– What is the Value of a Woman?, ZNET, by Emma Tobin (HAF Intern), 30 March 2016.
As a woman, I fight everyday to be respected and treated as an equal. I was lucky enough to be born into a middle class American family with parents who encouraged my education and growth. In my house I am not a second class citizen but in society, it’s extremely apparent that I am. I was so naive about women’s issues growing up. I went to an all-girls school, have two sisters, and a large network of opportunities so I didn’t realize how segregated and sexist the world is.
Upon arrival in Morocco, I started to understand this point a little more everyday. I couldn’t be out past nine alone, I was catcalled, stared at and followed home on my way to and from work. My body was just an object to be stared at and commented on without regard for who I was or that I was a human being. The worst part about it is that, it doesn’t matter to men what I wore or what the other women wore. I could be in a hijab and still be harassed because it’s not the boy’s responsibility to treat me with respect, it’s my responsibility not to tempt those men.
I came to Morocco to learn about women in Muslim societies and to try and do some form of women’s empowerment. I knew it would be hard to be a woman here and that in a lot of ways I wouldn’t be respected because of that fact.
What I didn’t expect was to stare into the face of a man who told me he wasn’t going to send his daughters to school. However, he said that if he had boys, he would be sending them to school but because he had daughters he wouldn’t spend the money. It was shocking to think that a man who had helped to bring these two little girls into this world wasn’t going to give everything he could so that they would be educated.
By educating a woman, women are less likely to die in childbirth, women are less likely to have children at a young age, less likely to get married at a young age, are better suited to find work, and are better caretakers of the children they have. Women with an education basically lift entire families out of poverty and decrease the birth rate which lowers the infant mortality rate simply because less children are being born into families that aren’t prepared to take care of them.
In the very same village that this man was from, there was a tragic accident that took the life of one of the local men. This man’s death left his wife and three children to fend for themselves. The mother is uneducated which makes it increasingly harder to find a job to support her children. As a result, none of the children can attend school anymore. The death of one man has left a family completely defenseless without anyway to support themselves. It’s a tragic situation, but not an uncommon one. It has a root cause and that is education. If the mother had been allowed and encouraged to be educated, then she would be able to support her family now.
Akrich, the village that this family is from, isn’t an exception. This ingrained sexism and cultural expectations for women run rampant across most of the world. The hardest part about the way women are treated is that it’s hard not to feel helpless. How am I supposed to change the way people have been thinking since the beginning of time? How can I convince both men and women that we need to change our ideas about what women’s role is and what women can do? How do we adapt whole cultures and religious interpretations to see how archaic their treatment of 49.6% of the population is?
However, spiralling into questions and self doubt only further the problem. Women shouldn’t have to worry about walking home safely, getting an education, choosing who they want to marry, or fighting for control over their own bodies, but we do and we will continue to have to until both women and men stand together to fight for equality and empowerment.
We can’t focus on the worldwide issue until we empower women locally. As a result, the High Atlas Foundation will conduct a community meeting of all the women and men in Akrich to discuss women’s education and how important women are. Check back for to see how the meeting goes!