If the global celebrations of International Women’s Day are fast approaching. In Tamarwoute, in the south-west of Morocco, it’s not time to party. Women’s rights activists like Najat Ikhich are always busy working.
Najat Ikhich is the head of rights group YTTO. An association that has been working for more than ten years to fight against the marriage of minors. Ikhich is leading a visit to the Berber-speaking village of Tamadghouste, in southwestern Morocco, to raise awareness of the social issue and promote greater autonomy for women living in the “marginalized“. She is preparing the annual convoy that her association organizes through the remote communities of Morocco. It will take off this summer.”This visit allows us to make a list of villages and neighborhoods that we believe are marginalized and need a lot of work, and then come back for a second visit during which we appoint coordinators in these areas and agree on a final itinerary for the convoy“, she says.
For more than 10 years, YTTO volunteers have been traveling the winding roads of rural Morocco. When they visit small towns, they encounter the same obstacles: precarious livelihoods and longstanding traditions, which can make their message inaudible. The country’s 2004 family code sets the legal age of marriage at 18, but it includes a clause allowing judges to grant families special dispensation. And according to official figures, judges approved some 13,000 waivers in 2020 alone, more than half of all requests.
“Going Through Hell”
In the Souss Massa region, more than 44% of women are illiterate. A lack of education that hinders the development of skills and makes marriage the only guarantee of stability. “The marriage of minors in the countryside is due to many factors such as poverty, marginalization, lack of infrastructure or the fact that young girls do not go to school, Ikhitch explains. In the cities, it is caused by several conservative ideas coming from marginalized neighborhoods like Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, etc., which say that a young girl’s place is with her husband.“
Nadia was just 16 when she was married off to an abusive husband old enough to be her father – an ordeal that thousands of Moroccan girls face each year due to a legal loophole. “I went through hell. But the nightmare is behind me now,” she says.
Nadia, from a remote region in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of the North African kingdom, has managed to get a divorce after a year of marriage.
Now 20 years old and living with her parents in her village of Tamarwoute, she is learning to read and write. “My dream is to be independent and I encourage other girls in the village to do the sameshe said shyly, her face half covered with a scarf.
Battle for autonomy
In the nearby village of Tamadghouste, among the hills dotted with the region’s famous argan trees, hardly a soul stirred. A few young women were gathered to bake bread in the communal oven.
Ikhich approached and exchanged a few words with them in Amazigh, the Berber language of Morocco.
The wary looks of women quickly gave way to a flood of complaints about the standard of living in a village that has no school or pharmacy. Amina, 23, says she was trying to “take controlof her life, after being taken out of school at the age of six and married at 17.
“I always wanted to study but no one helped me. My three sisters had it even worse: they got married very young, around the age of 14.“, she says. At the communal oven, women discuss making carpets or selling traditional bread to nearby hotels as ways to earn a living and gain some autonomy.
They agreed on one thing: all girls have the right to an education. When the YTTO convoy takes off next summer, Najat Ikhich and other volunteers will continue to raise awareness of the social issue of child marriage and promote greater female empowerment.