A French application to fight against violence against women brings a “revolution” to Morocco

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A French app called The Sorority, aimed at preventing violence against women, was launched a year ago and recently debuted in Morocco. It was a breath of fresh air for its first adopters in this North African country, who denounce what they consider to be a society plagued by sexual violence.

“If we can help women victims of violence in France, we can do it in all countries,” said Priscilla Routier Trillard, a 34-year-old Parisian, describing her decision to export La Sorority to the other side of the country. Mediterranean.

Launched in France in September 2020, TheSorority became available in Morocco on October 16. The app relies on women to protect themselves from violence – whether at home, at work or on the street – with an alarm system that sends an alert if someone nearby is in imminent danger thanks to geolocation technology. Instant messaging then allows the victim to contact other users and get help immediately. The messaging feature also allows users to get moral support from other women.

“A real social problem”

Sarah *, 32, was one of the first Moroccan women to join The Sorority. From the age of 14, she was regularly harassed on her way to and from school. A boy physically assaulted his younger sister Amal *, who was 13 at the time.

The two sisters grew up in the chic Princesses district in Casablanca. But in Morocco, Sarah said, “you can be harassed anywhere by any type of man.”

Asma El Ouerkhaoui also quickly joined The Sorority when it launched in Morocco. A 39-year-old computer scientist living in Rabat, she dresses as a tomboy. “It would be too risky to wear a skirt,” she said. “But the traditional dress doesn’t protect you either; friends of mine who wear a veil are also targeted.

Sarah said that “the moment an abuser recognizes that you are female, you are screwed. It doesn’t matter what type of fabric you are covering. “

She never felt such a “threat” when living in France, said Sarah, who studied law in Bordeaux. “There is a real social problem in Morocco; we must stop hiding our faces with veils.

Like all members of the Moroccan sorority who spoke to FRANCE 24, Sarah said the harassment started as early as puberty.

“As a Moroccan woman, it becomes clear that you are no longer a child when some men – men your father’s age – look at you with lustful gazes.”

Blame the victim

The list of recent incidents of sexual assault in Morocco is astounding: Sexual abuse is filmed and broadcast on the Internet by the perpetrators; a series of incest cases hushed up by families; rape of children; a 96 year old woman sexually assaulted by a group of young people.

The figures are also striking: a survey carried out in 2019 by the Moroccan Ministry of the Family showed that more than half of Moroccan women say they have been victims of sexual violence. But only 6% of them have dared to file a complaint – and less than 10% of women victims of domestic violence leave their abusive partner.

All those contacted by FRANCE 24 said they knew women who had been raped or beaten by their husbands. None of them felt they could speak officially, despite the promise of anonymity.

Zainab Aboulfaraj, a journalist from Casablanca, said this was not surprising. “The most conservative fringe of Moroccan society manages to propagate the idea that many women who have been raped deserve what has happened to them, whether because of their behavior or because of what they were wearing. Therefore, it is considered “extremely shameful” for women to talk about rape, she continued.

Working on a project in the spring of 2020, Aboulfaraj thought it would be impossible to talk to rape victims about what they went through. “The victim support associations that I contacted thought I was crazy,” she said. After several months, four women finally agreed to talk to him. But they kept their first names and details of where they lived, even from her.

Thus was born the web-series #TaAnaMeToo (“#I am also MeToo”). Four rape victims broke their silence thanks to the anonymity offered by the animated format.

Aboulfaraj had long hidden his own traumas as if it were a form of shame. Before, she had never dared to tell anyone the day a gang of boys surrounded, attacked and groped her in Rabat when she was 14 years old.

“I healed my own wounds by helping other women heal theirs,” she said.

A small audience, for now

“If only I could have used an app like The Sorority in 2004,” said Loubna Rais, international development consultant. One night that year, Rais miraculously survived an attempted rape and found herself all alone in an unknown town.

Along with other activists from the Masaktach association (“We will not be silent”), Rais had long dreamed of an application like The Sorority.

Today, she is one of 117 Moroccan women who downloaded the application. But only about forty of them – mainly in the big cities of Rabat and Casablanca – have actually registered on The Sorority.

Morocco enjoys relatively good internet access and 75 percent of Moroccans own a smartphone. But there may be an inherent flaw in the application.

With a monthly minimum wage of 2,929 Dirhams (€ 271) and internet access at 10 Dirhams (€ 1) per gigabyte, what percentage of the Moroccan population can actually afford to participate in The Sorority, asked Raw, the creator of Sobisate.tv, an Instagram channel dedicated to feminist causes in North Africa.

“Let’s also not forget that this is a French language app, so it doesn’t reach the majority of the Moroccan population, who either read only in Arabic or are illiterate,” Raw said. , who uses a pseudonym and who nevertheless registered. with The Sorority.

But blaming the victims remains a big problem. In January 2021, the famous Moroccan dancer Maya Dbaich mocked some rape victims saying “they ask”.

In September, a video of the sexual assault of a young woman in Tangier, northern Morocco, was shared online by a 15-year-old boy. This resulted in an interview widely broadcast on the ChoufTV channel in which a neighbor of the attacker came to his defense and blamed the woman.

The Moroccan media have put a lot of emphasis on the fact that women also blame the victims. But Sarah said it’s important not to fall into the simplistic trap of thinking “women are other women’s worst enemies.”

“The society we live in teaches everyone that women are at fault,” Sarah said. “And some women have internalized that way of thinking.”

Although the picture looks bleak, “the winds of change are blowing in Morocco”, according to Aboulfaraj.

“Moroccan youth were once quite reserved, but now they have social media,” she said. She too decided to join The Sorority after speaking to FRANCE 24.

Instagram accounts such as Sobiaste.tv and La vie d’une Marocaine have relayed hundreds of testimonies about the abuse suffered by women and girls in Morocco.

But these messages not only shed light on sexual violence, they also denounce the Moroccan state and the cultural norms that help to cover it up.

Patriarchal societies in general, and Morocco in particular, try to make it appear that women should view other women – first and foremost – as rivals, Sarah said.

“But The Sorority is bringing a kind of revolution to Morocco, because it shows us that is not true.”

The people behind the app have organized training sessions to prepare people for situations in which they need to help attacked women. During a first test, Sarah sent a false alarm. Several users of the application immediately contacted her, ready to act to put her out of danger.

“I then understood that The Sorority could inspire women to travel for miles to save a complete stranger,” she said. “It filled me with renewed strength.”

* Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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