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How Morocco is trying to address rampant sexual harassment

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In the summer of 2017, a video of four boys between the ages of 15 and 17 was circulated widely. The boys were depicted tearing off the clothes of a girl with learning difficulties on a public bus in Casablanca. That same summer, many Moroccans were shocked upon the release of a widely viewed video of a group of young men harassing a girl in the streets of Tangier. It’s not surprising, therefore, that that same year, 2017, Forbes listed Morocco as the second most dangerous country in the world to which women can travel. The U.S. State Department backs this ranking up in that it warns tourists of Morocco’s "violence, pickpocketing, and harassment of women."

Earlier this year, the Moroccan government, thanks in no small part to complaints made by women’s rights organizations, finally acknowledged the country’s problem with harassment by passing the Violence Against Women Act in February. The law aims to provide protections for survivors of of violence, criminalizes some forms of domestic violence, and establishes prevention measures. The law defines sexual harassment as unsolicited acts, statements, or signals of a sexual nature, delivered in person, online, or via telephone. It also provides measures stipulating punishment for people who try to force someone into marriage using violence or the threat of violence. Those found guilty of violating the law face prison terms ranging from one month to five years and fines from $200 to $1,000.

While some women's rights advocates have called this law, which officially went into effect in August, a “good start,” many say that it still does not sufficiently combat sexual harassment. There are major gaps in the legislation that prevent reaching this goal, according to activists, for a few reasons. One is the lack of seriousness with which the legal system and police still treat reports of harassment and the reality that many harassers, particularly those who are powerful, often benefit from widespread "impunity." Morocco suffers from widespread corruption, bribery, and exploitation of influence generally, and so the political, financial, and technocratic Moroccan elite are often granted impunity when accused of illegal activity. This is why the country ranks 81st on the latest Transparency International report.

Another gap in the legislation is due to Morocco’s culture. According to one study, around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco is subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence, and nearly 90 percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once. Sexual violence is so normalized in Moroccan culture, therefore, that many women do not report harassment or violence they experience. They also refrain due to the fear that their complaint would result in scandal without any legal justice. Just one reason for this reality, Stephanie William Bordat, who has worked with NGOs promoting women’s rights across Morocco for more than 17 years, told Newsweek in 2016, is that "men here feel like they deserve women’s bodies, and they have to express it verbally or they will not be male."

Though the new law is insufficient for these reasons, rates of harassment in Morocco have dropped since the act was implemented. At least some women feel more confident complaining to the police about harassment, like the women who filed a lawsuit against three harassers the first morning the law was activated. But in order to fully eradicate the phenomenon of widespread violence against women in Morocco, it’s undeniable that our society must address the roots of the problem, namely the content of our country’s education system, laws, and media that all reinforce the normalization of male domination.



More articles by Category: International, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Africa, Sexualized violence, Domestic violence, Gender Based Violence, Sexual harassment
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Khalid Bencherif
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