Discrimination – Tangier: Women’s dress code leaflets stipulate “illegitimate guardianship”

A freshly-spotted controversial poster has been subject to social media outrage in Morocco, for it denounces women’s dress code, while holding parents responsible for the latters’ choice of clothing.

The poster, that was first spotted in Tangier, tended to attack parents in particular, “accusing them of lacking honor and modesty (except for a few), for they allow their daughters and other female relatives to showcase their charms in public”. The poster also attacked women of different age groups, including 13 years-old girls, for wearing “short and tight pants”, referring to them as “cheap goods”.

The text, which appeared as a formal “dedication”, questioned women’s choice of clothing, and wondered how could this happen -in the presence of men- within their households!

In their response to the poster, several community actors declared that this matter shall be approached “in an ordinarily fashion”; for such behavior has no valid ground in a modern society where laws denounce all sorts of guardianship over others.

The poster was subject to different interpretations, for some claim that the latter seems harmless and represents no threat whatsoever (freedom of expression), while others believe that whomever made the poster was only speaking his/her mind, from a religious perspective, in light of the “sexual provocations” that Moroccan youth may come across, during the holy month of Ramadan.

Inciting Hatred

The Regional Committee for Human Rights within Tangiers-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region, condemned the poster, pointing that the latter expresses “extremist views” and “incites aspects of hatred, discrimination and violence” against women and girls, in a way that jeopardizes their freedom in public spaces. The committee also praised Tangier’s public prosecution for reacting vividly to the poster by opening an investigation over the matter”, noting that “tackling such practices requires raising public awareness in order to counter hate speech and take concrete measures against the perpetrators of such crimes”.

For his part, Islamist researcher and scholar, Mohamed Abdelwahhab al-Rafiki, stated that such an act shall be approached from a security perspective, noting that similar acts have brought dire consequences to Morocco in the past, for the state has been lenient in dealing with the perpetrators at the time.

“What we have witnessed today has nothing to do with freedom of expression, for the alleged perpetrators tended to hang the poster on a public property that only the state has power over”, al-Rafiki told Hespress.

Regarding the content of this controversial poster, al-Rakifi stated that there are several approaches to be considered while addressing the issue.

Within the same context, al-Rafiki pointed that the nature of the problem lies in society’s incomprehensive approach to the laws framing the state’s path for modernity, stressing that the concept of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil, in the traditional sense, is no more compatible with the foundations of civil and modern states.

“In fact, such a concept had no definite interpretation throughout the Islamic golden age, for most Muslim states at the time, especially those with weak ruling bodies, allowed for this concept to be exercised accordingly, by their own subjects”, al-Rafiki added.

“In today’s modern state, it is absolutely forbidden to interfere in people’s lives or exercise guardianship over individuals. Therefore, I believe that guardianship, as well as the concept of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil, shall be exercised within the state’s legal capacity, for no man or woman have the right to make choices on behalf of others”, he concluded.

Advisory opinion

In light of the ongoing debate over the poster, President of the civilizations’ Forum, El Arbi Bouayad, raised the question on whether “We, as people, are seeking freedom, or shall simply abide by tyranny, which promotes one-sided thoughts and opinions?”

“Whomever was behind the poster had to showcase their views on a hanger (anonymously), for they were not given the chance to express their opinions openly”, Bouayad stated.

Bouayad also emphasized the need to address people’s minds in order for us to understand each other within a mutually-established civilized dialogue, noting that such openness shall fall within our common identity if we really tend to ensure its preservation.

Bouayad also warned against linking the content of the poster to ISIS ideologies, pointing that the latter uses violence as a pretext to its actions, while the poster was purely advocatory.

Unacceptable contents

For his part, College Professor and Human Rights Activist, Khalid El Bekkari, emphasized the need to place the poster within its proper context, noting that the content attacks both human rights and freedom; however, it represents the right to express oneself regardless of the publisher’s extremist views (if there are any). Meanwhile, such acts shall be approached differently when free expression goes as far as promoting violence, racial discrimination, or hatred, he added.

El Bekkari also pointed that the content (in this case) is far from extraordinary, for it has been expressed in the open, on several occasions, within different social and religious contexts, including sermons (Friday prayer), noting that questions relating to women’s dress code have been subject to debate in both Judaism and Christianity as well.

In this regard, El Bekkari stated that the actual problem lies in using public spaces to showcase such views for everyone to see; therefore, these posts are deemed unacceptable from a human rights perspective, provided that no gender or class shall be overshadowed in the process.

Within the same context, El Bekkari pointed that opening an investigation -to define the parties behind the aforementioned poster- falls within the state’s normal procedures on such matters, for whomever was behind the leaflet, opted to share their views in a public space (which is illegal).

El Bekkari also urged the general public to overlook such an act, for judicial police alone has the power to look into the matter accordingly.

“I did not find these publications shocking (to say the least), for they addressed a matter that I knew existed. We are used to hearing all about it in coffee places, mosques, buses, cabs, and others”, El Bekkari stressed. “This might seem quite normal to some people even”, he added.

“It is important to tell the difference between the contents that seem hostile to freedoms and human rights, while carrying a demonic view of women; and the opinions that such contents tend to express, regardless of the time and place that the perpetrators opt for to have their way around it”, El Bekkari concluded.


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