Women

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.

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

 

December 14th, 2013  |  By Round Earth Media

Women Provide “Spiritual Security” In Morocco

Moroccan women walk past the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like this story by student Samantha Harrington, which was published by Reuters.

Our pioneering program in Morocco, in partnership with SIT Study Abroad, resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning.

| By Samantha Harrington

Boots on the ground, drones in the skies, and government surveillance of electronic communications have become standard American tools for warding off extremist violence. The Kingdom of Morocco has armed itself with a dramatically different weapon: using the soft power of religious women to quell violence before it happens. They call it “spiritual security.”

After 9/11 shook the world, Moroccan leaders began to think, “It could happen here,” and it did. In 2003, a dozen suicide bombers with ties to al-Qaida blew themselves up in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic center. Now the country knew firsthand the trauma of terrorism.

In response, Moroccan leaders came up with an idea dedicated to foiling religion-based violence by using religion itself. In 2006, under the leadership of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the mourchidat program was born.

Sanae Elmarouani, 23, already holds a Master’s degree in Islamic studies.  But she’s happy being back in class at Dar al Hadith al Hassania, studying in a prestigious program to prepare her for a vocation in religious service as a spiritual guide.  Her school is a small, ornately decorated building in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat where men train to become imams, Islamic priests, and now ––since 2006 –– women prepare to become their female counterparts, mourchidat.

The setting for this unique school, its high ceilings intricately carved and tiled, is rich in Moroccan tradition.  The goal of the program is similar. When asked how women with religion as their only weapon can possibly expect to beat back the forces of radicalism, Sanae is confident.

“Our religion in general forbids extremism. So the program is like a representation of Islam. The role of mourchidat is to unify the constants of the Moroccan nation.” She cites the guiding principles as honoring the King, who is commander of the faithful, and adherence to the Maliki doctrine and Ashaarit creed, approved by the Islamic Ministry and taught at her school.

The daughter of an imam, Sanae was a teacher in a mosque when she heard of the mourchidat program. She moved quickly to get her application in and felt lucky when she was accepted.

The program is meant to promote women’s rights, giving Moroccan women unprecedented opportunity and authority.  Their work takes them to all parts of the community.

“We work in mosques,” Sanae says.  “We work in prisons, hospitals, and we teach and lead women in all parts of their lives.”

A SELECTIVE PROGRAM

She and her peers at Dar al Hadith were selected from a large applicant pool. The program is selective. In order to be admitted, women must hold university degrees and be able to recite sections of the Qur’an from memory. Students take a variety of courses, with the main focus on religious training. But in the real world, helping people deal with anger, disappointment and pain, their classes in communication and psychology will be useful. “I’ll use body language first,” Sanae says.

After graduating, Sanae will likely be placed in one of the many mosques that dot Morocco’s cities and countryside. She will use the Islam that she has learned at Dar al Hadith in all aspects of her work, teaching values of respect and tolerance and diffusing extremist thought.  She will lead circle discussions and answer questions about faith but she will not be allowed to lead men in prayer.

In some ways, mourchidat can be compared to Catholic nuns. Both are religious women connected to organized groups. Both start from a place of personal spiritual commitment and apply their advanced studies to the needs of their faith communities.  But since they are women practicing in male-dominated cultures both have limits to their religious leadership. Religious orders of nuns are subject to Church hierarchy and Catholic women are denied access to the priesthood. Mourchidat –– although trained to perform the same duties as imams –– are not allowed to lead men in prayer.

Sanae Elmarouani is one of 50 women in her program. Another 150 participants are men studying to be imams in a parallel program.  Mourchidat take an additional course which focuses on women’s issues like marriage and dress. Using this broad portfolio, the mourchidat bring traditional Islamic values to their duties at the mosque. Program creators see their presence as a way of keeping radical forces at bay and providing “spiritual security.”

“[Spiritual security] simply refers to saving people from the different currents that may end up…throwing them into the hands of the people they’re not supposed to deal with,” says Khalid Saqi, Assistant Director of Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania.

The extremists Saqi speaks of, the ones that people are “not supposed to deal with,” are those whose unbending ideologies morph into social destruction and who bring others along with them. Before the 2003 suicide bombings, religious extremism wasn’t a prominent cause for concern in Morocco. But after Casablanca, the government began to take preventive action.

“We were dealing with a kind of people, a kind of ideology …that in some cases we were not even aware of and then all of a sudden they surged out of nowhere and we were facing a phenomenon that had to be dealt with,” said Saqi.

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects.

“I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling—the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them –– especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif.

Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values. While these strands of Islam are not always violent, the intolerance they practice can lead in that direction. The 2003 Casablanca suicide bombers were self-procalimed Salafis linked to al-Qaida. Another violent attack, this one in 2011 in Marrakech, “was not connected to any organized terrorist groups,” the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Terror states, but the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior described [the bomber] as a Salafist and an admirer of al-Qa’ida.”

In the official Islam of Morocco, the King is the commander of the faithful and moderation is the style of religious expression. The preferred religious code is the Maliki School of Jurisprudence which is also practiced in many nearby countries with positive relationships with Europe and the US. The Maliki school takes a traditional approach to Islam and is heavily based in the lives and actions of those who lived close to the Prophet Muhammad. The mourchidat are trained to use the official Maliki Islam.

MOURCHIDAT PROGRAM DRAWS SOME CRITICISM

While the mourchidat program is well liked, it does have critics. Skeptics of the counterterrorism aspects of the program point out that the 2011 bombing in Marrakech occurred well after this program had been established. Other critics are women’s rights proponents who claim that the mourchidat program hasn’t fulfilled its promise of improving the lot of women—that it doesn’t go far enough.

Asmae Lamrabet, one of Morocco’s leading female Islamic scholars, voices those concerns. She is the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in Rabat which is associated with the Rabita Mohammadia, Morocco’s main organization of Islamic scholars. Lamrabet recognizes that the program has benefits, but has not yet seen real gains being made for women in Moroccan society.  Islamic tradition holds that men and women are equal, she says. But where is the equality in Morocco today?

To make her point, Lamrabet cites a seventh century Islamic scholar— Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife –– one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the years following Muhammad’s death. Aisha was integral in spreading Islamic thought and unafraid to speak out.  She publicly disagreed with misogynistic teachings of the powerful Calif Omar. Her example endures to this day. Lamrabet says Aisha’s courageous voice is heard as a powerful call to  Islamic feminists across the world.

Lamrabet calls the Islam that mourchidat are taught at Dar Al Hadith Al Hassania “very official, traditional, classical and orthodox, there is no progressive ideal in this kind of speech.” To achieve its goal of expanding women’s rights, Lamrabet wants the program to encourage women to think independently rather than strictly follow government teachings.

“[The mourchidat] are going to transmit all the patriarchal messages –– the same message, the same traditionalist message. Yes, we have women in the mosque now, but it’s not a very big deal. We have to do more.”

While its achievements may not seem enough to Lamrabet and other critics, the program is popular. It provides a way for educated women to contribute to social change, for themselves and the communities they serve. Although only 50 women are admitted each year, applications have increased dramatically. In 2009, according to the US Embassy in Rabat, 800 women applied for the 50 seats.

PROGRAM SPREADING TO OTHER ARAB COUNTRIES

Other Arab countries are getting interested as well. Moroccan mourchidat have traveled to the United Arab Emirates to help train Emirati mourchidat, and Saqi has heard reports that an Algerian mourchidat program is in the works.

Even as the model it provides is being replicated elsewhere, the effectiveness of the mourchidat program has not yet been documented.  No research has been conducted to collect data on its real impact.  The US State Department, however, has bought into its anecdotal success, using supportive language in its 2009 Country Report on Terrorism. In that document, Morocco was commended for continuing, “the pioneering experiment…of training and using women as spiritual guides.”

Sanae Elmarouani, looking at the upheaval in the world, particularly in nearby countries of the Middle East, understands the expectations that she and other mourchidat will carry on their shoulders. But she has faith, education, and the role model of her late father, the imam, to guide her. She is optimistic and self-assured.

“I adore my job because it has two gains: one for life and one for an afterlife with God,” she says.

Khadija Boukharfane contributed reporting.

 

June 4th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Morocco Slow on Women’s Rights: More from Round Earth’s NextGen Journalists

The offices of the women’s advocacy group Al Amane in Marrakesh. Observers say that any changes will not mean much as long as there is not an independent judiciary to apply the law. Photo: Alice Urban

The girl at the police station in Marrakesh said she was not sure how old she was, 13 or maybe 14. Sitting on a chair in the unit that processes youth cases, she told a chilling account of being gang raped, and said she had no relatives willing to shelter her.

That’s the reality for many women in Morocco, according to a story in The New York Times produced in collaboration with Round Earth Media.  Grad student and Round Earth Media NextGen American reporter, Alice Urban, contributed reporting to this important untold story, written and reported by Moroccan reporter Aida Alami, another NextGen journalist affiliated with Round Earth.

It’s partnerships like that between Alice and Aida – mentored by Round Earth’s veteran reporters — that define our mission and our work.

”I think that true partnership adds a great integrity, understanding, and cooperation to producing a quality piece of journalism,” said Urban.

Here’s another story of special interest to our Minnesota friends, written by Alice with mentoring from Round Earth’s veteran journalists.

February 22nd, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Soultana: ‘The Voice of Women’ Raps in Morocco

Soultana in concert. PHOTO: Shalea Harris

This week marks the two-year anniversary of Morocco’s version of the so-called Arab Spring. It didn’t unseat a dictator. But, tens of thousands of Moroccans took to the streets demanding democracy. Morocco’s powerful King diffused the protest by offering a few reforms. But little has changed for most Moroccans – especially the country’s young people. Many have found their voice in rap music.  From Morocco on The World, with stunning photos by student photojournalist Shalea Harris.  The latest from Round Earth Media’s groundbreaking collaboration with SIT Study Abroad.   Click HERE to listen and view the photos.

January 8th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Mexico Aims To Save Babies And Moms With Modern Midwifery

The United States and Mexico share deep personal, economic, geographic and cultural connections, but understanding – on both sides of the border – is often limited by stereotype and media exaggeration. Round Earth Media is out to change that.  We launched in 2005, with a bounty of stories from Mexico, supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  Now, in a groundbreaking new collaboration, Round Earth Media is pairing young American and Mexican journalists, to produce powerful, untold stories from Mexico, stories rich in place and humanity.  These stories, broadcast and published in top-tier media, are reaching huge audiences in both countries.

American journalist Monica Ortiz Uribe (in photo with mic) and Lillian Lopez Camberos, a Mexican journalist, interviewing in Mexico for the story they produced in partnership.

Round Earth Media’s new Mexico Reporting Project is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  The focus of these stories: important but little known or commonly misunderstood aspects of life in Mexico.

Click HERE to listen to Monica Ortiz Uribe’s story about midwives in Mexico, broadcast on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Good maternal health care is a challenge in many parts of rural Mexico. Maternity hospital wards are often overcrowded and caesarian sections are routinely scheduled, rather than allowing time for the natural birth process to take place. But this August, in the rural state of Guerrero, the Mexican government opened its first maternity hospital with trained, professional midwives to help alleviate these problems. We pay a visit to Guerrero and see how these new developments are making giving birth easier for women.

July 19th, 2012  |  By Round Earth Media

Moroccan women build land rights movement

Moroccan women attend a rally during International Women's Day in Rabat in 2011. The poster reads 'We are denied the rights to our land'. Women across tribal areas are seeking changes in laws that would allow them to inherit family land. | Photo by ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

At Round Earth Media, we teach students to produce great journalism about important global issues. But that’s not all. When a student story is exceptionally good, we help students publish and broadcast their stories and photographs in top-tier media – like this story by student Stacy Wheeler, which was published in GlobalPost (with reporting assistance from her Moroccan partner, Oumaima Azzelzouli.

Our pioneering program in Morocco, in partnership with SIT Study Abroad, resulted in student stories placed in major media outlets in the United States. Proof positive that undergraduate students can produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards, while receiving a powerful experience in cross-cultural learning. (more…)

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