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A woman in Morocco

Kaitlyn Rabach | Monday, November 5, 2012

IFRANE, Morocco  My decision to study abroad in Morocco shocked many of my family and friends.

“Why would you want to go to North Africa at this time? It is not safe,” my mom said repeatedly.

Before leaving, I mentally prepared myself for the exchange. I read up on Moroccan culture, checked what clothing items were deemed appropriate to wear and looked up popular sites. I was aware that the gender dynamic would be different than in the States, but after just two months in this country, I realize how deeply engrained a patriarchal system is in Moroccan society.

I have had enjoyed many wonderful experiences here. My friends and I have hiked mountains, cliff-jumped into the Atlantic Ocean, tasted tagine and drank mint tea. All of these experiences, however, have been tainted by the natural entitlement of men. On my hike, the guide took it upon himself to stare at my chest, and when I jumped into the Atlantic, men catcalled me from above. Walking into town for my afternoon tea, I am beckoned into the cars of strange men. Some men even go so far as to physically touch you.

These experiences are emotionally draining and can take away from the overall beauty and positive qualities of the most liberal and politically stable North African country. What I have come to realize is how truly lucky I am to be a woman in the United States. Being a foreign blonde in this country has caused me to reevaluate patriarchy and feminism, but it has also encouraged me to learn about the day-to-day lives of rural Moroccan women.

On Oct. 20, my Women and Economic Development class took a trip to the small village of Zawiyat in the Middle Atlas. We visited one of Morocco’s many women’s weaving cooperatives. The Middle Atlas region is the poorest region in Morocco and is known as the graveyard of development projects. Women in this region work long hours to provide for their families but often have little control over their finances. When we met the women from this cooperative, their faces gleamed with pride when they showed us their work. Their rugs, quilts and traditional wares were beautiful and priced quite reasonably. My peers and I bought many items and were happy to hand the women Moroccan dirham, the country’s currency. We were saddened to see many of these women give the money directly to their husbands after making the sale. Some of these quilts took months or even a year to make, but once a sale was made, most of these women did not have a say where the money went or how it was spent.

Each household is run differently, but after doing research and speaking with the women and professors, it is clear that the majority of women are the sole providers for their families but do not control their own finances.

This system of patriarchy is very different from that of the United States. Third-wave feminists in the States are fighting for reproductive rights and working to change the media’s perception of beauty, but here in Morocco, I sometimes feel unsafe venturing outside the campus walls.

Morocco is a beautiful country, full of mountains and beaches. It is also home to the Sahara Desert. I would recommend traveling here, but I will admit there is no way, as a woman, to truly mentally prepare for the strong patriarchal attitude of many Moroccan men. It is something you have to experience, and it will change your life forever. My decision to study abroad in Morocco may have surprised many of my family and friends, but I would not trade this experience for anything. Now I personally know what it means to be a female outside of the United States and am more proud than ever to claim the identity of a woman.

Contact Kaitlyn Rabach at krabac01@saintmarys.edu