Mezgarne Oasis

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Women's place in Morocc

Queen of the Roses
Aït haddidou
Woman in  Essouira

Is there any difference between the place a woman has in the Berber society, in the Moroccan society, in the Muslim society ? Surely, there is one, or, to be precise, there are many differences, some positive, some negative. Nobody can say for sure whether it is better to be a Moroccan woman of Berber origins, or of Arabic ones, or an Algerian one…. But it is by looking at the women, and how they dress, for example, that the tourist will recognize the few Arabic villages disseminated in the Berber country.

By looking at these women, suddenly hidden amidst heavy black veils, showing nothing anymore, some of them even wear gloves. What a contrast with the bounty veils, either black embroidered with gaudy wool, either simply red, yellow, and green…

A Berber woman covers her head, she modestly wears long skirts, but she does not hide her face.
With the exception, maybe, of the women of Essaouira. There, history speaks, and the numerous abductions of these young girls known for their beauty and sent to the harems in Fez and Marrakech. And anyway, there were more strangers and Jews than Moroccans in Essaouira….
And in a rural society, the veil is used more by custom than because of religion. It is not the fabric covering the woman outside of her family, which is removed as soon as she is in the family circle, like in other Muslim countries. It is the mean of a modesty that is also found among the men (and even with higher extremes, amidst the Tuaregs, whose women are lightly veiled, while men will keep their heavy veil, as a mark of respect, even eating behind it, not to show their mouth), it also shows the status. Young girls and maidens wear simple scarves, the ones one can see in Europe, but as soon as they get married, they proudly display the multicoloured “zif”, which they were formerly forbidden.

One must imagine the shining poppies field that a Drâa women assembly can be, each woman entering one after the other, covered with a long black embroidered cotton shawl, and later on removing it and showing lightly coloured dresses, and red scarves, red and yellow, red and green scarves, and embroidered head-jewels, and silver pendants.

A Berber woman can go to the market and sell the products of her garden, or the chickens or lambs she has raised. With the exception of the women of the Rif, maybe, closely kept at home, so much that they are not allowed to go to the public hammam. But there again history speaks, and protection against Mediterranean pirates.

Traditionally, Berbers are not that adepts of polygamy. And even less and less, with the impact of the new family regulations, which enable a first spouse to demand a good divorce when the husband wants a second wife. But Berbers are lovers. And the tragic betrothed of Imilchil are Berbers. And it is because of them, or thanks to them that each year, during the three days of the moussem, girls and boys can choose freely who they want to marry, neglecting their parents projects and arranged weddings… or accepting them by respect.

Traditionally, a Berber does not beat his wife. It is, among the Tuaregs, the biggest shame to allow oneself to do so, and the angry husband will be considered as incapable to control himself. But it is in the Berber riff mountains that the highest number of domestic accidents is recorded, often hiding honour murders of women.

Men and women live mostly separated, the two genre mixing slightly, even within the family circle. Married young, a girl starts to be a spinster after 25 (and is that really different from Europe 50 years ago ?), very early a mother, of many children, the Berber woman lives in a laughing and talkative gynaecium, which men are often slightly scared of. Every other second jitters and laughs explode, songs start, rhythmic marked with a simple tea glass on an iron tray, or the handle of a knife. They speak loudly, call their friend through large rooms, babies sleep quietly in the noise, and the men, cautious, think their women are too exuberant for them. There are right, by the way. Women talks are sometimes crude enough to shame many free European feminists.

The mother-in-law reigns as an absolute mistress over the doyar, with a firm hand over husband, sons, daughters in law and grand children, a hand that can be very hard on the one who would not obey quickly enough.
But her power stops at the entrance of the family house. She takes o part in the management of the family business, only allowed to decide on her own goods, this dowry she received in the wedding contract, and what she inherited from her own family. There is in Morocco a strict property separation, and the women can never be disposed from what she owns.
But…. The man is the head of the family, and he can, -actually could, before the new moudawana, the new code – could prevent her to make an investment or a spending he did not judge adequate. The money was blocked, then, not available neither to the man nor the woman. And the woman does not inherit the same share as her brothers, legally the share of the man is the double of the woman’s one.
When she inherits, because women in Kabylia, for example, had no right at all to inheritance.
In such conditions, the “wealth” of the woman remains quite relative, and most often lower than the man’s one, the man who inherits, works, and can spend and invest his money without the need of his wife’s agreement.

Just as the man, the woman is entitled to ask for divorce. Or, to be more exact, when the man is authorized to repudiate her, the woman can ask for a divorce, if and only if the man does not fulfil his obligations, and with really important mistakes (here also, the new moudawana balances more fairly). The woman is the insignificant element of the pair and the family. Divorced, she has no right to keep her children with her if she get married again, because a child cannot be brought up by another man than his father. Father who can be married again, and even with several wives, that’s not important.

Traditionnal Draa valley

Here, we spoke mainly about the women belonging to the traditional and rural society f the South of Morocco. But even in the city, even in Casablanca, under freer looks, Moroccan women try to push back the walls of tradition. A woman cannot live alone, that’s unthinkable, and a widow, even well established, like a manager in a large company, will go back to live by a member of the family. A woman alone in the street is a call, a walking invitation.

In Morocco, the veil is no question. A woman can do whatever she wants – when she is strong enough to resist her environment’s pressure – and we saw some celebrations where a few girls “in hair” lost themselves among hundreds of scarved women. “In hair”. Till the second World War, in our countries, a respectable woman was not going out without a hat…. And Europeans lost their long skirts in the factories, in the first World war, when they had to take the place of the men, and do their work.
“The veil question” is a French one, a European one, that has a meaning in a country with a tradition of secularism. In Morocco, it has no meaning. The veil is a choice. The feminists fight for more pragmatic battles, more essential ones, alphabetisation (if nowadays, little girls go to school like little boys, that was not the case even a few years ago, and many adult women can read, much more than men), financial support for repudiated women, the one who were cast away before the new moudawana, and next progresses for this family Code (like for example what happens to children born outside of a wedding or betrothal, by now little bastards with no family name, no status, no clan to be linked to), the possibility to work, earn money, improve one’s condition. “The veil question” was closed in another country than France, with the same regulation forbidding it in schools, universities and administrations, and that is in the Muslim Turkey.


It is a mistake to judge a traditional society with reference to our European model, an it takes some time, some long time, to understand what are there the necessary freedoms, and the rights that are not that essential, so different is the situation from the one we know here.

But the next time you stop in a village, go towards the women. They very seldom speak English, but they will know how to tell you so many things, with their eyes, smiles and laughs.