Khadija was kidnapped at knife-point by 12 men when she was 17. She was held for two months, during which time she was starved, drugged, beaten, gang-raped, tortured, tattooed with swastikas, and burned with cigarettes.
“I can’t even look at the tattoos,” says Khadija, whose name has been changed to protect the privacy of a minor. “I felt degraded and humiliated.”
12 men have been arrested and are awaiting trial for criminal rape, assault and battery of Khadija, whose ordeal has had a profound effect on her family and the wider community. “My father is no longer the same. His life has changed. He no longer works. He no longer goes out. We all never leave the house. They are all hurting. I no longer go out; I just stay home,” she said. She says she wants to start a new life and heal as much as is possible. She has ambitions to become a lawyer or a journalist.
Khadija’s case caused outrage in Morocco and sparked a campaign combating violence against women. Masaktach (“She was not silent”) first took to the streets of Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, with early members carrying whistles, which they handed out to women as a defense against sexual harassment. “If a man sees you wearing it, he will think three times before he harasses you,” says one of the founders of Masaktach.
#Masaktach, a group of men and women who condemn violence, abuse of women, and the legitimization of rape culture in Morocco, is focused on a problem that is universal, a problem that affects women of all creeds and social classes. Its founders are targeting the particular form of sexism that manifests itself every day in Morocco.
“Women don’t have a place in the streets,” says one activist. “They are constantly reminded that they are not welcome there through street harassment, certain looks they are given.” Masaktach activists also hand out whistles to men, explaining that it is for their sisters, mothers, wives, and daughters. “With the whistles, we wanted to challenge this lack of space, take back public space,” a Masaktach activist told the Guardian.
According to Masaktach activists, what links the stories of all the women they support is the issue of consent — the fact that, all too often, women are ignored or misunderstood when they say “no.”
“I did not expect this reaction from people at all,” admits Khadija. “There are some who just say it’s nonsense, and blame the victim,” she continues, in reference to the attempt to discredit her reputation by some.
According to a recent UN Women report, two-thirds of men in Morocco believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together. In February, 2018, Morocco adopted a law criminalizing some forms of gender-based violence, but critics claim it doesn’t go far enough, failing to define domestic violence or even outlaw marital rape.
Masaktach represents a new wave of activism in Morocco, which uses social media to get its message across. Hiba El Khamal, of the think-tank Heinrich Boll, explained to Inside Arabia how feminist activism developed in the country: It first was a “bourgeois movement of first wave feminists under the French Protectorate.” It was followed by a period of victim-based activism in the 1970s and 80s that resulted in reforms, such as women being able to travel alone and request divorce.
The modern approach uses the internet and is often unconnected to official organizations or to the state. Masaktach is a typical instance of this. Other examples include L’Union Féministe – the first queer feminist organization in Morocco; Association démocratique des femmes du Maroc, which works to promote women in politics; and Solidarité Féminine, which works on reproductive rights for women and promotes the interests of single mothers.
The Masaktach movement represents a growing trend across Morocco and the MENA region—a movement that opposes the exclusion and abuse of women and seeks to abolish gender inequality. It has been a long time coming to the MENA region, but it appears it is here to stay.