On Saturdays, for 2 hours in the afternoon I facilitate a Girl’s Club. It’s a space for girls to come as they are, do as they like, and say as they like. This might not seem like much of anything, but in Morocco public space belongs to men. That translates into men EVERYWHERE all the time, outside. Cafe’s, clubs, places of business, most restaurants, football fields, parks are mostly occupied by men. Women belong in the home, or at least, inside buildings. You know in movies and on tv shows, when girlfriends get together for drinks or go out to lunch at some sidewalk cafe and then spend the afternoon shopping? Nothing like that happens here, and it’s something I’ve dearly missed since living here – feeling free enough to be outside and not worry about some creepy guys staring or yelling or worse following me. Sadly, this is a reality for almost all women in Morocco.
All this to say that starting a Girl’s Club at the Dar Chebab – a place and time JUST for girls, was definitely new. My Mudhir (director) didn’t understand exactly what we were going to do: “Why is it just for girls?” “Aren’t you going to teach English?” “What will you be doing with them?” Thankfully, I have a good relationship with him and I just told him we were going to be doing some activities, nothing big. This was over a year ago. Fast forward to March, and I have a solid group of 5 girls who meet with me every week. It has morphed into a mix of English lessons (per their request) and either some games or jewelry making or aerobics. We all have a lot of fun together, and I’m grateful to spend time with them and that they even want to spend time with some dorky foreigner.
This particular Saturday, however, was more than just a meeting – it turned out into one of the best sessions we’ve ever had and I have this article to thank: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/14/iraq-child-marriage-bill_n_4962247.html#slide=2743994
I hope you took time to read it, because it’s appalling. In every sense of the word. Whenever I read something like this, it’s so hard for me not to be filled with intense anger, indignation, frustration, and bewilderment at the state of our world today. I get so flustered that I can’t complete my sentences and poor Tom hears my cries of: “Oh my God! I can’t even…” “I don’t understand…” “You’ve got to be kidding….!” “How is this…?” I’ve always had an interest in Women’s Rights and issues ever since high school when my history teacher gave us an article about mass rapes and killings in the D.R.C. (Dem. Rep. of Congo). After reading that article, I was scarred. And it was a good thing. It was about time I woke up from my comfortable slumber as a white, middle-class American. It was time that I realized equal rights are still a dream for some. It was time that I got angry and asked questions. The thing about waking up is the burden of responsibility for taking action that lies before you. Now that I know, I have a choice: to either throw my hands in the air and say “Well, what can I do? No point in worrying about something I couldn’t possibly fix.” Or, I could say: “Here I am. I am willing to do something, anything.” I can’t just lie back and claim ignorance.
10 years later and here I am. In Figuig. Teaching English and Aerobics and leading a Girl’s Club. This is not some ploy to toot my own horn, nor to get you to feel any sort of ’awe’ at what I’m doing. This is just my story. Going back to that article in high school – I read it. I was forever changed. And I was eager to do something, but like any well meaning, naive person I had no idea what came next. My default for wanting to do something is to read about it. So I began reading anything I could about Women’s Issues around the world: Girl’s Education, Human Trafficking, Child Soldiers, etc. It was crucial for me to learn as much as I could from people doing the work, and more importantly, from the affected women themselves.
I will go ahead and assume that people who want to join the Peace Corps, do so because they want to do good. That’s why we joined. I took this as my opportunity to do some good, and to learn as much as I could from my future community. After living here for 2 years and experiencing life as a woman in another context, I can say with full confidence that my passion for Women’s issues has only increased with great fervor. There are things that I have now experienced for myself, things I wouldn’t wish on another person. Things that have happened to me because I am a woman. And for no other reason. Just because I am a woman. This blatant discrimination unfortunately fills me with rage. A big word, I know, but that’s what consumes me at times. It drives me and pushes me to stand by women and give them the opportunity and space to be heard. This is why a Girl’s Club matters in my tiny desert town. This is why I love my job. Some days I don’t feel like working, but if I don’t show up on Saturdays, the girls don’t meet and they just walk back home. Walk back inside.
I downloaded the UN Declaration of Human Rights in Arabic and we listened to the video and took notes on what they heard. Then they had a pretty intense discussion on what it means to be free and whether or not they feel like free women in their country. *This is not some post about the ills of Morocco, or even the ills of men everywhere.* This is about equality and fairness and justice for girls all over the world. Then, we discussed what they would put into law if they were the “King” of Morocco and I wanted to share with you what they said: *This is in their own words. The words of: Soukaina, Aisha, Amel, FatimZahara, and Zineb.
“SECURITY: Protect women from harassment and violence. Women can marry whom they like. Respect women. Men must be faithful to women. Women are free to do anything as they like. Women are free to work for a salary and have job security. Women and Men are equal under the law. Free to go to school and finish school. Free to live.”
I hope that these inherent rights will be more than a dream for my girls and for girls and women everywhere. We are worth it.
Here’s a photo of our discussion board today. Apologize for the low quality, it was taken with my ipod.
My Girl’s Club! From left: FatimZahra, Soukaina, Zineb, Aisha, and Amel. They’re holding their notes on the UN Declaration of Human Rights.