Ibtissam El Azrak: "The Moroccan education system perpetuates a degrading image of women"
I want to share with you an interview I made to Ibtissam, a moroccan social activist and journalist who is part of the community of World Pulse.I believe we have to work together for commons objectives and also help us each other to VISIBILIZE what we are doing.
This Interview was published in spanish in www.webislam.com
The journalist and social activist considered difficult the situation of women in her country, but is optimistic about the changes generated from citizen activism.
Ibtissam El Azrak is a woman from the Rif. She came from Alhoceima to Casablanca for completing high school and college. She is graduated in Literature and a Master in Communication. Thanks to a Fulbright scholarship in the United States, increased her skills in intercultural communication. She volunteers in her community and is a social activist in rural areas. She belongs to a generation of young people between 18 and 35 years, from different areas, taking into their own hands the task of building a fairer society in Morocco.
Tell me, what was your motivation to get involved in social activism?
I always had desire to contribute to my society. I cannot give from material, but also, I know that everything starts with a little of our time and energy. Society gives us many things and need to return some of us. I want to be useful to my community. Give time to others is very rewarding. Because we get much in return too. It is also rewarding to say that thanks to your commitment and of other volunteers’, the services may exist and remain.
In this sense, what kind of activities have you done and in which are you involved today?
Currently I volunteer at a social center for elderly in Rabat. The center operates from September 2008. It was created to benefit the homeless and elderly people living in a difficult situation. The Center provides support in terms of accommodation, food, medical and general welfare to the elderly people without resources or family support, and contributes to improving theirs lives in situations of instability. At that time there are 22 men and 13 women. All persons over 60 years old. I have also participated in campaigns to promote the use of birth control methods in rural areas and villages, targeting illiterate population.
What do you think of the social situation of women in Morocco?
Personally, I see the situation of women in Morocco has made great advances in recent decades. The adoption of a new family code was a very important stage in the process of promoting the rights of Moroccan women. Considering that the Family Code provides many innovations, such as the legal age for marriage, which was set at 18 years for boys and girls, polygamy, which has been regulated with strict conditions and instituted the consensual divorce.
According to Ibtissam, while these measures are a qualitative change, its impact is not seen in depth, since they are not operational:
"These rules have benefited Moroccan women and are very nice in the laws, but, does it apply? The equality of men and women, despite the declarations of the new family code remains on paper. Neither divorce nor polygamy are truly regulated and so many things that have to do with equality, are not well resolved, as the subject of heritage. "
So What is, in your opinion, the obstacles for a greater equality for women in Morocco?
The biggest enemy of change, is the image that still is given to woman about herself. The problem is in the minds of people. While women are present in all areas of social activity, despite their educational background often exceeds of men, the educational system perpetuates a degrading image of women. This is very sad.
As a journalist, El Azrak is conscious and alert about the importance of messages circulating in society about the image of women. On this point, she says:
"You see in school textbooks, the illustrations of books. She continues to be the housewife whose world is limited to cooking and childcare. It is not just in education. Everything in society perpetuates a degrading image of women. It starts in school, for those who are lucky enough to go, still at home or at work, for those who have one, is present in the street, everywhere.
There are media in Morocco, visible and pervasive, that spread a conservative discourse, using modern clothing. For example, Moroccans today are "in love" with some television networks from the East, the Gulf countries. People watch channels from countries where women have still at a very low situation in comparison to men, which sometimes are not even entitled to vote. "
What you describe is interesting as proving stereotypical female roles is a recurring element in all societies, not just the West. However, Moroccan women seem to be more liberated than other Muslim countries or not?
"If you're in Morocco, you could say" But what are you talking about? Moroccan women are very nice! ". I'll tell you: You come to the major cities and from that you talk about the situation of women. You have to see what happens to rural women, alone in their villages, still live under the authority of father, husband or brother, suffering from lack of access to basic services like health or education. Here still a woman is considered the weaker sex, and this is because education. "
From her experience as an activist for women's rights, she shares the following story:
"I remember one day a woman asked me to help her, because she has five children to feed. I said "Why give birth if you cannot take care of them?" She said: "Maktub" (literally: it is written, is the destination). That is a common response in culture and religion. If they dare to say anything different, they could be judged socially as bad believers. We hear "Maktub" often, when is about to the poor people or women. There is no "Maktub" for the rich, because they have the ability to do what they want and sometimes, when it comes to a true "Maktub" they change it in their advantage, just because they have the way to do it. "
Ibtissam is clear in pointing out that while we can sympathize with the situation of rural women, those in urban conglomerates do not have it better:
"Even in big cities women are not really in good situation. Women are still opressed and being harassed is common. In everyday life, women are still fighting against the opposite sex, to reach executive status, even when they have the skills required, as it is always difficult to assert her personality and be free in their actions and thoughts. Being a woman in Morocco is not really easy, especially if you give great importance to the words of others. "
What changes are needed to improve the situation of women and citizens in general? What would be the key element in the process of social change in your country?
"I believe the rules and predominantly patriarchal values continue to influence the personal situation of women. Women continue to suffer higher rates of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty; this disproportionately affect women, especially in rural areas. That's why I think that if we reduce the rate of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, we really can make a big difference of Moroccan women. And I'm very optimistic. "
In the environment you describe, it's hard being a woman, but mostly, it's hard being a woman with career goals, intellectual interest, and also an activist, what are your goals in this regard?
"I want to study sociology, to explain the phenomena that bother me in the society I live in. I would like to work in NGOs,large or small, and thus contribute to change; also, would be a great experience working with different people and cultures. I am interested in working on cooperative projects to help women in developing countries. However, working as head of communications would be fun, because I love this area.
I would also publish a book of my short stories and articles I have written.
I will remain a volunteer, always will be, is a way of giving back to others what I have. I will work and live in my country, and maybe spend short periods in different parts of the world doing social work. This will give me the opportunity to connect with different cultures and will help me to be a "Universal". "