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.
February 22nd, 2013 | By Mary Stucky
January 8th, 2013 | By Mary Stucky
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.
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
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…)
June 29th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
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 Marie von Hafften, which was published in GlobalPost.
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 Marie von Hafften
RABAT, Morocco – In Morocco, often considered one of the most liberal Muslim countries, affection between women is common. Girls loop arms, stroll hand-in-hand and sit cuddled together. But when this affection becomes romantic and women want to live openly as lesbians, Morocco’s acceptance abruptly stops.
“Lesbianism is not a good thing. Our God does not allow us to do something like this. It is haram,” said Hasnae Krimi, 22, a linguistics student at Rabat’s Mohammed V University, who believes that sickness and natural disasters are increasing as a warning to reject homosexuality. Most people in this Islamic country respond in similar fashion: Homosexuality is haram, prohibited by God.
Even after the Arab Spring, as demands for democracy and human rights ripple through North Africa, homosexuality is still an island unchanged, officially illegal and too taboo to be discussed openly. Moroccan author Abdellah Taïa, who has written a new book about growing up gay in the Arab world, lives in Paris for fear of reprisal in the country of his birth.
Under Moroccan law, committing “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex” is punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine ranging from 120 to 1,000 dirhams (about 14 to 117 USD). Algeria and Tunisia have similar bans. There have been no reports of women arrested in violation of these laws in Morocco, perhaps because experts say it’s rare for a lesbian to be open about her sexual orientation.
Moroccans Sarah and Maria, both 20, have been a couple for more than a year. Both asked that their last names not be used because of the stigma and legal implications attached to being a lesbian in Morocco. Though Sarah now attends a university in France and Maria is studying fine arts in Casablanca, they spend time together whenever they can.
Maria says she’s known she was a lesbian since she was 12 years old, but Sarah struggled when she began having feelings for Maria. “I wasn’t ready to understand how you can love someone that has the same gender,” she said. Now Sarah confidently pronounces, “I am lesbian.”
Sarah and Maria met online. A mutual friend teased Sarah about not knowing Maria because Maria lives in Casablanca where Sarah has many friends. Sarah added Maria on Facebook, planning to delete her later. Instead the women began messaging each other. To meet in person, Sarah flew secretly to Tunisia where Maria was studying abroad, telling her parents she spent the weekend studying with friends.
Neither woman’s family knows of her sexual orientation, but Sarah and Maria did tell some friends and colleagues they are lesbians — and lost friends as a result. Sarah said her ex-boyfriend physically attacked her in the street three times in one week because he was ashamed that she dated a woman after him. “We cannot rely on the police,” Sarah said, adding that if she reported the attacks, her former boyfriend “could tell the police that we are lesbians.”
Behind the law against homosexuality is religion, said Dr. Abdessamad Dialmy, a professor of gender studies at the Rabat’s Mohammed V University and one of the leading researchers of sexuality in Morocco. “For the majority of Moroccans, homosexuality is a sin because it is rejected by Islam,” he said. “If you have sex outside marriage, it is less condemnable than sex among the same sex. The first one is only a sin, not abnormal. Homosexuality is seen as a sin and abnormal.”
Moroccans grow up with strong attitudes about gender roles. “Like we say in Arabic, I need a back to stand on. [As a woman], I’m weak,” Krimi said seriously. “I need someone to support me, not someone who is just like me. If I am with a girl, I don’t think it will work.”
The societal pressure to get married, Dialmy said, is extreme. Marriage is often the central life event for men and women. “It is not a choice,” he said, adding that homosexual women often end up marrying men, sometimes gay men, and keep their true feelings suppressed or secret.
Sarah said she has come across women on the online forum LGBT Maroc asking for advice on how to become heterosexual. She knows others who gave up their religion because “so many people tell them they cannot be both gay and a Muslim,” Sarah said sadly.
Sarah and Maria believe that being Muslim and being lesbian are not mutually exclusive. “I think that it is a question of interpretation,” Sarah said. “For us, love has no sex. There is no limit to love in our religion. For us, there is no limit for love.”
Nothing in the Qur’an offers any help. There are verses that condemn male homosexuality, fornication and adultery but nothing in Islam’s main text addresses lesbianism, said Dialmy. There is a hadith (a saying of the Prophet Mohammed) that condemns sexual acts between women, though it’s debated as to whether the Prophet really said this.
“We are the concrete example that we can be lesbian and Muslim at the same time,” wrote Sarah and Maria in a follow-up email. “We pray, we fast during the Ramadan month, and so on. We don’t have different beliefs from other Muslims; we just have the beliefs that every Muslim should have: what we read in the Qur’an and not what we imagine.”
Despite the pressures on lesbians in Morocco, there are signs that things might be changing. Sarah points to a growing community of support. True, it exists largely online, but internet forums such as LGBT Maroc and Lesbiennes du Maroc may help individuals feel they are not alone.
Perhaps more significantly, the government unofficially tolerates Kif-Kif, the only organization advocating for LGBT rights in Morocco. Kif-Kif’s main office sits across the border in Madrid, and its visibility is limited to low-profile conferences and Mithly, a new publication, distributed quietly, that features LGBT voices. Established six years ago, Kif-Kif has sought unsuccessfully to become a legal association in Morocco.
Still, worldwide consideration of gay rights and the increase of media with lesbian characters may be inspiring some societal acceptance in Morocco, especially among affluent young people.
“That’s okay, for me, lesbianism. It’s freedom, it’s part of being human, to choose what they want,” said Abdelaziz Liasse, 24, a psychology student at Mohammed V University in Rabat. He advocates for what he calls “smooth lesbianism” — being secretive about one’s sexual orientation. “It is a fact that it is existing, but we cannot admit the existence of lesbianism [in Morocco’s Islamic society],” Liasse said. Openness would create what he calls an “explosion” of chaos in a society that does not accept homosexuality.
A “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality appears to be growing. Meryem, 28, who also asked that her last name not be used, dated another woman for two years. She never discussed the relationship with her parents, but they seemed to know anyway.
“They’re more or less open-minded, so I used to tell them about my boyfriends,” she said. “At a certain time I stopped talking about men and they didn’t ask for the reason because I think that they understood.” Meryem’s parents never brought up her sexual orientation. “They prefer hiding the reality even from themselves,” she said.
Posters online at Lesbiennes du Maroc acknowledge this attitude with an oft-repeated saying: “To live happily, live hidden.”
Zineb, 22, who also preferred not to give her last name, is a linguistics student in Mohammed V University. She experimented herself, kissing a girl when she was 16 years old. She knows other women who did the same thing, whether out of attraction or curiosity. “I have some bisexual friends, or at least friends who have tried kissing girls. They are curious to experience a new thing. [And] some girls are attracted to girls so they want to kiss them — not just for experience!”
Zineb is convinced that most lesbian and bisexual women eventually marry men. “It’s easier and you are more accepted by society,” she said. “If you want to go out of your parent’s house, you have to marry.” She doesn’t believe that gay marriage will ever be legal in her country.
It is a reality Sarah and Maria live with every day. “Sometimes we have to forget our professional dreams for our private dreams,” Sarah said. “We want to have a communications agency in Morocco, but if we want to live together and feel safe, to marry, to have children, and so on, we cannot live here. We don’t really know what we will do.”
“We are watching the American movies and series like “The L Word,” and we are just dreaming to have this life, but we can’t,” Sarah continued. “We just want to be free and safe. Maybe we will live in a country where there is the possibility to be together. I want to live here, but I have no security. I have to live in another country, not my country. I am Moroccan, but I cannot live in Morocco.”
This story was published with reporting assistance from Yousra El Hassani.
June 18th, 2012 | By Round Earth Media
In Morocco, a man who has sex with an under-aged girl can escape prosecution by marrying her. Some judges even allow a man accused of raping a girl to go free as long as he marries her. That’s what happened in the case of 16-year-old Amina Filali. (more…)
April 27th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
Next Generation Journalism is about partnership – with students both in the U.S. and in the countries where we’re working – and also partnership with early career journalists in-country. Journalists like Aida Alami, a talented young Moroccan who files for major media in the U.S., including the New York Times. In partnership with Mary Stucky of Round Earth Media, Alami filed for The World, on NPR, a new outlet for her. Our story is the kind of contextual reporting on a sensational issue that we think is so important.
Click HERE for our story on the Amina Filali rape case and Morocco’s new Islamist government.
April 5th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
When you see all the fun people have in Sbaa Roudi, it is no surprise they want to stay here.
This soccer game was the first official match by the Sbaa Roudi women, who played against the SIT Study Abroad journalism students. The match was organized by the local NGO “Development and Solidarity” headed by the female activist Lazar. The village women won in a shoot-out.
The village’s 5K race was billed as a “marathon” to celebrate International Women’s Day. More than 100 women of all ages participated and wore an array of sweats, hijabs, soccer uniforms and even slippers.
April 5th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
But there’s a lighter side to Sbaa Rouadi – sports, festivals and especially food. Eating local takes on a whole new meaning here. Except for the occasional orange or banana, village residents grow all their own food and even make their own couscous, Morocco’s staple starch. At tea time, tables are piled high with fresh bread, platters of green and black olives and butter from local cows. But although the homemade food tastes delicious, preparing it is no picnic. For the average resident of Sbaa Rouadi, eating local means that food preparation structures much of the day.
Baking bread alone takes rural women up to two hours. Hanan Maghnoui, a seventeen-year-old in charge of her family’s culinary affairs, laughs when asked how many times she bakes bread each week. “I make it every day! What a question. How do you think we eat?” By her estimates, she spends between eight and ten hours a day preparing and serving food, and that’s with the help of a koukout,or pressure cooker.
Hanan has never been to school. “The school teacher here hit my older sister once, and after that I didn’t want to go,” she said. But she learned to read and write at home and she keeps a small notebook with family recipes.
For bread though, no recipe book is required. After she cleans up breakfast, Hanan throws together approximately fifteen cups of flour, a quarter cup of salt and some yeast in a large plastic tub. Little, by little, she adds warm water until the flour mixture becomes a moist dough, called aheen in Arabic. After kneading the dough for fifteen minutes, she covers it with a towel and leaves it to rise.
Unlike traditional American bread, Moroccan khobz is not baked in a pan. Instead, the dough is fashioned into flat circles and baked over coals in a faran, the traditional Moroccan oven.
When the oven is ready, Hanan flips the round, flat pieces onto a long sheet of blackened metal with the skill of an Italian pizza chef. Then, she slides the tray into the mouth of the oven and tosses a wet jacket over the opening to help keep the heat in.
The wait is short. After just five minutes, the flat dough has puffed into golden half orbs, slightly brown on the edges. Hanan flips them over and covers the oven opening again. This time, it’s just sixty seconds before she pulls out the loaves, which have grown into evenly browned circles about an inch tall and twelve inches in diameter.
The bread cools for a moment, but Hanan does not have the luxury of watching it. She’s already busy preparing lunch.
While women are in charge of baking bread and preparing meals, men work hard to produce the raw ingredients. Wheat, potatoes, lentils, tomatoes and olives are all grown locally in addition to a wide variety of herbs like mint, which is used for Morocco’s famous tea.
Although most of the village land is dedicated to agriculture, Sbaa Rouadi does not lack for meat. Chickens, which cluck around the front yard of most homes, are a common—and fairly inexpensive—source of protein. They are generally left free to roam, and sometimes families find eggs tucked away inside feed bags or under dense piles of brush. Rabbits are another common source of dinner meat and are often raised to be sold so the family has a small source of cash.
A more common source of cash is milk cows, however.
Each day, Mohammed Maghnoui wakes up just before dawn, at roughly five-thirty in the morning, to milk the cows for the first of two times that day. After wiping their udders clean with some water from a nearby pump, he races to finish the chore before his neighbor—who owns a van—arrives to pick up the 16 gallons of fresh milk. After collecting the entire neighborhood’s milk, the man drives it to nearby Fez, where it is sold to city residents in time for breakfast.
Not all the milk is sold, however, and extra becomes fresh butter, yogurt, and a salty buttermilk drink called leben that is especially popular after Friday couscous.
“The butter is the best in Morocco,” Mohammed says as he spreads it generously on a slab of fresh bread. But he recognizes the tradeoffs. “Work here is hard. Sometimes I work twelve hours a day.” He points to his hands which are creased with dirt and tough from hard field and wonders what it would be like to live in the city. But like most residents, he ultimately insists that the country is the place for him. Stacy Wheeler MORE
April 5th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
There is some improvement in the lives of twenty six Sbaa Rouadi men. At least for now. The men are working construction on what will be a school for Islamic studies in the village. The project is funded by the Association Abi Bakr Essedik for Education, according to Abdesselam Bouchokhi, the accountant for the project. In Morocco, private associations are building schools because the government of Morocco fails to provide all the schools that are needed. Still, while this construction project is providing temporary work for the men of the village, it is not a permanent solution to economic development here. Louis Zeller
Even for graduates of the new school, there’s no guarantee of a job, says Bouchikhi . And while tuition, room and board will be free for the more than 200 students, the school is only for men. Bouchikhi says “no women from the village will be able to attend.” Princess Goodridge
Despite these challenges some people in the village are able to achieve an education – even an advanced one. Youssef Rahmouni holds a BA in English literature and is currently pursuing a second BA in history. Rahmouni’s family hosted student journalist Veronica Jean Seltzer. Seltzer interviewed Rahmouni and started by asking what made him want to get a higher education.
Rahmouni: The first motivation is the prophet, peace be upon him. When I was a child I always wanted to read books-philosophy, literature. I was motivated to read religious books about the prophet and how he was so humble and intelligent to unite the Arabs. I was inspired by him, his communication style. I don’t know, maybe I’ll be like him. Second is my Mom. She’s so loving. I want to help the family financially and socially. The University is two hours there and two back. Leaves you no time to revise, no time to read, but I did my best to continue.
Seltzer: We certainly did not expect to have such a scholarly host brother. What do you think about that?
R: I’m not the only intellectual here. Perhaps because I speak English we can exchange ideas. Language is just a window through which we express ourselves. The others are intellectual too. They just can’t speak.
S: Do you think you’re different from other villagers?
R: Yes, maybe I’m different. I have thoughts, ideology. I’m similar in the life; I suffer like them, I want to change things.
S: What do you see for yourself in the future?
R: I dream to improve the life of the people here. One can only do this through politics. To take their voice, the real voice, to the right hands. People should benefit from politics, not become victims of politics.
S: What is your favorite part of living here?
R: Its calm, peace, good people. Peaceful in terms of nature, people. Not in terms of politics. We’re fighting to gain our rights, to fight the corruptor, to achieve development. This is a daily challenge.
S: Could you imagine living anywhere else?
R: No, I don’t imagine myself living somewhere else. This is my place. I’d fight to improve it and whenever I go I’d fight to come back. This is a humanitarian and religious principle. I would die for this place. MORE
April 5th, 2012 | By Mary Stucky
We entered a classroom packed with Moroccan women. A local NGO called Development and Solidarity had gathered the women together so that our group of American journalism students could talk with them. We ask questions about their lives and the women’s answers are full of dissension fueled by a passion for change. Busy from sunup to sundown, these women are the gears that make the village work. And they are angry. They are tired of being exploited by what they say are corrupt male politicians. They are concerned with healthcare, housing and their children’s lack of access to education. They do not seem to be afraid to voice their grievances. The picture they paint of the Moroccan woman is at odds with the stereotypical image of the submissive female who is at the beck and call of her husband and who does not speak in public. Soon, more women, children and a few men line up at the windows, peering in to see what is happening in that tiny room. Ashton Songer
Embroidery is the only source of income for the women here. Their work is intricate and beautiful – mostly wide, glittering gold and silver belts for kaftans, traditional Moroccan dresses. The belts are sold in Fez for 200-500 dirhams (23-60 USD), but the women only receive 100 dirhams for each belt which can take between two weeks and a month to embroider. The women say they don’t make enough money for all the hard work and want that to change.
“We want a union!” a young woman exclaims.
But the women say they do not know how to create an official union and anyway women in other villages do the same type of work. It would be easy for Fez merchants to switch villages if a union demanded higher wages. As it is now, the merchants bring embroidery supplies to the women and return later to collect the finished belts and hand women their payments.
Would it be possible to cut out the merchants altogether and sell the belts in Fez directly? La, la, (no) the women insist. It is not safe for a girl to go to Fez alone.
Couldn’t the men of the village take the belts to sell in Fez? The tone of the discussion sharpens. The women tell us they do not trust their brothers, sons, and husbands, adding they fear the men would spend the embroidery money in Fez, taking nothing back to the village.
These women clearly face daunting challenges but, like their counterparts in the classroom, they are outspoken and seem determined to improve their lives. Marie von Hafften MORE