By Bochra Laghssais – Growing up in a little Amazigh village called Tazarine in the desert oasis of Morocco means being born into family tribe which is dominated by men. My community works on a segregated system that discriminates against women because of their gender. The only expectation for a woman is that she stay at home and raise the children. Women are controlled by codes of honor and shame; honor to those who fulfill this role and obey men, and shame to those who decide to break these gender barriers by seeking access to public spaces thought to be owned by men. Unfortunately, I live in a society that still believes women are the property of men.
I can still remember when I was nine years old my father left home and never returned, leaving my mother with four children. My mom was illiterate at the time, and being a divorced woman in such a patriarchal society was a daily battle for her. My society considers us valueless because there isn’t a man in our family, so we had to stand up and fight for ourselves.
My society considers us valueless because there isn’t a man in our family, so we had to stand up and fight for ourselves.
My mother could not afford a good education for me and my siblings, so we went to public schools, and in my free time, I would go to the Quranic School or Youth Center. Though she was illiterate, my mother believed in the power of education; she always insisted on my education saying, “School is what can empower a person. If I had had the chance to go to school I would have been able to stand up for myself when your father left home rather than having to rely on my family to provide for us.” This really empowered me every morning when I was waking up to go to school.
Another obstacle in my community and tribe is being one of the girls who decided to break the silence and raise her voice against all the oppression that young girls face, like not being able to pursue a higher education in a big city. It is regarded as “Hchoma’’ – a shameful act – because a “good girl” is the one who gets married at an early age and gets to look after her husband and kids. I believe that this kind of life is not for me; I have big dreams that I want to realize.
I am 20 years old and I aspire to be a Feminist scholar just like Fatima Mernissi.
I finally graduated from high school in 2014 and had to move to a big city in order to continue my studies. I enrolled at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech to study English Literature and American Society, where another set of challenges awaited me.
It was my first time being totally independent and living in a city where I faced sexual harassment on a much larger scale than I did in my small village. And being a university student limited my ability to work, leaving me with little money and no other option than to live in one room with four roommates. I had to take a part-time job to cover my rent, as well as my expensive textbooks and school supplies. I then became very aware of the disadvantage I had from Arabic being my second language. As an Amazigh girl, I faced discrimination from some of my peers for not being Arab; there is a stereotype that Amazigh people are vulnerable and weak, which is not the truth. Because of these barriers, it was very difficult for me to build friendships.
Despite all these challenges – including being away from my home and family – I was determined to continue what I started and to become a voice for many girls in my community. Today, I am finishing my university studies, I am fluent in Amazigh, Arabic, French, and English, and I am hoping to learn even more. I am 20 years old and I aspire to be a Feminist scholar just like Fatima Mernissi.
I am determined to be that same ray of hope to other young girls who feel helpless and disempowered by serving as a role model for independence and the power of education.
On my path to achieving those goals, I am currently working with the US Peace Corps, doing youth development work that was inspired by the positive impact their volunteers had on me when I was a teenager. As I encountered them in my village, they helped me develop my personality and skills. Now, six years later, I am determined to be that same ray of hope to other young girls who feel helpless and disempowered by serving as a role model for independence and the power of education.
In addition to helping Peace Corps volunteers run Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve, I also work with Project Soar Morocco, a U.S. based non-profit that empowers underserved Moroccan adolescent girls through art, sports, and health education programs. The goal is to help keep them in school and to help them recognize their strength, intelligence, capability and worth. It’s work that aligns with what I fought for for myself and what I continue to embody.