21.07.2022

Young Feminist Dynamics, New Stakes

Since their inception in the mid-eighties, and for over more than two decades, Moroccan feminist organizations have been instrumental in advocating for the acknowledgement of the principle of equality and in fighting discrimination against women.

With civil and political rights as their major concern, and thanks to their mobilization and cross-coordination, they have successfully cumulated a good number of gains, placing the feminist issue on the agenda of key players in the political arena and building a truly Moroccan feminist identity.

These organizations have managed to survive and remain on the scene after three decades from their first establishment, but today it is important to take note of the rise of new feminist dynamics that are bringing along a new spirit and different work methods and models.

What are these dynamics? In which context have these new dynamics sprung? What are their objectives, approaches and tools? And where do they stand in the public sphere?

This article will aim to answer these questions through looking at three specific organizations: the “Groupe Jeunes Femmes Pour La Democracie” (“The Group of Young Women for Democracy”), “Hors La Loi” (The “Moroccan Outlaw Movement”), and “Khmissa”. Our rationale for selecting these groups is drawn from their involvement in social movements or activities that have a political facet and position thanks to their narratives and messages that target the patriarchy.

New Dynamics in a Different Context

First: The Group of Young Women for Democracy: the group was founded in 2021 with a handful of young women who were initially engaged in several associations and had participated in various marches calling for freedom and democracy, especially with the February 20 Movement (1). The objectives of these young women are the following: to democratize the political structure; to create an atmosphere that guarantees rights and freedoms; to guarantee basic rights and access to public services for all women without discrimination; and to abrogate all legislations that incriminate the practice of individual freedoms, namely articles 483 (2), 489 (3), 490 (4), and 491 (5) of the penal code.

The group organizes various outreach activities, including the “Bi Hali Bi Halak” (I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me) campaign on  violence against women in the public sphere,  another campaign on the right for an identity, as well as various types of gatherings. The group also organizes advocacy and protection activities for female survivors of violence, as well as various field visits, such as the visit to women working in the informal sector, and the YTTO Foundation’s “Tazelmazat” Caravan in El Mers- Boulimane region to tackle the concerns of rural women and their rights for health and access to basic services. The organization develops recommendations to bring the findings of such visits to the attention of public opinion and decision-makers. The group heavily relies on visits to the outskirts, and on social media platforms (namely Facebook), photos, videos, podcasts, and radio stimulation through the outreach radio channel “Radio smaaliha” to bring about change.

Second: the “Hors La Loi” (“Moroccan Outlaw Movement”): The 490 coalition, also known as the “Moroccan Outlaw Movement” was established in the wake of the arrest of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni for allegedly having an illegal abortion and sex out of wedlock sometime towards the end of summer of 2019. The name of the movement bears a reference to article 490 of the penal code that incriminates sex outside of wedlock. The birth of the movement was announced via a manifesto that was issued by Leila Slimani and Sonia Terrab and which began with the following statement: “We are violating unfair and obsolete laws. We are having sex outside of wedlock”.

The goals of the movement are to: revoke penal code articles that penalize acts of individual freedom with prison, i.e.: sex outside of wedlock, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, and homosexuality. The movement organizes a number of events that are mostly awareness events such as “the sound of love”, “No to Harassment” and “Love is not a crime” campaigns.
The movement also engages in advocacy activities such as their advocacy with political parties during the legislative elections of September 2021, and their calls to MPs to defend individual rights and abrogate article 490 of the penal code. The movement organizes support and protection activities for the female survivors of sexual aggressions.

The movement uses a hashtag (احميني لا تسجني), testimonial videos footages of survivors of aggressions against personal freedoms, as well as written testimonials written in Moroccan dialect, Instagram Live, and fine arts paintings, and collects testimonials of female student survivors of sexual harassment (#MetooUniv).

Third: Khmissa Collective:  one of the newest expressions that announced their establishement through a statement of incorporation published on their page on Facebook on September 2, 2002: “We as Moroccan women are very proud of the achievements of the feminist rights movement around the topics of violence against women…  our collective confirms its absolute condemnation of all sexual crimes of violence against women, (…) and we ask that anyone who is involved in crimes of rape, sexual harassment, or abuse be brought to justice.”

This collective comes to life at a time when a number of journalists who are upsetting authorities for “poking their nose” in cases of public rights, are being brought to justice in sexual crime allegations such as rape and human trafficking.  Khmissa believes that “the authorities are using the topic of violence against women as an instrument to curb the freedom of expression. The goal of the collective is to defend women’s rights and to challenge the authorities’ exploitation of women affairs as a weapon in political files to eliminate its opponents”.

This collective sustains its message mainly by way of issuing statements,  organizing (virtual) meetings, and  publishing petitions and pleadings before the international community confirming its stance vis-à-vis the state’s oppression of human freedoms using the feminist issue instrumentalizing the body of women.

Analysis of these dynamics

As we look into the stories of these dynamics, we see that even if they all uphold the same struggle against harassment, rape, and violence, they do maintain their separate individual causes. The Group of Young Women for Democracy reserves a good deal of its activities and struggle to defend economic and social rights, and to this end, the group is serious about monitoring the situation on the ground and gathering field testimonials by visiting women who have to suffer the implications and repercussions of neoliberal politics in order to give them a chance to talk about the pain they have to go through  as a result of the lacking infrastructure, education, healthcare, and  poverty and marginalization.

The goal behind this monitoring and communication activity is to engage with the daily life concerns of women who are “living on the margin” and to draw the attention of public authorities to them. The focus of this group on women’s social and economic conditions can be attributed to the fact that its members have been nurtured by social movements and some leftist parties. The group has not forsaken freedom concerns but is keen on addressing such issues in concomitance with anti-discrimination and equal rights issues with a somewhat sharp focus on social and economic rights. The challenge that the group will have to face is to decide on how to place these issues within a wider political and economic context while giving them a distinct feminist character.

The Outlaws Movement addresses individual freedoms using an approach that combines targeted social outreach with advocacy before the authorities to introduce legislative changes. The movement uses various outreach methods and is keen on exposing practices that betray convergence and non-coherence between what is being said and what is being done. In this battle, the movement uses figures to showcase the level of restrictions that is being imposed by virtue of Article 490 of the penal code. The movement is also adamant to show the extent of masculine hegemony by drawing attention to the social cost that women have to pay for being women as compared to men, for example, in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, women find themselves head to head with the law in a conservative community, while men can very easily get away from the legal repercussions and social ramifications of such pregnancy by simply not acknowledging it. The movement is seeking to pinpoint to this patriarchal social perspective and overcome the social reactions that give women the full responsibility for both their “acts” and the acts of men - their partners in their pregnancy. The Outlaws Movement has engaged in the battle of personal freedom from its own perspective as it seeks to de-criminalize consensual relations between adults and calls for the right to abortion.

The approach that the Outlaws Movement has used has actually exposed social inconsistencies, and has put the topic of consensual relations on the table of discussion in the public sphere turning it into a political debate then into a freedom’s issue. The movement has left a very special mark as it has opened the window for discussing and advocating the value of “freedom” beyond the more traditional advocacy that focused on equality.

Khmissa seeks to expose and condemn the authorities’ abuse of feminist issues and selective handling of cases of rape. It is clear that the battle of the Khmissa movement is first and foremost a battle with the authorities.  The Khmissa movement can be rightly seen as feminist with a distinct political breath as it condemns and rejects the behaviors of political and security authorities on the account that their “abuse” of women’s issues and women’s fight against rape is quite detrimental to the feminist struggle. Khmissa refuses to see women become double survivors: the survivors of rape that is an expression of masculine hegemony, and the survivors of authoritarianism that is not at all reluctant to abuse women while playing custody on them. Khmissa is seeking to debunk the authorities’ claims that they are protecting women against male violence as women who are the real survivors of sexual harassment and rape are having to go through severe hardships to produce evidence of such acts. These hardships are averting women from taking legal action as the authorities do not seem to be willing to be fair to them, exposing them to further violence.  The positions of the Khmissa movement tell us that we are facing a political authoritarianism that uses male standards and abuses women on the premise that they are the weakest link. These authorities are using women to strike feminist issues and feminist struggle against patriarchy in the heart. Women are becoming the tool and the survivor at the same time; the feminist struggle of this movement says “no” to male dominance and authoritarianism alike, and deems that eliminating the former commands first and foremost the rejection and challenging of the latter.

Conclusions

This analysis leads us to the following conclusion that these young feminist dynamics:

  • have used the legacy of the previous generation of feminists and is building on the feminist identity that the former generation had established and on its success in putting the feminist issue in the public sphere;
  • have managed to show how unique it is while preserving its total independence even from the feminist movements of the eighties’ generation;
  • have raised again the topic of feminism, this time with a political flair, after a period of lethargy;
  • have re-combined feminist issues with public issues by connecting them with the issue of democracy or public rights and by associating civil and political rights with economic and social rights;
  • have combined formal advocacy with public outreach using an approach that seeks to dismantle masculine authoritarianism in the local culture. Thanks to these new dynamics, the discussion is no longer limited to the legal aspect on things albeit its importance;
  • have addressed the issue of feminism away from ideological polarization of political parties and has opened a debate around it from every organization - social or political.
  • have used various methods and have benefited from what technology has to offer.

If we say that, all in all, the aim of the feminist struggle is to eradicate the patriarchal system, it will then be reasonable to say that the feminist struggle needs a central stake to be defined based on an accurate reading of the overall context. Our analysis of these dynamics brings us to believe that many issues are currently being addressed with each group selecting a particular issue as a priority. This lack of cross-coordination can most probably explain the limited impact that these dynamics have had over the past. While it is important to have this diversity in terms of feminist issues, it would be beneficial to be open to an approach that brings it all together, be it issues related to equality or issues related to freedom, and to be open to the various expressions of feminism. Coordination and alliances are a mechanism that would convey a quantum power to the feminist struggle, and would give it a chance to politicize its demands and impose them as a social priority. Will these groups and organizations ever succeed in coordinating their efforts, and will they be able to agree on issues and turn them into political stakes?

(1) This movement sprung up within the context of the Democratic Arab Spring of 2011
(2) Public Indecency
(3) Homosexual acts
(4) Criminalisation of sex acts outside of wedlock
(5) Criminalization of marital infidelity

Latifa Bouhsini is a university professor, feminist and a human rights activist, who writes prolifically about the history of the feminist movement in Morocco. Bouhsini is also a trainer specialized in gender and women's rights, and she is a speaker at the National Human Rights Council.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

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