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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.