- Marriage: Being a girl in the MENA region in general and in Morocco in particular, you will face pressure to get married basically every day of your life! The pressure gets higher once YOU hit 20; if you attend a family wedding you should expect to receive prayers and blessings about your future wedding… may it happen soon! If you take a cab and the driver is talkative, you should expect to be asked if you’re married… if the answer is NO, you will be served a monologue on why are you wasting your “YOUTH” by not getting married?!!. Same thing if you decide to treat yourself to a haircut, manicure or whatever in a salon. You will certainly be asked the crucial question “are you married yet?” again, if you answer with “NO”brace yourself to hear all the stories of the girls who regret not getting married when they were in their 20s.
2. Education: The region is developing in terms of education for girls, but that does not mean that we are tackling all the problems girls face during their education. We often hear girls complaining about so called “privileges” they benefit from. I call them awful inequalities! Many girls get a better treatment from their male teachers if they show up wearing sexy clothes or simply because they are beautiful.Why would you call this a privilege?! Teachers are teachers are taking advantage of their students and are considering them as sexual objects. Another issue is the ordeals most girls need to face to pursue higher education. The majority of girls in Morocco get married at about 19/20 years old and are not allowed to continue to go to school after. And finally: safety! We are are not safe outside of our homes. Even on the way to school we are the victims of harassment, theft, catcalling…- some girls even quit school so they don’t have to leave their home. Too often the families are happy with this decision as it is traditionally accepted that women should be daughters, wives or mothers before anything else.
3. Responsibilities: Unlike boys, most of the girls take on heavy responsibilities at a young age: most mothers force their girls to do housework (cleaning, cooking and taking care of the younger siblings) instead of equally dividing it between their sons and daughter. And the family honor! Grls in our region must protect their honor, stay pure and discreet. When boys can go out, party and have sex without hurting their family image.
4.Depression: It is not a temporary state of mind that a person can go through but it is an illness, however, in our region we don’t we don’t consider it as such. Even worse, we can blame the person affected! with the multiple sources of stress and pressure that women face in our societies, it is not surprising to learn that most people affected by depression in our country are women: marriage, future, studies, job, catcalling and more.It doesn’t stop. Depression and mental illnesses are so taboo that many girls don’t even know that this is what they are suffering from.They think that they are sad because they are not able to accomplish everything society expects from them.
5.Body Image:Having the perfect body is the dream of all girls around the world, thanks to media. Repeating that there is only ONE way to be pretty and accepted can ruin a person’s self-esteem. the MENA region and Morocco. Girls are supposed to look their best for men. The market of beauty products and diet pills is growing in Morocco and they target younger and younger girls who feel they have no other purpose than to be desirable.
6. Sexual harassment: Once a girl steps out her home, she faces sexual harassment. Men and even women might argue that the victim is not wearing appropriate clothes… but let’s face it, even women in niqab get harassed! It is not about what we wear, or how much makeup we wear. It is not about the way we walk or if our head is covered or not. It is about men feeling entitled to insult, touch or follow girls and women because they feel superior, because society teaches them that it is ok to do so. I don’t know one girl in my country who doesn’t fear for her safety when she walks in the street… because she knows that if something happens, nobody will help her.
7. NO mistake allowed: Girls in the MENA region are supposed to be ANGELS; not even a single mistake is tolerated. If a girl takes a sexy picture of herself, it is considered a mistake, if she talks to a guy or God forbid DATES a guy, she is making a huge mistake and will be judged and condemned simultaneously. And of course if she ever has sex before she gets married, she might be rejected by her entire family…because she should be a saint and mistakes ARE SIMPLY NOT ALLOWED.
8. Independence: It is hard for girls in the MENA region to live the way they want. In a patriarchal culture girls are expected to go from their parents’home to their husband’s. We can hardly live alone unless we are working or studying in a place far from home and if our parents are extra-understanding. We also can’t be out late at night because only “BOYS” can go out at night. If a girl contradicts the rules she will be shamed.
9. LEADERSHIP: Of course you may think there are a lot of women’s movements in our region and enough female leaders – sorry but that’s not true- Girls must work three times as hard than men to become a leader girls are still considered inferior to men and cannot achieve as much as they wish they could.
Those are only 9 of the various issues women and girls need to face in our region. I face them every single day. It is time to tackle those issues one by one… because we deserve it, all of us.