Meet The Indigenous Moroccan Women Fighting Domestic Violence, Child Marriage & Political Oppression

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There are many countries around the world which have a history of marginalizing, oppressing and silencing their indigenous population. America, Canada, Australia, India and many, many more. The sad truth is that countries which have an indigenous population are still seeing the effects of that oppression in ways that is often not shown in mainstream media. Part of the reason we love intersectional feminism is the recognition of oppression taking many different forms for different people.

Minorities are subjected to domestic violence in a way that perhaps a middle class white person cannot identify with. There is also the recognition that there are different issues altogether that certain groups of people may not experience, which is why we are so passionate about promoting feminism today – it is not just about getting equal pay or access to reproductive rights, it is about the fundamental need for gender equality among all groups of people, even those who are on the fringes of society and do not have access to social media to have their voices heard as much as others.

In Morocco, the indigenous North African Amazigh women, or Berber women, are fighting back against oppression from certain parts of the Arab world. These Berber women claim their matriarchal traditions and native language, among other issues, are under threat from the growing political influence of Islam.

Morocco is home to the largest population of Berber, and they are growing increasingly angry at the growing influence of Islam in the region. The Berber women do not consider themselves as part of the Arab demographic and are fighting to have their own culture recognized by the government, which they say is tough because of the increasing encroachment of religious influence at government level.

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In a feature for The New York Times’ Women In The World website, writer Emma-Kate Symons explains how feminist activists are taking a stand and bringing visibility to what the Berber women are facing – a system which gives immunity to perpetrators of domestic violence, child marriage, and polygamy.

WITW points out that although the Berber population is estimated to be as high as 70%, an indigenous majority, they are treated as a minority group, which is lacking the same kind of access to health and education as the rest of the Arab population. Throughout the greater North African region, an estimated 25 million Berber people live in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, as well as Morocco.

One feminist organization, The Voice of the Amazigh Women, was created specifically to raise awareness about the problems this group are facing in relation to their place in society. Amina Zioual, President of the organization says these women are double oppressed because of their gender as well as ethnicity.

“We created our group because the Amazigh woman — who typically speaks her native Tamazight, not French or Arabic — is not listened to and is even marginalized by the system in Morocco. We have been in all the countries of North Africa for 3,000 years. We are oppressed by our government. They are always talking about Arabs but we are fighting to rewrite the history of Morocco,” she told WITW.

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This org wants to challenge the false narrative that they are a minority and refuse to assimilate into the Arab culture, as they want people to know that the Indigenous population were there long before Islam brought an influx of Arab populations to the region. The Berber people date back to the Roman Empire and it was only when the Muslim and French conquests starting in the 7th century invaded that their ethnic dominance was overtaken.

The path they see to greater recognition and justice is with the government respecting all religions, not just Islam. It is a diverse country, culturally, but the growing influence of Islam wants to ensure it becomes an Arab state. Throughout the country, 70% of Moroccan women are illiterate, and the number is said to be higher among Berber women. Because of the knock-on effect of lack of education (if they can’t read and write, they don’t know their legal rights and are less likely to report violence or have knowledge regarding healthcare) that Amina Zioual’s organization is fighting to ensure Berber women are more empowered to stand up for their rights.

One of the reasons the Berber women and their advocates do not want the dominant influence of Islam in the government is because of the patriarchal customs that are viewed as harsh and harmful toward women.

“The active marginalization and oppression of women has come from Arab countries — it is the Arab male who has this culture. But in our culture the woman is queen. We never experienced polygamy until the arrival of Arab culture. And now the problem has been aggravated with the arrival of the Islam of Daesh (Islamic State) which has penetrated regional areas,” said Amina.

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Human Rights Watch counts Morocco as one of the worst offenders of women’s and girl’s rights in the Arab world, where domestic violence rates are quite high and 10% percent of marriages are child marriages. Girls between the ages of 13-18 are being married off, and this is something the Amina’s feminist organization wants to stop in Berber communities.

Within the problem of child marriage and women not understanding or knowing their rights, there is a bizarre law that allows rapists to escape any prosecution if they marry their victims. In conservative cultures, which are very common in Arab countries, due to the pressure and shame that comes with a young girl no longer being a virgin, families often prefer the option of marrying their young daughter off so that they will no longer be a social pariah. This is the destructive pattern the Berber women want to move away from as do their advocates.

On the position of divorce, all the power lies with the husband and this is what Amina’s organization is working to dismantle. Despite a 2004 a law was brought in saying men cannot divorce their wives without their permission, that is not enforced.

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“With this government presided over by an Islamic political party there is always the pressure to put an Islamic reference into all the laws. But as a feminist movement we denounce all these changes to the civil code and the penal and family code…everything is seen through the Islamic prism,” said Amina.

Feminists like her believe many of the types of oppression Berber women face essentially stems from religious influence. They are trying to encourage greater political participation from indigenous communities in order to change laws, enable them to get educated, marry later and understand their fundamental rights.

Amina Zioual told WITW her passion to stand up for these women comes from a personal place – as an indigenous woman herself, she was discriminated in school for not being able to speak Arabic. As she grew up and learned more about the struggles the Berber women faced, she dedicated her life to changing it, claiming the feminist movement as a catalyst for empowering her to do just that. ”

“Injustice and violence pushed me to work in different human rights and women’s groups, but the particular needs of Amazigh women were never discussed so we were obliged to found our own association. I will always be a feminist because when you live in Morocco and you see everything a woman must submit to, you automatically become feminist,” she said.

You can find out more about the issues facing Amazigh people by going to The Voice of the Amazigh Women’s website.

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