Last week, I went to my Community-Based Learning placement and had a very interesting conversation with one of the women there. The organization where I volunteer is a center that, among other things, teaches women specific skills so that they can get a stable job. That day, I sat in on the baking class, which is in a small room with about twelve women crowded around a long table feverishly taking notes and scrupulously watching the teacher demonstrate how to make peanut nougat cookies.
The first day I arrived at the organization, the director had told me that most of these women came from very modest means and had not had the chance to finish high school, so they were here to learn a trade. I haven’t had an extended conversation with any of the women in the baking class until a few days ago, so I guess I just assumed that they were all looking to use this training to get a job at a bakery or something similar. During a short break when everyone was waiting for the first batch of cookies to finish cooking, the woman sitting next to me started talking to me (in English, which surprised me) and I learned that she had actually gotten her high school degree and was married- she looked to be in her forties. She told me that she spends most of her time at home and she had recently started learning how to cook new things to entertain herself, and she wanted to learn how to bake different kinds of cookies and pastries, especially for her husband who loves those kinds of things.
This was all pleasant conversation, but at one point, what really struck me was that she told me that if I pay close attention in the class, insha allah I could one day bake things for my husband, which made me laugh. It’s almost the exact opposite mindset for me to aspire to have a husband and to be able to do things that he would approve of. Actually, all of the classes at the organization- baking, sewing, and beauty training- seem very old fashioned for a woman to aspire to learn in my modern American mind. I guess for these women, these jobs are respectable and they are things they would be very happy doing, because a lot of them just need something to do to earn money. As an American, I live in a place where gender roles are encouraged to be broken, but it’s not quite the same in Morocco I definitely can’t criticize these women for choosing to learn these trades, but it isn’t something I’d personally choose.
It’s strange at the same time, though, because there are more women judges here than in the US, and women in Morocco have a decent representation in the parliament. The social status of women is definitely changing, as can be seen by the new Mudawana, or family code, updated in 2004. The improvements include, among other things, raising the minimum marriage age, allowing for women to initiate divorce, and better inheritance rights for women.
In the city, there are clearly defined social spaces for both men and women. In the vast majority of cafés, there are only men, or if there are women, they are with a man. Women’s spaces seem to remain in the home, sometimes in the market, and in the hammam (public bath). If I come home after dark, there are only men in the street- it is very uncommon for a woman to be outside at night. I don’t think that women here are oppressed, but there is a clear schism in the social roles of both. Though men overwhelmingly tend to occupy the public sphere, from what I’ve gathered, women definitely find ways to show their power, whether it be their growing representation in politics, their decision-making power in the home, or otherwise. I guess I’ve always taken for granted that women are expected to be independent and equals to men socially, but my experience here has made me realize that it’s not the same everywhere.