Encountering unwanted attention from men is, unfortunately, a reality for female travelers. We have spent four weeks in Morocco up till now and moved from Fez to Rabat last week. It has been interesting for me to observe the different ways women were treated in public spaces in different places in Morocco.
While we were in Fez, I walked for five minutes from my homestay to ALIF when going to class. I’ve noticed that public spaces were usually male-only. I passed by the same café every day and every single time it was only men sitting there regardless if it was daytime or nighttime. Female drivers weren’t a common occurrence in Fes and during the three weeks we have stayed there I may have spotted only two female drivers in the city. Perhaps this explains why women walking in the streets seemed to garner lots of attention. From the first day walking to class with Amani, we were catcalled by men who were driving by in their cars or by the men sitting around in the cafes. During the three weeks we stayed in Fez, Amani and I have been followed twice by men, and catcalled at least once every day. It was even worse when we would go to the Medina. With comments ranging from “Bonjour” and “I love you” to vulgar sexual comments, it was evident that women were not made welcome there.
However, Rabat is very different. Unlike my experience in Fez, Rabat seemed much more welcoming for women than many other places we have visited in Morocco. I have spent about a week in Rabat up till now, but I have yet to experience any unwanted leering or catcalls. It has been a common occurrence for me to see women wearing skinny jeans or short skirts, a sight I haven’t seen in Fez. After speaking to some Moroccan women about this, they all seemed to agree that Fez isn’t the best place for women to be in. In Rabat, women have more mobility and aren’t treated as strangers to the street. And according to my host mother, people in Rabat are more open-minded than people in Fez and more respectful to women. I have really appreciated the fact that I can walk in the Medina and be able to feel safe and not worry about unwanted attention.
Morocco has been one of my favorite countries to travel in, but it is also hard to navigate as a woman. However, this is not surprising because it seems like this is the reality for women everywhere and not exclusive to Morocco only. As a woman living in Saudi Arabia, I have dressed conservatively and abided by the dress code but was still met with unwanted attention. During the one year I have stayed in the U.S, I was not exempt from sexual harassment and neither were any of my female friends. Egypt, my home country, is not much different than Morocco. The month spent in Morocco has taught me how to deal with harassment here and how to avoid it. During this time, I have learned to admire Moroccan women for tolerating and enduring these experiences every day. Harassment in the street is one way of telling women that they don’t belong here, and from my experience, it exists everywhere. Regardless of what women wear in public, there will always be those who oppose their presence and who will treat them as transgressors.