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  1. Women in Morocco: The Mint Tea Revolution “Happy Hour” at a café in Salé: Morocco’s women conquer public spaces (Photo: Khalil Nemmaoui) 10 June 2011 It remained quiet in Morocco until late February, or at least quieter than in neighbouring North African countries. Although the promises of democracy made by King Mohammed VI were only kept under certain conditions, an important social movement got started: the women’s movement. By Elisabeth Wellershaus It is early Friday morning in Rabat. The busy little capital is slowly awakening. Blue taxis push through the side streets near Boulevard Mohammed V. The glaring January sun is reflected on the carriages of the new tram railway. Early risers, newspaper readers and sun worshippers are seated at breakfast. Café Le Pacha is situated on a small square right across from the railway station. The guests casually lounge on their plastic chairs. The Moroccan men cool their mint tea with practiced hands. The foreigners leaf through international papers sold at the kerbside of the boulevard, where the goings-on are similar. Men frequent the cafés, while women stand behind the counters and watch their customers vigilantly. In Morocco, cafés are important places for communication. It was in the cafés of Tangier that intelligence information was once traded, the nationalist party Istiqlal was founded and the newspaper La Voix du Maroc drafted. It was no place for women. Still today, the cafés in which women gather can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Traditional cafes in particular are the domain of men. “There are only three kinds of women who go to the café anyway,” says Naima Zitane, winking impishly and putting out her cigarette. “A woman who smokes in public, wears high heels and heavy make-up is a prostitute. One who sits in a café in a suit with her laptop is a foreigner. And one who acts very extroverted, laughs out loud or sings is crazy.” The theatre manager laughs her jarring laugh. Zitane is tall, husky, wears her black hair ultra-short and acts as if nothing could frighten her. Yet even she only goes to a few cafés that she knows well. For years, Moroccan women in the large cities have been fighting successfully for their rights. They have won themselves important positions in public institutions such as the universities and parliament. With the support of King Mohammed VI, they have even won the battle to amend family law in their favour. Yet they have not yet conquered this one traditional space. Now, women like Naima Zitane have demanded, “enough is enough” and joined forces with the Goethe-Institut in Rabat to mobilize performative resistance in the country’s cafes. Unwelcome“It’s unbelievable that men still give us the feeling in public that we’re not wanted,” complains theatre scholar Amal Ben Haddou over lunch at the Goethe-Institut. “There’s no sign on the cafes saying that women are not allowed. But we’re still not welcome.” The younger girls at her table lower their eyes shyly. Two older actresses nod pugnaciously. The Happy Hour project slowly takes shape. It began with a few informal conversations. Female artists, journalists and women’s rights activists complained about being excluded from the classical café tradition. Wolfgang Meissner, director of the Goethe-Institut in Rabat, reacted swiftly. There were discussions, deliberations and plans were made. The Goethe-Institut hired theatrical director Mohammed El Hassouni and choreographer Khalid Benghrib to artistically accompany the project. Ultimately, the women decided on performative interventions to stimulate commotion and dialogue in the cafes of Salé and Casablanca. In Salé, the oldest city on the Atlantic, the shiny carriages of the new tramline seem somewhat out of place. Traffic between Salé and Rabat is scheduled to begin in March. Otherwise little here reminds one of the spic-and-span efficiency of an administrative capital. Women scurry through the dusty streets with dented shopping baskets, none of them without a veil. Salé is considered the stronghold of the Islamists. The city is poor, unemployment is high and the social structures are rigid. On Friday afternoon, a group of women bursts onto this scene quite suddenly. Café France is situated on a big, busy street. The tables stand very close together in a tiny pedestrian passage and almost all the chairs are aimed at a large flat-screen television. A football match is on. The ladies disrobeSuddenly, unfamiliar noises blend in with the monotonous singsong of the announcers. A couple of women push themselves into the centre of the café, sit down on the few empty chairs and wave the waiter over to them. The men in the tiny betting house goggle them. When finally two older ladies arrive in theatre costumes, no one is looking at the screen anymore. The group that is talking loudly over mint tea and orange juice, laughing and joking is eyed with disbelief. Soon, necks in neighbouring shops are craned towards Café France. The two older ladies begin to undress. A waiter hurries over and tries to stop them, to prevent a calamity. The women only smile. “We’re wearing jeans and jumpers underneath,” Kenza Fridou says in a friendly voice. Still, the men cannot avert their eyes. In part this is because they are familiar with the actress’s face from television series. Finally, they begin to converse about it and it is not long before some curious men join the women. They eat and drink together and talk about everything under the sun and about football. On entering, Fridou had heard the men whispering about “those prostitutes over there.” Awhile later, a delighted older man is heard talking to the waiter. “I think it’s great that something’s finally happening here. If you ask me, the women should visit the café more often, I welcome them here.” The waiter’s eyes shine. The other guests also appear to be enjoying themselves. One says, “I don’t need it every day, though. After all one of the reasons we come here is to get away from our own women.” Safety in numbersResponses to the question whether the men would welcome their own daughters or wives in the café are correspondingly cautious. All in all, however, the intervention seems to have been a success; the women’s expectations were clearly exceeded. The next day’s performance in Casablanca also goes surprisingly smoothly. “Perhaps some of the fears are only in the women’s minds,” says Naima Zitane. “Some, but not all of them.” Fears of sexual harassment are quite justified. In cafes in particular, women often feel at the mercy of the men. Others perceive animosity when they light a cigarette. Yet others simply have a problem being the only women among men. The women feel safer in the group. Most of them still would not dare enter a café alone, at least not in cities like Salé, which are known for their religious fervour, not in places where many Islamists live or where the PJD – the “Party for Justice and Development” – is especially strong. A few years ago, this was the party that worked hard to prevent an amendment to family law. Fortunately, they were unable to assert themselves and the Moudawana was reformed after a long battle. Today, women may marry without the permission of male family members, can file for divorce and even adopt children without a partner, at least on paper. In practice, the law remains a lovely promise that has yet to live up to the everyday lives of women who do not even dare to enter a café on their own. “This has got to change,” says choreographer Khalid Benghrib, who accompanied the group of women in Casablanca. “We simply have to continue to provoke people and wake them up to reality. Go to the limits using creative means – and then a little further.” Perhaps it would also be helpful to create places where people can meet. For International Women's Day the Goethe-Institut organized more Happy Hour campaigns in various cities of the country. The participants in the first round have already gone a step further: They want to have women’s cafés in Rabat and Casablanca. Perhaps now and then a curious man might drop by. The article is from the Goethe-Institut’s magazine on “Women” (zum PDF). On request, we will send you a printed copy of the magazine. Just send an email with your postal address to [email protected]
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