A veiled woman hails a cab late at night on a deserted road in Casablanca, Morocco. As the taxi takes off, the driver asks her what on earth she is doing out alone at such a late hour.
“I was working,” the woman responds as the disconcerted driver asks her whether her husband approves. “I’m divorced,” she says.
For a woman in Morocco, there are few situations that are worse than that of Khadija, the protagonist of “Camera/Woman”, a documentary about a divorced woman working as a camera operator who faces strong discrimination in her community and, ultimately, becomes estranged from her family.
Nine years after the reform of a family law allowed women to seek divorce, separation from their husbands remains a stigma for most Moroccan women, the documentary’s director, Karima Zoubir, told TrustLaw at the film’s screening at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.
“Some men, when they know that a woman is divorced, they think she’s loose,” Zoubir said.
The 2004 reform of the law also raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 from 15 and made procedures for polygamy complicated.
However the reform has been dogged by Morocco’s conservative and predominantly male judges – who can rely on their own discretion in allowing minors to be married – and by a failure to adopt laws to ensure women have better protection from physical abuse.
Recently, the case of a teenage girl who killed herself by swallowing rat poison after being forced to marry the man who raped her, prompted calls for the amendment of a law that allows rapists to marry their victims in order to avoid prosecution.
When Zoubir met Khadija, she became interested in her story as both a divorcee and a camerawoman.
Filming wedding parties or other important life events became popular in Morocco in the 1990s as more and more families wanted to have memories of such events. But it wasn’t always desirable to have a male photographer or cameraman as they would often get drunk and harass women at the party, or only film or take shots of a certain woman they liked, Zoubir said.
She said that some women working as camera operators at, for example, wedding and circumcision parties are the sole breadwinners in the family.
That was the case for Khadija who, after a long legal battle to obtain a divorce from her husband, was left alone to look after her young son, her mother and sister, and her brother.
The whole family opposed her working, especially because she often had to work at night to film parties that lasted until dawn.
After a particularly nasty argument with her brother that resulted in her and her son being kicked out of the house she’s paying rent for, Khadija sobbed desperately to her friends: “If he is the man of the house, why is he always asking me for money?”
LIKE A PROSTITUTE
Khadija’s curse is the fact that hers is a night job. For Moroccan women, a day job is acceptable, Zoubir said. But working at night is considered shameful and often associated with prostitution.
“Casablanca is a cosmopolitan city but we still have this stigma for women who are alone at night,” Zoubir said.
But compared to other Arab countries, women in Morocco are very lucky, Zoubir said. “I can travel on my own without needing any permissions from men.”
Women in Morocco have been fighting to make their voice heard for years, she said. “Before 2004, it was very difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce – sometimes they had to buy it from their husbands.”
The family law has created “a new generation of divorced women for which Moroccan society is just not ready”, she said.
“This is about culture, not religion – because there is no problem in the religion about divorced women … A woman can marry as much as she wants.”
For Zoubir, whose father died when she was young and who considers herself lucky to have had a mother as head of the household, the Arab Spring didn’t bring much change to her home country.
“(In Morocco) women have been struggling for a long time and they have been long pushing for more freedom,” she said.
By Maria Caspani