This interview is a bit different than other ones. This time, we will shed light on the topic of gender inequality in Morocco in a different way – from the perspective of sports. Meet Miss Fatima Moradi and her husband: a Moroccan couple that has recently opened up their own gym. I meet them in the entrance hall of their gym – a modern and comfortable room in a relatively new area of Fés. Today, a monday, is their free day; still the Moradis have taken their day-off to answer some questions.
ME: Hello Miss Moradi! Thank you so much for having me today, even though it’s your day-off! Can you tell me something about how this place here came to existence?
FATIMA: Yes sure dear! Well, it all started with my and my husband’s interest in sporting. We first pursued an education in this field in Morocco, but then realized that somehow, what we were learning here in the country, was not enough. So to enlarge our knowledge, we two went to France and Spain and gained a lot of new valuable information there.
ME: Oh, that’s a lot of dedication! What new things could you learn abroad that were not possible in Morocco?
FATIMA: Well, we learned a lot about the anatomy of the human body there, and about how to cope with someone who has a health problem and wants to exercise. In my opinion, this is very important information, especially for Morocco: in general, people follow a rather unhealthy lifestyle and eating behavior here, which can easily lead to health problems. That is why a lot of people that come to our gym come on doctor’s orders. And then it is very important to know how to treat sick people, and on what workout routine to advise them on.
ME: And do you also see a lot of women coming to your gym?
FATIMA: Yes, a lot! Women of all ages and life stages come to us. Older women, housewives with children, and young girls. I would say that more women make up our clientele than men!
ME: I have heard (and observed) that Fés is a rather traditional city. To me, working out seems like something less traditional then, especially for women. Do you think that because of this, going to the gym in Morocco is different from the Western world?
FATIMA: Yes, the traditonal and cultural norms do influence Moroccan gyms. Something that is different from Europe, is the strict seperation of men and women. In almost no Moroccan gym that I know of, men and women train in the same rooms. And why is that? Because neither men or women would like it. But both for different reasons then. Men very often have the mindset that a woman should not do things like working out around a man. And this thought comes both from the husbands of the women working out and from random men just working out at the gym; almost every man shares this mindset.
ME: And what do women think about this seperation?
FATIMA: They are happy with it! Most women that come to me, would be very uncomfortable exercising around men. First of all, because of the mindset of their husbands, but also because men would most probably stare them down in the gym room – that’s not comfortable at all of course.
ME: Yes, then it is very understandable that both genders are in favor of seperate gym rooms. But are the rooms for men and women having the same equipment? Like, do men and women here work out in the same ways?
FATIMA: Hmm, not completely the same. We have one floor for men, and two floors for women. The men’s area mostly has stuff to train your muscles of course, since that is what men come for to the gym in the first place. And the women’s area has one room with similar equipment like for the men, but not as heavy. And the other floor that is designed for women, that consists of rooms for group lessons; dancing, yoga, and spinning are one of the things that our clients can do there.
ME: So if the second floor is for women as well, does that means that only women participate in these group lessons? And second question, what exactly do you mean by women’s equipment is ‘not as heavy’?
FATIMA: No, strictly speaking the floor for group lessons is not only for women. Men also like to go to spinning classes for example. But we have to be careful with the seperation of men and women then – first of all, we let men and women enter the group area only on different days; some days of the week for men, and some for women. And secondly, we have two seperate entrances/exits of the building, so that men and women never have to cross each other’s ways.
Wow. So many preparations just so that men and women would not see each other! Unimagineable in the gyms that I know. But, very understandable in this context.
FATIMA: And to come back to your second question, what I mean by the women’s equipment is ‘not as heavy’, is that women here in Morocco generally don’t exercise their muscles a lot. Here, the ideal or trend is not to be strong, but just to look fit and keep their figure. So for that reason, we don’t have all the same heavy equipment in the woman’s room. Because there is not really the demand. But, I’m also observing a slow change: it seems like slowly, more and more women do want to get stronger. But that is not the majority in Morocco yet.
ME: Oh, that’s interesting! Such a difference to Europe as well. I only know gyms for both men and women mixed, and there are many many women that use all the same equipment as men. And as a final question to you: Is there something about the sporting behavior in Morocco that you would change if you could?
FATIMA: One thing that I don’t like and wish I could change, is some people’s attitude towards sporting here in Morocco. There is a considerable amount of women that only exercises to please their husbands. What I mean by that, is that their husbands encourage them to go and workout in order to look physically good for the husband. And in my opinion, that is absolutely not what exercising is about. I would wish that everybody, men or woman, married or unmarried, would only workout for themselves and no one else. I don’t really like the old mindset. That is also what our gym’s slogan is about: ‘Choose to be different’ – in other words, work out because you want to, not because you have to! But at least, more and more people in Morocco are turning towars sporting – that’s always a good, healthy thing, be it because of doctor’s orders or because working out is the latest trend.
ME: Miss Moradi, it was a pleasure to get this very different, and very interesting view on Moroccan women from you. Thank you so much!
I leave the gym with a good feeling in my stomach. This is a different way of empowering women: By encouraging them to do something solely for themselves. Exercising may seem like a rather normal thing to us in the Western world, but for a woman here, to workout only for herself and because she wants it – that is a step towards more freedom and equality.