Unlike my mother and grandmother, my sister and I were not born nor raised in a harem. Fatima Mernissi, a notable Moroccan feminist whom I greatly admire, shared in her memoir, that she was among the first group of girls with access to school in 1940s Morocco.I was born in 1996, when Morocco had already initiated some improvements concerning gender and girls’ education.
I grew up with an illiterate yet supportive mother—but with a discouraging community that measures women’s worth by cooking skills and number of children produced. They prefer boys over girls. Men and boys have systemic power at every level. Regardless of age, brothers have more power and privilege than sisters. Furthermore, women are physically segregated because of gender. When I was five years old, my mother fought very hard for my sister and I to attend the QuranSchool (traditional school where Quran is the only subject taught), where my brother and male cousins were easily admitted. On the first day, we felt very strange in the male-dominated world and we were treated differently. My sister and I were forced to line up separately from the main boys’ line. Later on, we attended the modern school. It was run under a French system, a remnant from the days in which Morocco was a protectorate of French colonization. Although Morocco got its independence in 1956, the influence of the colonizer’s language and culture is still dominant today.
Most girls in Morocco now have access to education, but only until they reach middle or high school. Some parents may not let girls continue schooling because the school is far away, so they have to walk long distances to get to the school, which seems like an impossible mission in hard weather conditions. When girls reach high school, their parents start restricting them from walking alone due to fears of rape and other violations. Moreover, girls tend to drop out of school to get married at an early age.
For all these reasons and more, the number of my fellow female classmates decreased gradually. Hearing their stories always broke my heart.
How can a girl that young take care of a husband and children?
I kept asking these questions! When I was in my last year of high school, there were only five girls left in a classroom dominated by boys and male teachers. It was very suffocating to live under these conditions where there are no female teachers to look up to and support you in school. The path was not that clear for me and my classmates, but deep in my heart I knew that I didn’t want to repeat these girls’ stories. I wanted to be the change I wanted to see in my community. The key to that was to continue my higher education at the university.
My mother and grandmother have always been the greatest supporters of my education. Though they didn’t know what it meant, their actions and stories taught me to have determination and purpose. They were very powerful women whom I am proud to be raised by.
When I am asked whether I identify as a feminist or not, I always think of my mother and grandmother trying to raise both my sister and I—a matriarchal family in a patriarchal society, a family in which I have always been encouraged to demand the same treatment as my brothers. Because they fought for me, I am using my education and power to fight for equal rights for everyone!
Bochra Laghssais is a Gender Studies and Literature student at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, Morocco. She is part of the White House Initiative Let Girls Learn where she met the First Lady Michelle Obama, the source of her inspiration, hope, and power. She works with Project Soar Morocco, a U.S. based non-profit that empowers underserved Moroccan adolescent girls through art, sports, and health education programs. She is the author of Beyond These Walls- Gender and Patriarchy within the Moroccan Family. You can contact her at Bochra.Laghssais@gmail.com