Today I met up with an interesting young man – Mehdi, a medical student at the University of Fés. He is currently in his 6th year, as he tells me, at the end of his studies. I first met Mehdi in a café that I go to very often: Café La Terrasse, my and my friends’ go-to place (it has airco, WiFi and coffee – what more could you ask for?). I am at this café almost everyday, and last weekend, after coming back from a trip to Rabat, me and my friends stopped at the café for some coffee. We have become friends with the waiter there, Youssef, although he doesn’t speak English. So, like many other times, Youssef asked one of his other customers to help him in translating to us. This someone turned out to be Mehdi – after he had helped us in translating, I got into a conversation with him. He was friendly enough to talk with me about men and women in Morocco.
ME: Hello Mehdi, thank you so much for your time! Can we first start with introducing yourself?
MEHDI: Yes sure! I am a medical student at the public University of Fés. Right now I’m in my sixth year, which means that I’m in my internship year. After this, I will take my final test in november of this year, and hopefully after that I will be able to start with a job.
ME: So you’re almost at the end of your studies! How did you experience your studies and your co-students?
MEHDI: Well, there was definitely a difference to my studies during highschool. I went to a private highschool in Fés, and all the people that were around me shared the same or a similar mindset. I grew up with those people. And things were loose. I was hanging around with boys and girls, and no matter what gender you were, we all greeted each other in the same way: with three kisses on the cheeks.
ME: So did the situation change when you started to study at your university?
MEHDI: Yes, things changed a lot. First of all, I went to a private highschool, but my University is a public one. In Fés, there is a shortage of private medschools, so I chose to go to the public University of Fés. A public university means that all kinds of different people come together. In my highschool, there were not many girls wearing a hijab (= islamic headscarf), but in my faculty there are a lot, I would say around 40%. I always think that girls wearing a hijab are more conservatively thinking, so I don’t really approach them from my own initiative. And even girls that used to go to highschool with me, are different now. They have changed the way they behave, they have changed the way they greet me: we shake hands now. Even though we used to kiss each other’s cheeks before!
ME: Oh wow, that really is a remarkable change! Why do you think this change happens even in girls that used to be different before?
MEHDI: It is because of the dominant opinion among students. That a girl should be a certain way: Not talk or hang out with boys, don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Although smoking is completely fine and tolerated for men.
ME: Okay, so it seems like men are granted much more freedoms than women. Is that also the case regarding work opportunities? I mean, is it as easy for a woman to get a job in the medical field as it is for men?
MEHDI: No, there are differences regarding the job opportunities for men and women. There are certain fields in medicine that you could say are ‘typical men jobs’: all the surgical specialties for example are mostly done by men. Why is that, I ask him. It is because in these jobs, doctors often have to work in the middle of the night, and that is not something women want to do. Working during the night – that is something for men. And, surgical jobs require more strength, again something that is more suitable for men.
ME: Interesting! And what is the popular opinion about women and work, marriage and family life?
MEHDI: Of course almost every girl dreams about having children at some point.
ME: But what about their careers then? Would they stop working or studying after givng birth? Or balance family and work life?
MEHDI: Well, it depends on the girl and her specific situation. Some of them get married during studies, and in that case it can happen that they stop with their studies because their husband says so. Others just keep studying or working after marriage, but it all depends on the mentality of the girl and her husband.
ME: And how does a couple find and get to know each other here? Is the idea of having a boyfriend existent here in Fés and in general Morocco?
MEHDI: Here in Fés, there are some families that allow their children to have a partner before marriage. But it is not the norm. Still, the girls want to choose their parner themselves more and more. This happens especially here in Fés, and not so much on the countryside. There, in the rural areas, people’s mindsets are still very conservative: everybody sees the woman as made for being a housewife, studies and work are not even up for question. And, the women themseleves participate in this way of thinking as well! Also, in those areas the families mostly arrange the marriages. But to come back to Fés, here you can see more and more young people walking around with their boyfriend/girlfriend.
ME: If I may ask you, what does your family think about this topic?
MEHDI: My family has always been very open-minded and loose regarding this topic, and I am very grateful for that. My parents have both studied in France, so they adapted the European mindset, and now they don’t like to interfer in their children’s lives. My two sisters are currently studying abroad, one in France and one in Canada, and they are not married yet. But unlike many other parents, my parents are not putting the idea and pressure of marriage into their minds. I personally am not a big fan of the general Moroccan mentality: to interfer into your children’s lives and to treat the woman as inferior.
ME: That is so nice to hear! But if you don’t like this mentality and it seems to be an option for your family to study abroad, why did you stay in Morocco?
MEHDI: Because of my parents. Now that my sisters are gone, I am the only left they have. So I can’t just go and leave them. Although I do really like the European way of thinking.
ME: And what do you think is the source for the problem in Morocco? Why is there this mentality to treat men and women that differently? it sometimes not allowed that the children can choose themselves who to marry?
MEHDI: I think, that the main poblem is the fact that the Islam is mixed together with our constitution. In my opinion, the religion has nothing to do in there. It can be practiced by everyone that wants to, but should not be mixed with a country’s laws. But, it’s not really allowed to talk about this: A law in the constitution itself forbids to raise the voice against the king, and any uprising against him is punished by 20 years in prison(?). So, this issue cannot even be tackled.
Another big problem here in Fés is that a lot of families that are Faissi (coming from Fés) want their children to marry another Faissi person. And often, they don’t accept anyone else, you have to be born and raised in Fés in order to marry a Faissi person. This very conservative rule stems from the past: Fés used to be the first capital of Morocco, and thus the first city in which the king resided. Since then, a lot of Faissi people feel like they are more worth and more noble than people coming from other Moroccan cities. This can be a very difficult situation for young boys and girls that don’t share this old mindset and want to marry someone outside of Fés.
ME: Yes, I can absolutely imagine.
I really can imagine how these young Moroccan people must feel like. Many Pakistani families have similar thoughts – and want their children to only marry someone who is Pakistani as well. This puts a lot of young Pakistanis with other values into a difficult situation. The struggle is real.
ME: Considering that your family does not set you such boundaries – may I ask you what you are looking for in a future partner?
MEHDI: For me it’s very important that my future partner feels like she is equal to me. I don’t like this different women-treatment at all. And, I would like for her to work as well – we can both share our household together. I would like to cook for my wife!
ME: Very well! Thank you so much for your time Mehdi, it was really nice talking to you!
It was really nice, indeed. To hear someone talk who is on the side of women.