Saturday, December 3, 2016

Response to the ‘domestic violence makeover’ on Moroccan TV

Last week, Moroccan TV channel 2M made international headlines after airing a segment teaching women how to cover up the bruises left by domestic violence. After reading my piece on gender-based violence that appeared last year in The Conversation, the comments editor of i News emailed me asking for a statement. Hardly an expert myself, I asked some of the young people I work with at Dar Si Hmad, my Moroccan research partner, to reflect on the issue of violence against women, how they have experienced sexual harassment, and what they think the media should be doing. Check out their responses in an op-ed published on i News and read the longer version below. Thanks to Jade Lansing, Dar Si Hmad's former Ethnographic Field School Manager, and Souad Kadi, Project Coordinator, for their help in compiling this piece!

Sabhiyat, a daily programme on Moroccan national channel 2M, recently featured a segment teaching women how to disguise domestic abuse injuries. “Unfortunately, this is how things are,” the host mentions before outlining tips for how foundation can hide bruises. The segment ends dismissively, telling viewers “We hope these beauty tips will help you carry on with your daily life” – as though domestic violence can and should be easily ignored by its victims.
As has been well documented, violence against women is not a new issue in Morocco. 55% of its married women experience domestic violence. A few years ago, Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch remain concerned by the limited legal protections available to victims. See more about this and preventive actions in a piece that appeared last year via The Conversation.
Given the statistics, this news segment sadly was not news. What was shocking, however, was its open acknowledgement of the problem even as it flagrantly dismissed it. The presenter apparently “considers this taunting experienced by women as normal” (see The Concerned Moroccan Citizens campaign). Rather than supporting abuse victims, this kind of reporting legitimises the violence and all but removes blame from the abusers.
Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is a local non-governmental organisation working in Southwest Morocco. Our work includes women’s empowerment and capacity building, girls’ science education, and intercultural exchange through study abroad. In the wake of the 2M segment, we asked some of our young partners to respond. Here’s what they have to say:

Nadia, age 25
I have enormous concerns about this topic. We are in a country that considers girls the main problem causing sexual harassment. I will never forget my first time in a grand taxi (public transit cars) between Agadir and my hometown. I had just spent two weeks away from home for the first time in my life. I viewed the taxi driver as a father or brother, like anybody else doing his job and helping people get home safely. I knew something was wrong when I started getting weird vibes from his glances in the rear-view mirror. Immediately, I started to question myself. How could a man his age act this way with a teenage girl? Maybe I am his daughter or his sister’s age? I was afraid, uncomfortable, and shocked. I was also blaming myself for getting in an empty taxi and wondering if my hair or my outfit had encouraged this. He was smiling, and asking me questions. I was pretending to listen to music, but he wouldn't look away or stop talking to me. I put on my sunglasses to hide tears, and I wanted to scream. I was squeezing myself smaller in hopes he wouldn’t try to touch me. When we arrived in Agadir, other people got in, and I got out. I have never felt such feelings in my life. I was in his cage, and he enjoyed looking at me stressed. Through this experience I learned that while we still have stereotypes about girls in our societies, I will never trust bosses, taxi drivers, workers, or teachers, until we stop blaming the victim.

Zahra, age 21
Being beaten by your husband or anyone is inappropriate. What's worse is that the media makes it into a makeup tutorial, which makes it seem like this behavior permissible. We don’t just paint a wall covered in cracks, because no matter how many layers of paint you put on, the cracks will appear again sooner or later. Wives are not punching bags for husbands to take out their anger on. We have all experienced some sort of sexual harassment, but the bigger issue is that often nobody intervenes, because this has become so normal.
For instance, once I was riding a crowded bus, and I noticed that something strange was happening between a couple standing near me. The guy seemed like he was trying to do something, but the girl didn’t speak up. She looked so embarrassed. I made a fuss about it, and even when it seemed like he was going to hit me for saying something, NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. They just watched. There are places to go if these things happen to you, but unfortunately married women don’t go because they are afraid of shouha (shame). Of course norms, traditions, family views, illiteracy, play a big role in the spread of this phenomena.

Abdelkrim, age 26
As a young man I think domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It takes place “because she is a woman” and happens disproportionately to women. I also think that women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse. Domestic abuse exists as part of violence against women and girls, which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage. This kind of abuse is very popular in Morocco, which is a shame for our society. I believe that the last show in 2M normalizes violence against women, and helps them cover it with makeup. Instead, it is very important to raise victims’ awareness and orientate them to get the help they need from authorities. However, I also see this show as a step forward, since it launches discussions worldwide about this issue and will certainly push the authorities to get the attention needed for the victims.

Jamila, age 20
The media creates a false image for women: either she is well educated and elegant or manageable and traditional. The media is not fair with these women. Instead of spreading their success and informing the audience of changing dynamics, it misshapes their real image into a false and bad one. It tells women they have to obey their husbands instead of defending their basic rights.

Salma, age 20
The fact that domestic violence is still an issue around the world, when we are getting ready for 2017, puts a great deal of responsibility on the media’s shoulders to spread anti-domestic violence messages. Unfortunately, the daily morning 2M TV program is portraying domestic violence as a given and morally accepted behaviour. It acts like a woman’s bruises are her responsibility to cover. In fact, the bruises are the alarming sign of the society’s failure to stand up for her.

Sara, age 26
We live in a patriarchal society that still believes that it is the wife’s responsibility to keep her family in harmony. We teach women they need to keep being patient or they will destroy her family. It is very weird to know that being beaten is a normal act. The weirdest thing is to cover up abuse instead of voicing your opinion and talking about your right of being respected.

Abdelhaq, age 23
‘Woman’ is a very priceless word for me. She’s my mother, my first love, the person I’ll do anything to keep alive. I won’t accept anyone saying things against or hurting her. Woman is my sister, my auntie, my friend, my everyone. Nobody has the right to touch a woman because of her gender or because the world gives her fewer chances. A woman is a human before she is a woman. She has rights we are obliged to peacefully respect. She has dreams of success and gifted hands, just like men do. As such, I totally respect and support her.

Souad, age 22
Seeing this show reminded of the conclusion I came to in my bachelor's thesis. I discovered that the media is a way of reinforcing dangerous stereotypes about women. I analyzed two Moroccan advertisements. In both, women are obedient, naive and almost always silent. These assumptions are transmitted between generations. If we don’t change something, the next generation will perceive women the same way their parents’ generation did.

Sara, age 20
I have never personally experienced violence, because I am lucky to come from a peaceful, honest home. We’re a patriarchal society, and violence is not only linked to husbands; it also comes from big brothers and uncles. Unfortunately, I have encountered sexual harassment, mostly verbal, and it’s upsetting to see that my favorite TV programs are giving make up tutorials on how to cover beatings. It’s really a shame to see how a serious issue has become so normal. Instead of covering it up, they should be talking about how to address the roots of this issue. Husbands need to control their anger and respect their wives.

Oumhani, age 21
Like many others, I encounter sexual harassment in the streets and it is mostly verbal. It is very offensive and insulting even when only verbal – and I wish the Moroccan government would criminalize that act. This should be a free country where men as well as women are free to wear whatever they want without being harassed. To help protect that freedom sexual harassment of any kind should be met with extreme sentences
The 2M TV segment is actually no surprise to me – the channel isn’t very good. Instead of wasting five minutes making a senseless beauty tutorial, they should have taken this dangerous matter into real consideration. They could have brought a legitimate coach, psychologist, or lawyer to teach us how to take action and not be afraid.
And however the bruises may look, women will always be strong and beautiful. No make-up necessary.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Bach Project

Guitar nerd?

Interested in the philosophy of harmony?

Fascinated by history?

Love The Beatles and Abbey Road?

Enjoy seeing unusual instruments?

Like pretty music?

Want to spread more love in the world?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, I encourage you to check out (and, if you're able, donate to) a very cool project. World-renowned classical guitarist Michael Poll has been working on an incredibly academic yet beautiful project reinvigorating some music written by Bach for the lute with a seven-string guitar. Which he'll be recording in Abbey Road.

As a bonus, I appear in the audience in one of Michael's selected promo pics. ;)

Check it out:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching, teaching, and teaching, oh my!

In the course of two days last week, I taught literature to nine-year-olds; maths to thirteen-year-olds; agricultural water policy to undergrads; and hydro-diplomacy to master’s students. It was quite the whirlwind!

I’m teaching with The Brilliant Club this term. They needed coverage of some subjects I don’t usually teach, and I guess they’re feeling confident with me…here comes Becca leading a mathematical physics course for Years 8 and 9 on ‘Would the stars float in the bath?’ The first day we played with density; today we worked on significant units, conversions, formulas, and finding the gradient of a chart. Meanwhile the younger students are exploring what creation myths tell us about the relationship between humans and nature. It’s been really great to relive my maths and science days from high school…but I’m definitely enjoying the social-natural stories as well.

Other than the load of teaching, my foot is properly on the mend and I’m feeling much more energetic. So it’s now time for a desperate attempt to get back into actual levels of PhD productivity. So much transcribing and typing to do!! :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

À Bientôt, Maroc!

Ta ta for now, Morocco...once again, it's been a delight!

I've spent the last week at COP22 observing Dar Si Hmad's incredible environmental diplomacy. They've been showcasing fog technology, environmental education, and climate change adaptation. I've been helping to staff the booth and work with our incredible Environmental Youth Ambassadors - urban students who are producing multi-media, multi-lingual content about environmental issues in Southwest Morocco.

After waving at camels and goats, being sprayed by young students pretending to be 'fog' with our interactive teaching net, and meeting some friends from around the world also here for COP, it's time to head back to London.

While I don't recommend being on crutches for 2 months, it does make security queues at the airport much faster to navigate! Let's hear it for a quick and easy immigration experience...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the Election, A Letter to You

To the 59,165,778 persons who voted for Donald Trump: you are loved. I am sorry that your views, opinions, and struggles are being demonised by the media and many individuals. I am sorry that we have created a world in which Trump feels like a solution to your struggles. I hope that you are willing to work alongside those with whom you disagree to make life better. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the 59,333,856 persons who voted for Hillary Clinton: you are loved. I am sorry that your candidate was not elected and you are frustrated by the result. I hope that you will channel your hurt and anger into continued action for justice, equality, and understanding rather than attacks on those who voted differently than you. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the many persons who voted for another candidate or did not or could not vote: you are loved. I am sorry that you are poorly represented by a two-party system that continues to make the voting process a difficult one. I hope that you will find ways to make your voice heard in the coming years. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the persons of colour, LBGTQ individuals, Muslims, immigrants, women, and others who are terrified about the prospect of losing their rights, dignity, and freedom: you are loved. I am sorry that the future is a frightening one for you. I hope that you will take comfort in the knowledge that many people are concerned and will not be silent. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the millions of persons around the world who had no say in this election but whose lives will be dramatically impacted by the result: you are loved. I am sorry that a decision made without you can hurt you so much. I am sorry that my country so often fails to be what it can and should be. I hope that you will not be harmed by this vote. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To you: you are loved. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hello from COP22!

After a week of being ill, I went to Norwich one more time to participate in a workshop on Evidence-Based Practice in Water Security. After an insane amount of travel, I have happily arrived back in Morocco. It's time for COP22!

Stealing from the Dar Si Hmad blog

Climate change is having huge impacts not only on ecosystems and economics but also on societies and communities in a broad variety of ways. In the Aït Baamrane region of Southwest Morocco, climate change alters rainfall patterns, influences crop yields, and reshapes ecosystems, especially forests. Forests are particularly important as the United Nations has found that around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods – including some 70 million indigenous people. The impacts of climate change on agriculture, energy supply and water sources directly affect humans’ lives.

The residents of rural Aït Baamrane are struggling to adapt to global warming and climate change. Regional drought levels are rising as temperatures warm, leading to higher chances of experiencing extreme heat and an ecosystem unbalance. This makes it harder for women searching for water, as supply and sources are harder to predict.

The world’s largest environmental “fog harvesting” system run by Dar Si Hmad is based in Aït Baamrane. It was created with the aim of helping communities thrive and provide them with potable water, creating a local solution to climate threats.

Dar Si Hmad doesn’t limit its work to providing people with clean water. Humans, after all, aren’t the only Life on Land! Projects like the Water School and Women’s Capacity-Building in the Anti-Atlas Mountains help people learn about their surrounding ecosystems, other species of fauna and flora, and the role they can play in climate stabilization.

Dar Si Hmad is a poignant example of how local systems can lead a revolution toward climate policy and what kinds of solutions can be delivered to communities. Dar Si Hmad is helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals working to transform the world and create a better place by:
  • Ensuring the sustainable supply of clean water for the Aït Baamrane region;
  • Improving the lives of local communities; and
  • Creating and stimulating sustainable livelihood opportunities.

The climate is changing. Dar Si Hmad doesn’t wait to adapt, it innovates first. The group’s recent United Nations Momentum for Change Award has recognized the great success of the work being done.

In just a few days, Dar Si Hmad will join forces with other NGOs, activists, journalists, policymakers, and diplomats to fight climate change at COP 22 in Marrakech. We hope you’ll join us, either at our booth in the Green Zone or online. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about how we are making a difference and how you can join us to protect life on land for all.

Hello from Marrakech, and happy Climate Action!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Norwich once again

While I do not spend all of my time in Norwich, it continues to be my favourite English city...and it's fantastic to get back for various things.

This trip focused on the University of East Anglia's Water Security Research Centre, where I am a Visiting Fellow. I attended a seminar by Jamie Linton, a great mind in human-water interactions. He presented on the politics and social relations surrounding a dam in the Eastern Pyrenes of France. Fun stuff - and very different than what I usually do!

This afternoon, I got to know this year's cohort of postgraduate students a bit better through a three-hour seminar exploring the hydro spiral and how we understand models. I do believe a good time was had by all.

The Hydrosocial Spiral: Exploring Human-Water Interactions through Participatory Modelling
Abstract: “All models are wrong, but some are useful” (George E. P. Box). In 1934, the National Resources Board of the United States of America published the first visually descriptive hydrologic cycle diagram. Like water itself, this simple graphic has evolved in some ways and remained stagnant in others throughout the past eighty years. Multiple edits have been made, graphics have become more realistic, and many agencies and organisations have developed their own diagrams. Yet the majority of hydro cycle diagrams continue to ignore or understate the role of humans in the hydrologic system and the vast diversity of watersheds. For some time now, social scientists of water have been offering critiques of the ‘classic’ hydro cycle, with scholarship emerging around the ‘hydrosocial cycle’ and increased consideration of water’s interplay with other systems through the food-water-energy nexus, the planetary boundaries framework, and others. Building from these critiques and advances in our thinking on the teaching and modelling of water’s movement in the anthropocene, a Working Group at the University of East Anglia has created a participatory tool for exploring the historical, political, economic, cultural, and natural processes of water. The “hydrosocial spiral” is a dynamic visual graphic for use by researchers, teachers, managers, and activists allowing for a variety of conceptions of and communications around water. This seminar will review the extant literature on hydrosocial interactions, describe the creation and implementation of the hydrosocial spiral, and engage participants in creating their own version of a hydrosocial model.