Ouiam Mallouk is a graduate student at Al Akhawayn University. Originally from Fes, Mallouk, 24, is pursuing a master’s degree in International Studies and Diplomacy with a focus on the Middle East/North Africa region. Recently, she and I discussed Moroccan culture, gender issues and how Islam plays into Mallouk’s ideas on women’s rights.
What are some of the most important issues facing women in Morocco right now?
Harassment is very open. You will find it especially in big cities like Fes, Casablanca, Marrakesh. There is an issue of security, and also there is the issue of (harassment) in the workplace, especially from bosses. If you are young and your boss has bad intentions, he can take advantage. Maybe he will ask you to go have dinner with him, try to manipulate your mind and try to tell you that you are beautiful, to enjoy life. This can have very serious consequences if you have an illegitimate relationship. If you don’t have a very strong personality and if you don’t have very strong religious beliefs, you are easily driven by what your boss asks you to do.
So I think for me as a Muslim girl, religion plays a very important role. Religion for me does not hinder me from achieving my goals, but then it tries to put limits on me to save my life, to protect myself from bad intentions. For me, religion makes me free, but also it gives me some guidelines, some things that I should abide by to have a very successful life.
Do you identify as a feminist?
Yes. I believe that I am a feminist. (Muslim feminists) believe that our religion gives us the right to be equal to men. For example, if we turn back to history, we find that the prophet (peace be upon him) was married to a businesswoman, Khadija. She was older than him, and he was working for her. This is a sign that women have the right to go to work, have the right to impose themselves, have the right to contribute to their societies.
Unfortunately, in the Arab world – in Morocco, for instance – you can find many, many men (who) are young, they are educated, but still, they see women as “their place is at home,” and they don’t allow their women to go to work. They care about their reputation. Maybe they believe if their women go to work they will be harassed.
Another idea: they find it as a weakness. You know, “as a man I’m not able to provide for my family, I’m not able to give my children what they want, so I’m reliant on a woman to go out and be careless to her children, to just go and give proper money to help.” This for him may be considered a weakness.
What brought you to feminism?
I had faced some problems. Of course, any girl wants to get married, to set up a family. Especially if she is educated and she got a job, she wants to have stability. But then when you meet guys who believes that you don’t have the right to have a job, you see that this is not convincing, because you have been devoting your time and your strength and your efforts to just continue studying, imposing yourself, achieving your hopes and your dreams. And then you find someone who forces you to stay at home just because he needs you to take care of his children. He doesn’t believe in you as a person, as an individual, as an independent individual who can contribute in one way or another, not only to a community, to a society, but also to his family. Because you are educated, you will help your children because you are conscious politically, socially and economically. You will help your children achieve their dreams, but this does not mean that you will abandon your life, your career, for them, for him.
We are equal. If you are educated, I am educated. If you want to pursue a Ph.D. and have a job, I can do it. I have the right to choose. Just give me the right to choose, and then I will choose. If I feel comfortable not having a job and staying at home, it’s good. If you force me to do it, it means no, you are taking away my rights as a human being, my rights as a free individual.
This is personal. Evidently, I have met some guys who are so educated, who have good jobs, who seem like they are open minded. But then, they feel that if a woman has a strong personality, this can be challenging for him. One of them said, “you can study, you can work – but for a short time.” It was really unpleasant for me. It was so embarrassing. It was sad, actually, because I feel that he is open minded, he is educated, and then, you see that this is not illustrated or exemplified in his actions and his ways of thinking.
Next Week: Mallouk describes the future she wants for herself and fellow Moroccan women
And, if you’re interested in reading more about women’s issues…