Masaktach! We will not be silent.

Image by Jameela Elfaki

Image by Jameela Elfaki

Revisiting the female lead campaign in Morocco that’s reshaping the future for women

Words by Anwar Bougroug

In August 2018 the 17-year-old young Moroccan woman Khadija revealed in a video on social media that she had been kidnapped, raped, tortured and forcibly tattooed for two months by 12 men and boys from her village in Morocco. The shocking footage shows crude drawings alongside cigarette burns and bruises on her body. The police have now arrested the suspects which are between 17 and 28 years old.

The campaign “Masaktach” appeared just a few weeks after Khadija's story went public. The movement is aimed to tackle sexual harassment towards women in the North-African kingdom. Masaktach, meaning “I will not be silent”, is encouraging women to be vocal about their experiences of abuse, a problem unfortunately more common than uncommon in Morocco.

Zineb Belmkaddem, one of the organisers behind #Masaktach, told The National “Masaktach was started to show solidarity with other Moroccan women who were subject to male sexual violence. She began the campaign to raise the voices of women and point to how they had been either ignored or silenced and even attacked”. More than 73 % of women in Morocco have faced harassment in public spaces according to a report issued in 2016 by the National Observatory. “Sexual harassment is something women in Morocco have to deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes I try to avoid it and pretend I don't hear it, but there are days I just need to get it off my chest and tell them to fuck off,” says Noria Chaal, a Moroccan film-maker and activist who's been particularly vocal about the women's rights movement on her social media platforms.

The movement could be compared to the huge #MeToo campaign in the West, though Masaktach aims to engage with women in rural and conservative areas, and from lower classes which are often the primary areas of harassment. Masaktach aims to raise the voices of women from all walks of society rather than just the wealthy and elite women only. “The MeToo campaign didn't really speak to me as a Moroccan woman to be honest. It started from the top and down, while Masaktach actually aims to start from the bottom and up,” Noria explains. “I travelled to Casablanca where Masaktach had a public activity engaging women to blow whistles each time when harassed in public. I felt this movement spoke to me as a female and I wanted to give it a voice and make it present on the streets.”

Masaktash Campaign Imagery

Masaktash Campaign Imagery

As expected the campaign is still yet to be fully embraced by Moroccan society. At first Khadija was accused of conjuring up the complaint and did not get much public sympathy. Some citizens, even women, claimed that she provoked it, asking unthinkable questions such as “what was she doing outside?”, “what was she wearing?” or even “how do we know she wasn't asking for it?” It’s comments like this, that undoubtedly show the judgment and shame still linked to this topic of abuse and harassment. “Some guys were actually mocking the situation on social media which gives an understanding of the state of this issue in Morocco. The consensus admit it's a problem, but there's some sort of helplessness attached to it as well. People think it's too late and that there's nothing left we can do. Young women tend to be shy about the subject as it's deeply implemented in our culture to not talk about it. Luckily, middle-aged women are more vocal and have the confidence to speak about this in public,” says Chaal. Currently there is still a culture of impunity, where it's natural to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator for their actions.

Although the movement gained nearly 5000 likes on social media in just a couple of weeks, Masaktach has struggled to engage a number of young women to join forces. “They may have other values and goals in their lives and female empowerment may or may not be on their agenda. It's also a bit taboo to be vocal about challenging the patriarchy,” says Chaal. Besides that the family is still the most important social structure in Morocco a lot of gender-based violence and harassment will never be reported as it's considered humiliating for the family and the victim. “We have a very collective way of thinking and community is something Moroccans value highly. But unfortunately this comes in the way of individuality,” she says.

After many years of political negotiations Morocco recently passed a law of criminalising abuse against women including all forms of harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill-treatment. However the bill has been criticised for never being sufficiently promoted to the mass. “Many people are still not informed about the law change. That's the reason we distributed a copy of the new bill to everyone during our Masaktach activity in Casablanca. Misogyny is so implemented in our culture that this reform is still very confusing to many people.”

Although Masaktach launched not long ago their future program is bright. The founders plan to highlight allies in Morocco, create micro movements and grow a stronger community of people that believe in gender equality and female empowerment. Hoping to collaborate with high profile influencers and public personalities to increase exposure of their political message. An initiative very much-needed in a country where men constantly feel the need to verbally and physically express the entitlement they feel over women's bodies.

Noria Chaal was so touched by Masaktach that she decided to write a documentary about the phenomenon. “Morocco – not the country” will be a 52-minute film about women and men in the public space in Morocco. Highlighting sexual frustration and how she believes it is the main reason for sexual harassment. “I'm currently putting together a team and still researching on how to create this in an artistic way without losing the political message. Ideally I would want this project to reach the broadest audience possible without it getting censored, which is going to be a real challenge.” The filmmaker wishes to build an archive for future generations to look back to in order to feel empowered to continue the fight for gender equality in Morocco. ”We are part of a revolution and I want to document the movement.”

It’s powerful to see more necessary activism for women's rights in Morocco, paving the way for future generations. Inequality and violence against women will not be tolerated or normalised.

Khadija told press after attending a hearing last year, "I call on all girls to be brave. We girls are strong and we must stay strong."  

If you would like to read more about Masaktach and how you can support the movement head to twitter:  #masaktach

Follow Noria’s film work @no_ritsu