woman hauling firewood

Happy International Women’s Day? Not in Morocco

I’d like to wish all of you a Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s all do what we can to #BeBoldForChange.

I would really like it to be a happy day for women in Morocco, too, but from what I’ve seen over the past few months, I doubt that it will be.

While travelling around Morocco, I’ve seen women in Morocco:

  • hauling huge bundles of firewood like mules
  • being told by their husband who they can and can’t talk to
  • being prevented by their husband from giving their contact details to my wife
  • working in junior roles and deferring to men on any important decision

Here’s a photo that my wife, Genie, took in the Ourika Valley near Marrakesh:


I saw a woman in Meknes being physically attacked by a man on a busy street. After I tried to intervene, I was told by a bystander (a man, of course) that it was none of my business—it was for the two of them to work out.

I’ve seen women in Morocco making the most beautiful textiles by hand, the famous Berber rugs that tourists pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for, and yet almost all of the people I’ve seen selling them and making the money are men. The women often get paid barely enough to cover the cost of the materials.

I’ve seen signs for “women’s collectives” all over Morocco, and although some of them are genuine, I’ve discovered that many are just shops owned by men who realised that the sign would appeal to tourists.

Women weaving carpets in M'Rirt
Women weaving carpets at a real women’s cooperative in M’rirt, Morocco. Without access to the tourist markets, they will probably only get a fraction of their product’s true worth.

I haven’t seen women in positions of genuine power. In rural areas, I don’t even see them socialising in the way men do. It’s shocking, sometimes, to look around in a cafe or a square full of people, and to realise that all of the dozens of people laughing and joking around are men. The women are mostly seen running errands or doing shopping. For a few weeks in the far south, I didn’t even see women doing simple things like riding a motorbike.

On top of all this, I’ve seen my own wife treated with immense disrespect by men. I’ve seen her ignored and abused and patronised. I’ve seen men turn to me to answer a question that she has asked.

I know that these are my subjective experiences as an outsider to a culture, so I did some research, and what I discovered was even worse than what I’ve seen.

  • Two thirds of Moroccan women have experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic violence, according to a national survey.
  • More than half (55%) reported “conjugal” violence and 13.5% reported “familial” violence.
  • Only 3% had reported it to the authorities.
  • Moroccan state TV aired a “beauty tips” segment on hiding the bruises after a beating.

  • According to a survey in a rural area, 83% of women were married before 18, and 91% of the women were illiterate.
  • A law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they married their victim was only recently repealed after a suicide that drew international attention.
  • More than half of Moroccan women cannot read or write, a figure that rises to 71.8% in the countryside.

Yesterday I met a Moroccan human rights activist. When I told her that women seemed like second-class citizens here, she laughed and said, “More like third or fourth.”

I know that my experiences as a tourist here in Morocco have barely scratched the surface of what life must be like for women here. And from accounts I’ve read online, other visitors have seen or been victims of much worse harassment. Even more depressingly, I know that there are other countries in which women are treated even worse.

So I want to wish the women of Morocco a Happy International Women’s Day, and to suggest that perhaps they could take some inspiration from Beyoncé…


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There are 4 comments

  1. It´s a shame the way women are treated in some(most?) countries… In first world countries things got so much better during the 20th century, it’s really a shame that in other countries it seems only to get worse. Rich countries like Iran, where women enjoyed so much more freedom than they do today. This is a men’s world all over… Quite depressing 🙁

    1. Hi Isolete, You are right! It’s very depressing. I don’t think there’s true equality anywhere, but at least in most European countries and some other places it feels as if progress is being made. It’s horrible when things are going in the opposite direction.

  2. Andrew, how exciting to open my WSJ on Monday, March 27, 2017 and find you and Genie staring at me! Wonderful article both on Tangier and also the fair presentation of both sides of your chosen lifestyle. I look forward to more both in the paper and in your newsletter. Loved the dialogue on “Sense of an Ending”….what a complicated set of relationships….certainly promotes great discussion. Tell Genie it’s her turn to be out front in the next picture….be well and safe travel.


    1. Hi Virginia,
      So glad that you saw that article. I didn’t know you were a WSJ reader! Genie is very camera-shy, so the only way I could get her to pose for a photo for the newspaper at all was to promise that she could hide behind me as much as possible! But maybe she’s used to the idea now, so yes, next time she can go in front!!

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