the power of women (but i don’t have to tell you that)

March 24, 2017 | Om Arrabiaa Association

“Women and girls should be in school!” the Tighnari High School principal shouted from the mic. Several male teachers echoed the note, saying that Islam does not teach women to be illiterate or disempowered.

And this was for the benefit of the girls who were present — the majority of girls in the school were in the private school, not the public school — as much as the boys.

During our visit to the Tighnari High School, which is the public school where Salah works when he is not teaching at Le Fontaine, a private school nearby, there was an impromptu presentation by the school of the role of women in Islam.

With their teacher, two students present information on the role of women in Islam. To be clear, they presented information at the beginning, but during this portion, many of the questions were answered by the male teachers in the room, not the girls or women.

Moments of the “documentary” included information meant to show the problems with Christianity and Western thought in connection to women (and it’s so true there are many), but what stood out to me the most was the way in which the male teachers in the room, especially the principal, were bridging the gap between Islam and society’s views of women.

Growing up in the Christian church, I heard many a male preachers say that women should be silent in the church; female pastors are an abomination; and women were created to be the body, not the head, placing value on the head, not the body.

And what was never said was implied, especially when one looked at the pulpit and saw nothing but men sitting and fanning themselves, dabbing their brow against the sweat of the Georgia heat in a church with no A/C. Talk about the Holy Ghost, but I digress.

When I asked Salah about the presentation, which seemed to be very much for Christa and I as the school’s visitors, he told us about the challenges girls face in rural Morocco, specifically in this region.

We noticed that boys outnumber girls in the public school we visited and he said that some, not all, illiterate parents, they don’t see girls’ education as being important, so they keep them at home so they can learn about their next career: that of a housewife.

The complexity comes when women must have education in order to have a career in modern Morocco, but that some people understand Islam to be one where women should not. So how to reach these parents, these folks who send their boys, but not their girls, or who send their children, but aren’t active in the school’s lifeblood?

One solution lies in the local community-based associations.

One association we visited was the Om Arrabiaa Association, a women’s association a 15 to 20-minute drive away from Beni Mellal, which is where we’re staying. Abil, a friend of Salah’s and a fellow English teacher, invited us to the association to see the work being done in and by the community.

Started by a group of women and men in the community, the space serves several purposes, but the one I was most struck by was this: allowing women to see their worth. I don’t know if the organizers would call it this, but this is exactly what they’re doing.

They offer sewing classes and space for women in the community to sew and sell what they’ve created at their on-site market, which we visited in the morning before returning to Rabat.

Many of the women in the association are illiterate and older, some of them widowed. In many ways this specific part of the population has no one to care for them and because the cannot read or write, they also lack the educational prowess needed to thrive in their community. It’s especially difficult for them to get a job outside of the house because either they’ve been so dependent on their husband’s income for so long and they’re older so they cannot change into a new sector of work. Or, without literacy, they’re highly unprepared for any sector of work.

This community, and many others, are increasingly urging their girls to go to school, to finish school, then college, and return to better the community — not just boys.

The association offers after school classes for girls, which support the completion of homework, but also learning English. The girls we met have only been studying English since September, but they are able to speak with us, ask questions and carry on dialogue. I was amazed!

They offer something of a creché as well and classes for primary-age students.

As I type these words, DC is in the middle of a crisis. Several black girls have gone missing since the start of the year. The District Police Department deny there’s an issue. And in fact it’s been community activists and an ANC representative — all women — who have brought attention to the matter.

I am ending here because I have to go to Chellah, but there’s more to this…

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