“It isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” — G.D. Anderson
I spent the past two days at the “Young Women Leaders of Salé, Morocco” conference as a photographer, videographer, intern, and as a female. I got to learn from these women, hear their dreams, their obstacles, their visions, and even their traumas. In a small, colorful classroom down an alleyway of the inner city of Salé, I was invited into their worlds and was given a glimpse of what it’s like to be a twenty-year-old female in Morocco.
The first day began with introductions, as each girl gave a brief summary of her aspirations, her family life, and a “fun fact” about herself. Some of the girls came in knowing each other as they participated in neighborhood NGO’s together, but for the most part it was up to Manal and to us to make these 9 girls feel seen, heard, and supported. And we had only two days to make this difference.
The next 48 hours were filled with improv workshops, group work on road mapping ways to make dreams a reality, mock interviews, intense conversations, laughter, and tears.
We created a board, “My vision”, where each girl got up and contributed to the list of dreams. Some girls wrote two bullet points, and some literally wrote ten. After each person added, another would come up and rotate through the contributions until the white board was so full of dreams there wasn’t a single inch left. Their dreams ranged from continuing education, to leaving abusive marriages & finding self-confidence and strength within themselves again.
In Morocco, from an early age girls are taught that their main accomplishment in life will be finding a husband, settling down, and having kids.
Girls aren’t granted the same opportunities or resources as their male counterparts, and they are labelled from the moment they come into the world as inherently less than.
These girls opened up about cultural taboos, such as sexual harassment, and how it has become so normalized that it’s practically expected.
If a woman gets a divorce, it is her wrongdoings that caused the separation. If she gets pregnant outside of marriage, her it is her family that is shamed. It seems that in almost every scenario, the Moroccan woman is already doomed from the start, merely because she is a female.
But with these women, the labels are merely background noise.
They sneak out to get education regardless of the ramifications that will follow at home later that night. They leave toxic marriages and accept the stigma surrounding a “divorcé” because they know that self-worth will trump society’s expectations.
They work. They fight. They dream.
There were girls my age who were facing divorce, violence, and poverty in measures I couldn’t even fathom, yet they carried themselves with such resilience and strength.
Our phrases of the session was “أنا حاضرة”, meaning, I am here or I am present.
This has become a new part of my vocabulary, as it inspires me to continue to fight for these voices, these presences, these incredible young women.
So when I say girl power it’s not a matter of “I”, but a matter of “We”; and we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
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