her by parents who believed marriage was the best option for their daughter, an alternative to a life of poverty.

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

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July 21st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Underage Moroccan girls married off with judges’ consent

This article was published by the Global Post. Read it HERE.

Hannah RehakJuly 21, 2014 06:22

The Moroccan legal code forbids girls under age 18 to marry, but exceptions are granted most of the time.

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

The daughter of Rachida Diani, who helps her mom around the house in Rabat, Morocco. She is bubbly, but shy. Unlike her brothers, she rarely leaves the house to play outside. (William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

RABAT, Morocco — Salima Dakani has a bruised right hand, two children, and nowhere to sleep tonight.

She is only 19, but she bears the weight of a woman who says she has spent years tortured by a man addicted to drugs and violence, a man chosen for her by parents who believed marriage was the best option for their daughter, an alternative to a life of poverty.

Dakani was married in 2010, at the age of 15. Now, after a four-year marriage to a man she says kept her locked inside for weeks at a time, beating and electrocuting her until she couldn’t move, Dakani has secretly left home with the hope of finding someone who can help her file for divorce.

She is just one of many young girls married under the legal age of consent in Morocco, about twice as many as 10 years ago, according to statements by the Moroccan minister of justice. In 2004, changes to the country’s Family Code, the Moudawana, pushed for egalitarian reforms to outdated laws and set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. But according to Fatima Maghnoui, President of L’Union de l’Action Feminine (UAF), an organization committed to helping young women find shelter, work, and healthcare in Rabat, the changes still fall short.

“The spirit of the Moudawana is the equal treatment of men and women, but there are parts of the text that contradict that philosophy,” Maghnoui said.

She is referring to Article 20 of the Moudawana that states a girl may be married under the age of 18 with the consent of her legal tutor, often her father, and the authorization of a family affairs judge. The girl herself must also consent to be married.

Salima Dakani, age 19.

(William Matsuda/GlobalPost)

Though judges are only supposed to give their authorization as an exception in a “well-substantiated decision,” proposals to marry underage girls are accepted 89 percent of the time, according to a report submitted by the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) to the United Nations.

Sixteen percent of Moroccan women in their early twenties were married under the age of 18, compared to only 2 percent in neighboring Algeria, according to 2010 UNICEF data.

Maghanoui says what’s behind these marriages is the patriarchal mentality of Moroccan judges.

“It is a sort of authority limited to the judge, who makes his decision on behalf of the young girl,” she said. “But…when a young girl comes in, maybe she’s only 14, but she looks heavier, bigger, so the judge gives her his authorization.”

Stephanie Willman Bordat, an expert in Moroccan law and co-founder of Mobilizing for Rights Associates (MRA), a non-profit women’s rights organization, agrees that Article 20 relies heavily on judges’ subjective appraisal.

“The law doesn’t give any guidance of what an exceptional reason would be,” she said, “so there are lots of different reasons why judges are authorizing underage marriages. If she is pregnant, or if she is dating, or seeing some boy, or having sex with him, they are saving family honor and avoiding scandal.”

According to women’s rights advocates, in many cases, judges also grant permission with the idea of saving a girl from poverty.

“When parents come in they explain they have four children, for example, and they want to get rid of their daughter,” said Maghanoui. “They want to get her married, even if she is underage. Imagine a girl who does nothing, who has no professional future, who lives the routine of daily life. What else can she be? Sometimes it’s her who wants to get married, because she doesn’t do anything.”

Still, there are Moroccan judges who resist the pressure from girls and their families.

“I had a private conversation with the judge. He asked regular questions about my age, my health, my family, et cetera,” says Selwa Adil, 20, who was once engaged to a man nine years her senior. “But the marriage registration was turned down and the judge told us to come back the year after.”

Instead of waiting until she came of age, Adil’s family decided to employ a traditional marriage ceremony in Morocco — the reading of the Fatiha, a binding verse in the Quran. These marriages, though they are unrecognized by the state, are often the solution when a judge refuses to approve the underage marriage. Adil’s marriage was brief, as problems arose and she promptly moved back into her family home just 12 days after the wedding.

Such conflicts are common. Though she didn’t particularly want to get married, Ghizlane Asmane says it was her idea to quit school at the age of 11 and, until her engagement at the age of 16, she says she did nothing but stay in the house and cook. However, once she had moved into her husband’s family home, which is typical for underage brides, Asmane found she did not have the freedom she’d hoped for.

“I had conflicts with both the groom and his family,” said Asmane. “With the family it was mostly about the household. I got scolded by my husband’s family for things like cooking and cleaning.”

Not all underage marriages are unhappy and unsuccessful. Rachida Diani, 27, was married when she was 14. When she looks back on her marriage, Diani comments on the difficulty of moving into a new home at such a young age, but focuses mostly on the happiness her three children have brought her. For Diani, getting married was the start to her life. Still, when asked if she has an opinion on the prevalence of underage marriages, she is quick in her response.

“No girl should be allowed to marry before the age of 18,” she said.

For Bordat, of MRA, it is simply a human rights issue.

“I think when you are looking at the dangers of underage marriages, you have to look at the totality,” she said. “Underage marriages raise the risk of the underage marriage brides not being able to take advantage of and enjoy a host of their other rights.”

One of those rights involves education, according to advocates.

“The place of young girls is in school and not in a conjugal household,” said Maghnaoui. “To eradicate poverty, we need to put structures in place: schools and information centers; and we need to integrate women in other ways once they have left school.”

The Moroccan government is working on awareness raising campaigns and is considering making 16 the minimum age limit for judge-authorized marriages, according to judge Abdelhadi Elbattahe of the Ministry of Justice. But it’s not easy to overcome cultural traditions that approve of underage marriage, he adds.

“This phenomenon isn’t linked to the law in particular, it is linked to mentality and prevalent social concepts,” says Elbattahe.

In the meantime, women’s advocacy groups are working to provide services for young women, like Salima Dakani. Though Maghnaoui and her coworkers at UAF hope to eventually help Dakani file for divorce, they face an even more pressing concern: finding a safe place for her to stay.

 

Hannah Rehak and William Matsuda spent several months in Morocco on an SIT Study Abroad program and produced this story in association with Round Earth Media, a nonprofit organization that mentors the next generation of international journalists. Malak Mihraje contributed reporting.

June 30th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

The underreported story of a deadly disease from our Next Gen reporter in Morocco

Mohamed removes his straw hat and is more active during overcast skies or in shady areas due to his xeroderma pigmentosum. Photo by Rachel Woolf.

Xeroderma Pigmentosum, XP, is a rare disease carried in 1 out of every 80   Moroccan’s DNA. It is only passed from parent to child when both parents carry  the recessive trait. Thus, in Morocco’s poor communities, where there is little opportunity for marriage outside the family, people are at higher risk to have, or at least pass on, the disease.

The disease is characterized by blistering and burning of the skin and eyes, along with various cancers. The National Cancer Institute reports a 10,000-fold increased risk of skin cancer for someone with XP and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that non-melanoma skin cancer develops at a median age of nine. They are what Moroccans call Children of the Moon.

 

Today there are 800 Children of the Moon in Morocco. Due to poverty and poor access to health care, most of these children, teenagers and young adults will die before they reach 30.

Round Earth Media’s Francine Krieger reported the story of Morocco’s Children of the Moon for the Global Health Hub, read it HERE.

 

June 26th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

Morocco’s Children of the Moon Suffer in the Dark of Poor Health Care

By FRANCINE KRIEGER

This article was published by Global Health Hub on June 25, 2014.

MOROCCO – Mounir Yakdone died at 7 years old in pursuit of an education. His parents warned that the walk to school would continue to kill him, but the one-eyed boy painted with skin tumors felt he had nothing to lose.

Nozha Chkoundi and Mohammed Yakdone had taken their son Mounir to a public hospital in Casablanca when he was 3 years old. They were concerned about the freckles that multiplied on his skin with each passing day.

But being seen at the busy hospital was nearly impossible. They stood in line for hours, with the hot Moroccan sun radiating the heat of their impatience and the skin of their freckled boy. When finally seen by a doctor, Mounir was diagnosed with a fatal skin disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which medical professionals generally shorthand to XP.

XP is a genetic disorder that cannot be detected until after birth, and until an infant’s skin reacts to sun exposure.

So when Nozha and Mohamed were letting Mounir spend three joyous years in the sunshine; shirtless at the beach, and unprotected while playing soccer in the sun, they didn’t know that he had XP and was quickly, certainly acquiring skin cancer.

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May 27th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Soultana: ‘The Voice of Women’ Raps in Morocco

By MARY STUCKY

This article was published by PRI’s The World on February 20, 2013.

Credit: Shalea Harris Soultana (Youssra Oakuf), 27, was the first recognized female rapper in Morocco and is still one of the only women on stage. Soultana rose to international fame first as a member of the band, Tigresse Flow. Then, again, as a solo- artist in 2011 with her first single "Sawt Nssa", or "The Voice of Women," a rap against street harassment of Moroccan women. "The guy he can't, he can't, feel what I feel when I'm walking on the street. He can't feel that."

Credit: Shalea Harris
Soultana (Youssra Oakuf), 27, was the first recognized female rapper in Morocco and is still one of the only women on stage. Soultana rose to international fame first as a member of the band, Tigresse Flow. Then, again, as a solo- artist in 2011 with her first single “Sawt Nssa”, or “The Voice of Women,” a rap against street harassment of Moroccan women. “The guy he can’t, he can’t, feel what I feel when I’m walking on the street. He can’t feel that.”

Soultana and her band won Morocco’s biggest amateur music competition a few years back and promptly became the most recognized female rap group in Africa.

Soultana’s hit single “The Voice of Women” is her anthem.

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May 27th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Deficit pushes Morocco to cut subsidies

By ISHAN THAKORE

This article was published by Al Jazeera on May 02, 2014.

Credit

Rabat - Ahmed Dabachi’s heavy blue coat is stained with soot as he lugs a 25-pound butane canister from inside his dark shop to a customer in Rabat.

This is the fuel that many Moroccans depend on for cooking and also often for heating. The government heavily subsidizes the cost for Dabachi and also for his customers. He sells canisters for 42 dirhams or $5.04, but they actually trade for $14.50 on the commodities market.

Dabachi is wary of any but the slightest price increases, knowing they would be bad for him but even worse for families who rely on his products.

“If the prices go up, I’m not going to buy it. How are my customers going to?” he said.

Three years ago, Morocco managed to avoid the revolutions that brought down dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. One way the Moroccan government bought social peace was by spending 20 percent of its budget to subsidise the cost of bread, fuel and electricity. But that spending has since spiralled out of control – Morocco’s deficit ballooned to 7.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012. Now, in a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country will have to bring its deficit down to three percent by 2017, largely by cutting subsidies.

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May 27th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Tips To Sort Out The Truth In ‘Cause Marketing’

By SERENITY BOLT

This article was published by Zester Daily on May 12, 2014.

CauseMarketing1

Liisa VonEnde, a dental hygienist from Vermont, pauses in the checkout line at Whole Foods Market and considers the last-minute temptations: local chocolate, exotic licorice, obscure brands of gum. Finally she tosses a 2 Degrees cherry almond energy bar into her cart. Why that one? This particular bar helped feed a hungry child. These days, “cause marketing” — an idea that for many began with Paul Newman’s salad dressing — has spread to everything from shoes to eyeglasses, with small specialty companies combining flashy graphics with philanthropy to sell their products.

California-based 2 Degrees Food provides one meal for every bar sold. In Morocco, meanwhile, women have organized into small cooperatives to sell argan oil, hoping the tie-in will boost sales for their vendors. Both cases sound like a win-win-win, satisfying the disadvantaged, a company’s bottom line, and consumer cravings. With so many food companies adopting the do-gooder model, however, consumers need to think about whether their well-meaning purchases are delivering as promised.

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April 17th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Thanks to all who attended the premier of “Willing to Break”

JP Keenan & Sutton Raphael at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival after the premier of "Willing to Break"

JP Keenan & Sutton Raphael at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival after the premier of “Willing to Break”

It was a sell-out theater for this and a slate of other short docs at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival.  From the audience:  “What a fantastic film, kudos to the filmmakers.”  More from these young filmmakers soon and a huge shout out to their Moroccan journalism partner, Loubna Fouzar, and Prof. Khadija Zizi of the Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication in Rabat, Morocco.

It is through partnerships like this one with SIT Study Abroad that Round Earth is able to produce important news and information for top tier media around the world while mentoring next gen journalists.  More in our online magazine, Reporting Morocco.

 

April 2nd, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Do Human Evolution and Islam Conflict in the Classroom?

By SADIA KHATRI

This article was published on April 01, 2014 by Al Fanar Media, an online publication that covers higher education in the Arab world. It was presented there under an agreement with The Chronicle

Rabat, Morocco—Hanging outside of Professor Touria Benazzour’s office is a cut out of a magazine portrait of Charles Darwin.

Benazzour put it up when she began teaching human evolution 25 years ago, one of the first professors to introduce the sensitive and controversial topic in a Moroccan classroom. Today, Benazzour teaches in the Master’s degree program at Mohammad V University, the capital’s oldest higher-education public institution. She claims her semester-long course on evolution is still the only one of its kind at a public university.

Reflecting on her students, Benazzour said, “They do want to know more, but whether they believe in it or not, I really don’t know.”

In terms of even hearing about evolution, Benazzour’s students are the exception. Most Moroccans today complete high school and college without coming across the name “Darwin” or the term “natural selection.” The avoidance of evolution, underscores a tension between Islam and science in one of the most liberal Muslim countries.

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March 10th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Snail Soup? Camel Spleen? It’s Morocco’s Fab Street Food

streetfoodsoapbox2a

With more than 9,000 small, cobbled streets, the Fez medina is a labyrinth. As dusk falls, shoppers grab a few last-minute items near Bab Bou Jeloud, or the Blue Gate. Credit: ­Serenity Bolt

By SERENITY BOLT

This story was published by Zester Daily on March 3, 2014.

FEZ, Morocco– We’ve all heard the warnings that travelers should avoid street food. But doing so means missing the real food culture — the simple, fresh delicacies prepared for locals. With a little common sense, it’s easy to leave your fear of the unknown (or of getting sick) behind and reap one of the greatest rewards of travel.

Moroccan culture buzzes in the ancient medina of Fez al-Bali, the world’s largest car-free area, where Gail Leonard, a British ex-pat, offers street food tasting tours through her company, Plan-It Fez.

For more than three hours, she introduces travelers to the likes of snail soup and cow’s tongue while donkeys trundle along the medina’s narrow, medieval streets, adding their own steady rhythm to the tintinnabulation of men banging copper pots into shape, playing children and the conversational din of the souks, or markets.

Tourists who avoid the food on these cobbled, labyrinthine streets are not only forgoing a culinary experience, but also something intangible, Leonard said. “Vendors are thrilled that you want to taste what they’ve produced. Anyone that doesn’t want to do that misses out on many levels of experience that aren’t just about taste buds.”

Dinner in Morocco is served around 9 or 10 p.m., so street carts are essential to tide Moroccans over between meals. Street food also suits economy-minded travelers. “We were just out of money, so we bought some sandwiches from a cart,” said Bostonian Paige Stockman, 24, gesturing with a thick piece of fresh khubz (bread) stuffed with smoky, slightly charred chicken skewers from a vendor in the Achabine area — prime territory for Leonard’s food tours.

Street food made by lovely hands

Some Moroccans do avoid street food, but not for the reasons you might imagine. Faical Lebbar, owner of Barcelona Café in Fez, abhors the idea of eating standing up. “My father taught me, you eat, you need to sit.” Comparing his restaurant to street food, he added, “The food is the same. It just costs more.”

The higher price may buy the closed doors of a restaurant kitchen, but not necessarily a more skilled chef. And there’s pleasure in connecting directly with the person making your food.

“When food is made by lovely hands, it doesn’t matter whether you got it in the street or in a restaurant — its value is determined by something deeper than price,” said Amine Mansouri, 25, a local who has lived all his life surrounded by the daily rhythms of the Fez medina. The hand that takes your 5 dirhams reaches through time and tradition, inviting you to taste the food that sustains a culture.

What if you can’t afford a tour but want to sample the world of street food? Leonard offers a few recommendations:

1. Look for the busiest carts because they have the most turnover.

2. Be confident. Don’t hesitate to leave and go to another vendor if the food doesn’t look fresh.

3. Make sure the food is piping hot — learn the word for “hot” in the local language so you can ask for a longer cooking time.

4. Ask for a taste to see if you like the food. Vendors will just be excited you’re trying it.

5. Don’t be afraid to say “no thanks.” If you feel awkward, learn some “get out” phrases in the local language, such as, “I’ll come back later.”

6. Eat with your hands, or use bread. You can even bring your own cutlery and cup. Always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer.

If you do run into digestive trouble, Leonard advises cumin. “That’s what Moroccans will do for an upset stomach,” she said. “It has anti-parasitical properties. Just take a spoonful, knock it back with water, and your stomach’s sorted.”

When in Fez, widely considered to be Morocco’s culinary capital, head to the Achabine and try these Leonard-tested delicacies: tehal, camel spleen stuffed with camel meat, olives and preserved lemons (baked like a gigantic sausage, then sliced and fried); makkouda, spicy potato cakes mashed with cumin and other spices and then delicately fried; and cow’s tongue steamed to a brisket-like tenderness.

A must-have is ghoulal, or snail soup. An infusion of more than 15  spices gives the broth a kick that complements its almost earthy, mushroomy flavor. Just look for the beaconing clouds of steam. You’ll soon find ghoulal in a huge silvery pot, boiling away atop a wooden cart manned in the medina by the soup-maker himself.

Just make sure to ask for it extra hot — “skhoun bzef!”

This story was produced in association with Round Earth Media, which is mentoring the next generation of global correspondents while producing untold stories for top tier media around the world.

 

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