In late May, the Gender and Development Committee (GAD) organized a Gender Advocacy Training, a two day conference that addressed gender issues in the Moroccan context.
We both attended, along with two GLOW girls, Sarah and Dounia. Like the Project Design & Management Training, this one was held in Fes. It was Sarah and Dounia’s first time travelling without their families, and they were very excited. (We were pretty damn excited too!)
The Gender Advocacy Training was the perfect continuation of the GLOW Club conversations we were already having. It was eye-opening for all four of us.
We love trainings! We get put up in a nice hotel for a few days, which means a REAL SHOWER and a WESTERN TOILET and often BREAKFAST BUFFETS. And it’s always a nice inspiration/kick-in-the-ass for our work projects. But the absolute best part is getting to take our Moroccan counterparts and watching their world open up.
One of the most meaningful threads of the training was the ongoing discussion about safe space building. It resonated so strongly with our girls because it spoke directly to their experiences and gave them the vocabulary to express it. In fact, it is the exact reason they originally initiated the GLOW Library Project.
One of my girls told me, “If it wasn’t for your English classes and the girls club, I would never go to the youth center.” I was shocked by this. I always thought of the youth center as a community gathering place—but for many girls, it’s not a comfortable place to hang out. They face street harassment walking to the youth center from their homes. They face microaggressions from men, even classmates, at the center itself. They’re constantly fed the message that girls and women do not belong in public spaces.
That’s why, when we build projects, we must build them through a gender lens. If we truly want our community impact to be equitable and sustainable, we must especially consider the needs of every member of the community.
A goal for all four of us was to put our project, our youth center, and our city in the larger context of Morocco and the world. We wanted to build perspective from the macro and the micro. Gender inequality is an issue worldwide. Acknowledging that is important. It is systemic and deeply rooted and affects almost every aspect of human life. However, regarding practical solutions, it’s incredibly important to consider cultural and geographical specificities.
Gender inequality is everywhere, but it looks different in different places. I’ll give a few specific examples to illustrate this. In Morocco, there is no cultural expectation for women to change their last names when they get married. Whereas in America, I faced tons of offensive comments when I kept my last name after marriage. In Morocco, unlike the U.S., STEM is not as gendered. Educated Moroccan girls are just as likely to enter science, technology, engineering, and math fields as educated Moroccan boys. However, gender in Morocco is defined extremely strongly by physical space. One of the main tools of patriarchy here is keeping women out of the public domain. It’s very clear on the street, in cafes, in markets, in the workplace, and even in community centers.
It was illuminating to hear about the experiences of people from all over Morocco. One of the most interesting conference sessions we’ve ever attended was a lawyer’s presentation on the Moudawana Laws, the family code that governs many civil issues in Morocco. We learned a lot about Morocco’s legal and human rights history. And, surprisingly, so did the Moroccans. After the session, one of the girls slyly whispered to us, “Wow, I never knew that I could ask for a pre-nup to bar my future husband from taking another wife! Hmmm…” The lawyers told us that one huge issue is that Moroccan women are often unaware of the rights they have regarding marriage, divorce, custody, etc. All of us immediately thought of several women in our own lives who struggled with these problems.
Besides the work and learning we were doing, we also got the chance to hang out and explore Fes together. When we asked the girls what the best part of the training was, they said, “It was all amazing! But to be honest, the best part was the freedom to explore the big city.”
Late at night, we even started some rousing games of Settlers of Catan! (Dounia and Julie won.)
Thank you to the GAD Committee for their hard work in putting this workshop together and giving us this awesome opportunity! We learned a lot, we shared a lot, and we were absolutely inspired to keep going with our GLOW Library.
A few men from the youth center had already expressed their discomfort with the library project. They tried to hide their sexist entitlement under fake concerns that “books can teach bad things,” but they were clearly riled that the library project is centering girl leaders and actively creating a public safe space for girls. The Gender Advocacy Training in Fes quelled any distress the GLOW girls had over the men’s disapproval. Understanding the need for safe space on a systemic level was vital. We reiterated that such a project is even more necessary when there are sexist objections. And we reminded the girls over and over again that unlike those idle men, they are taking the initiative to create real positive change in their community. This is what real leaders do. Rather than oppress others to hoard power, real leaders build everyone up. Real leaders know that the entire community benefits when every member of the community is given equal opportunity to contribute. Real leaders know—who run the world? GIRLS.
Robert & Julie