Morchidats in Morocco: Advice and Guidance for Young Women
By Ratha Lehall
On Friday 30 January, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of Casablanca Calling, which was followed by a Q&A session with director Rosa Rogers and producer Hilary Durman. The documentary focuses on three Morchidat: women who work in schools, prisons, mosques and communities across Morocco to educate the population about the true meaning of Islam, with a particular focus on the role of women. The Morchidat provide support and advice to women and girls, many of whom are experiencing difficulties at home or at work. The training of women in this capacity was an initiative implemented by King Mohammed IV of Morocco as part of a series of legislative reforms which strengthened the rights of women, and assigned them greater protection under family law. The Morchidat were first introduced in 2006, following the Casablanca bombings of 2003, partly in response to concern over the way religion was being taught and interpreted within many mosques around the country.
Following the screening, Rogers explained that as herself and the producer were both women, they were frequently limited in their access to the opinions of men in Morocco: “We had access to the women’s world in a way that we didn’t have access to the men’s world….which is something that we would like to see more of…I think that’s another film, maybe.”
On the subject of the Morchidat, Durman called them:
“Our window into understanding the texture of society and the struggles of women and girls in that society.”
A number of audience members were keen to know more about how exactly the Moroccan people had responded to the introduction of the Morchidat. As the Morchidat are a very small group, numbering approximately 600 nationwide, much of the Moroccan population are still not aware of their existence. As a result, Rogers explained, the response has been generally positive:
“A lot of people think they are a really good idea….There were protests about it when the initiative was first introduced, but it has been introduced quite quietly.”
Rogers commented on the rigorous training process for the Morchidat, and regretted that she had not been able to include elements of this within the film. Highlighting her comment that it is “an incredibly competitive field to get into”, Rogers explained that there are often hundreds of applicants, and that women have to both know the Qu’ran by heart and have a university degree. Furthermore, successful applicants must undergo a year of full-time training which focuses on a broad range of subjects, including religious studies, international affairs, psychology and mediation.
An audience member commented on the disturbing rise of Islamaphobia in the West, and praised the film’s positive portrayal of female religious leaders who use the Qu’ran to demonstrate the crucial role of women in society and Islam. The director and producer were then posed the question of whether the film would be used for educational purposes, to which Durham responded that the film is currently being used by schools in the US and Morocco, and will be shown as a “pilot” in East London in April.
Thanks @frontlineclub for Casablanca Calling screening and lively Q n A!
— M Francois-Cerrah (@MFrancoisCerrah) January 30, 2015
Another member of the audience expressed the point that the film does not directly address poverty as an underlying cause of gender inequality in Morocco, which is particularly present in rural areas, and questioned whether a widespread misinterpretation of Islam was solely responsible. She argued that King Mohammed IV of Morocco, himself an extremely wealthy man, had purposefully shifted the blame onto misinterpretations of Islam in order to abdicate his regime of any responsibility, and that to a certain extent Casablanca Calling could be seen as a “mouthpiece for the government.” Rogers responded:
“The political situation there is very complex, and… I don’t feel that what we have done is a propaganda piece for the government at all. I feel that it is very much a film about the work that the women are doing on the ground and how that has changed things… I think that the political situation is extremely complex, and to try and bring all of that in and deconstruct that takes it off in a different direction. I’m not sure this film is necessarily the right place to do that. I absolutely agree that poverty is the biggest issue… Amongst the urban elite there’s a very strong idea that this [Morchidat] is a tokenistic programme, and what they’re doing doesn’t make much difference, but we just felt after spending lots of time with them on the ground that it is making a difference. [But] it’s not enough on it’s own, it’s not going to change things on its own at all.”
The Q&A concluded with a comment from an audience member from Morocco, who agreed with the film’s premise that education and a greater understanding of Islam remain the most important routes to the positive development of Moroccan society. She stated that, in her experience, Morchidat had significantly influenced the way that Moroccan women view themselves and their role in both a societal and a familial context.
Further details about Casablanca Calling and upcoming screenings can be found on the film’s website here.