If I’m not travelling around Morocco on the weekends, I am mostly sitting in cafés with my two dutch friends. We are all three participating in the Nour Project: a project that is focused on bridging the gap between the Arab and the Western world. And my way of doing that is through this blog: by sharing personal stories of Moroccan people with you guys and hearing about the country directly and getting rid of possible stereotypes. (Not all of my future blogposts will be connected to the Nour Project though: this is only about my posts in Morocco).
By now, me and my friends basically know all the good cafés in our area. One day, when we were sitting in a new coffee shop, I got into a conversation with a young Moroccan man named Alae. Since I am interested in the male point of view on womenrights as well, I asked him if I could interview him about it. Yesterday I met up with him again, to get to know about his story and his experiences with gender inequality in Morocco.
ME: Hey Alae, thanks a lot for coming here again! Let’s first start with your story. What are you working as and what path brought you there?
ALAE: No problem, it is my pleasure! I am working as a marketing assistant here in Fés. A lot of different companies come to us for help in marketing; my job is then to help them sell their products.
ME: Ah, that sounds like an interesting job!
ALAE: Yes, it is indeed a very interesting job. Especially because it sometimes is closely related to psychology: the psychology of how to make people buy a certain product. Another thing that I really enjoy is my personal space to develop myself – my job gives me the space to make mistakes and learn from them. That makes things much more relaxed. But I must say, one thing that I am missing in my job is the space for creativity. Most of the time, I have to follow old logistic rules, and I wish I could have more space regarding that.
ME: So what made you choose for this profession?
ALAE: I chose it myself, kind of. After I had finished highschool, I had no clue what to do with my life. What education to get, what career to pursue, I had no idea. And here in Morocco, it is very difficult to inform yourself as a young person about the options that you have. So, I turned to my parents for help. And they suggested that I should study logistics and transportation.
ME: And why did they choose this field for you?
ALAE: This is a relatively new field in Morocco, and the job perspectives are pretty good. And it’s expanding quickly. In Tanger (a big port city in the north of Morocco), many many companies are starting to invest in this particular branch. So my parents saw this as a good opportunity for me. Actually I could have stayed working in Tanger, but because my family lives in Fés, I had to come back for them. But in Fés, there is actually not much. Not many companies, conservative mindsets, and so on. I only came back for my family.
ME: You say conservative minds. What do you mean by that?
ALAE: Well, let’s take the example of men and women. In Tanger, people (especially girls) are not limited in anything. Religion does not play an influential role on people’s behavior, girls can dress and behave like however they want, no restrictions on them.
In Fés on the other hand, girls can’t do much stuff. Most families are very conservative, as you can see in the huge amount of hijabis in the city. I have studied 3 years in Fés, and 2 years in Tanger, and I could see a huge difference in the girls. In Fés, the girls would almost never talk to guys, never go out with them, even if it’s in a big group with both girls and boys. I must say that not everybody is like that, the girls that I just described mostly come from Errachidia, a small town close to Fés. In Fés, I feel like young people’s mindsets are slowly changing: they see the trends in Europe and want to imitate them. For example, I know some people that have a boyfriend or girlfriend here; that is something that was not here before. But now, you see more and more unmarried people in relationships. Although, most parents don’t approve of this. You see, there is a big clash of mindsets happening: the youth looks to Europe and wants to imitate the western norms, but the parents stay in their more conservative mindsets and oppose this movement.
ALAE: So, to give a concrete example of the clash of mentalities: During my studies, me and my friends went for parties sometimes, or came home with a girl by our side, our parents didn’t like to see that – and insisted that I either stay outside or leave the girl outside. The same stories can be heard by many students that have differing mindsets from their parents; there is this intense struggle.
ME: And what do you think is the source of this difference?
ALAE: First of all, in Morocco, being different is not tolerated. If you show thoughts and behavior that are different from the rest of the society, poople will not look at you in a favourable way. No, people will start to accuse you, even without any facts! They will just say anything against you, because Moroccan society is scared. They are scared of new things, and scared to lose their old traditions. Of course they have a point, but in my opinion, change is very important. If everybody would be the same, then why are we in this world? We should accept different types of people, and embrace their differences in a warm way. But sadly, I see a lot of Moroccans that are too scared of new things and just stop thinking in their fear. They rather push away anything different without asking themselves: ‘Why actually?’. Yeah, people often don’t really question their actions, don’t think about it. I am very different in that sense.
‘If everybody would be the same, then why are we in this world?’
ME: Do you know many people that share your viewpoint on this topic?
ALAE: Well, most of my friends are more open-minded. In general, among students your can find more openness than among the older generation. But really my mindset, I don’t know a lot of people that share that. That can be difficult and lonely at times. But I am fine with that; I am certain about some things that I find important, and being open and accepting to new things is one of them. Another thing that I find important is the freedom of both genders. I see a lot of women in Morocco still stuggling. Especially in small cities, like Errachidia, the city we were talking about before, women have so much to do. Their husbands give them tasks, their children, and the household. And some of them even combine their housework with work outside. It is a bit better in big cities though; in Fés for example, women have more freedom, they can take the big decisions in their life themselves, like choosing their studies or the person they want to marry. But one thing that does limit women, independent of living in a big or small city, is the family’s financial situation: If a woman comes from a poor family, then she cannot really choose her husband herself, but she has to keep her familly in mind. Her future husband has to be rich in order to sustain her, so that limits the options of course. But as a rich or upper-class girl in a big city, you are basically free to do anything.
But, only BASICALLY. In reality, the society and their judging eyes is in the way quite often. There is this inofficial rule in Morocco, that a husband always have to be in a higher position than his wife. So this means, a woman that has a better job than a man, cannot marry him! So you see, that people often find money and social status more important than love. And IF a couple still gets married and the woman is in a better position than her husband, then this couple will be criticized their entire life. For me, mutual understanding is most important in a relationship – if I would meet a woman that would have a higher or better job than me, that would be completely fine for me. I’m not scared of what society thinks about me. Of course I would talk to my parents about that future relationship, but otherwise I would take the decision and not the society around me. And in my opinion, that is how it should be like.
ME: That is such a nice way to see things. This way of fearless thinking can be an example to others! Thank you so much Alae, for sharing your point of view with us. I wish you lots of success with your career!