Moroccan TV tutorial: how to cover up the damage caused by family abuse?
On November 23, a morning talk show on Moroccan state television aired a market segment that used makeup to mask the scars of domestic violence. This is part of an international day for the elimination of violence against women in two days.
The reaction was swift and negative. The TV station apologized.
But the idea of covering up domestic violence reflects local attitudes, according to researchers and government surveys. In Morocco, when a man beats, rapes, cuts or burns his wife, the woman’s friends, family members and even the police are reluctant to let her go home.
To learn more, we talked to two experts about this topic. Rothna Begum is a researcher on women’s rights in the Middle East and north Africa for human rights watch. In September 2015, she interviewed 20 in a Moroccan women have experienced domestic violence, and interviewed dozens of women’s rights activists, lawyers, social workers and dealing with domestic violence survivors. Sarah Kambou is President of the international center for women research.
Why do you think TV shows do this part?
Begum: makeup artists think this will help women hide their bruises so they can continue their daily lives. There is no negative intent around, but it is misguided – women should be concerned, not deterred. The station has apologized for the failure, but the damage has been done.
Kambou: I’m sure they think they’re helpful. But the negative consequences are the messages they send to men: your actions may be covered up.
The general attitude in Morocco is that spouse abuse is acceptable and you should cover it up?
Begum: the women and girls I spoke to often said they were under pressure from their families and friends to stay with the bullies, continue their lives, and find ways to continue to seek support. As far as we know, there are only 10 shelters across the country. Women talk of nowhere to go. One woman said she had been running away with her children for years, but in a shelter she could only stay for two months.
How widespread is domestic violence in Morocco?
Begum: in a government survey of 8,300 women between the ages of 18 and 65 in 2009-10, two-thirds of married and unmarried women said they were victims of some form of domestic violence. In this figure, 55 percent said the violence was in the hands of the husband. Others were abused by their father or brother. Only 3 percent of husbands mistreated their women and reported them to the police.
I was talking to a woman, and I was burned by a barbecue. When she went to see the police, they asked her if she had any witnesses. No. When they called her husband, he told the police that she had burned herself. “What woman will kill herself?” she pleaded. But the police will not be without witnesses.
International standards require laws on domestic violence to allow courts to consider other forms of evidence, such as photographs and medical reports.
Some of the women and girls I met talked about being beaten up, mostly by their father or brother. They thought they were marrying just to find their victims again and escape the violence. An 18-year-old woman told me she was married when she was 16. She fled from her father’s violence and married a ten-year-old man. On the wedding night, he asked her to dance naked in front of him and his friends. He raped her himself, unconscious. When she went to the police, they did nothing. When she asked for a divorce, he tried to cut off her face, but she cut her arm. Her father told her that even if he tried to kill her, she should stay with her husband. I met her at the shelter. She is very brave. She has decided enough.
There are 125 countries around the world that have laws on domestic violence. What needs to be done to change attitudes in a country?
Retention: the law helps women who are fugitives and prosecute perpetrators. Until recently, we saw that the governments of the Middle East and north Africa were taking steps to deal with domestic violence. In Lebanon, there are only two years of domestic violence law, but the organization has done a lot to improve the legal consciousness. The new law stipulates that women can impose a restraining order on abusers, establish shelters for abused women and set up domestic violence units within the police force. One disadvantage is that Lebanese law does not criminalize marital rape. The north African countries are still backward in execution: the perpetrators are at large, so they continue to be violent.
Kambou: making laws in the book is just one of the key points in combating domestic violence. If the police and the justice department is not taken seriously, if they are not trained in how to welcome the victims of violence, if they don’t try to prevent further damage to the women, that is not important good law.
Is there any progress in changing attitudes towards domestic violence?
Camb: India has some progressive laws. We did some work in public schools in mumbai, and introduced a course focused on violence against girls and women. Two years after the programme began, attitudes to violence against girls and women fell by four percentage points, from 56% to 52%. In schools that do not use the curriculum, attitudes to violence have risen from 44 per cent to 50 per cent. Bangladesh, the Philippines and north Vietnam are beginning to use the curriculum.
Begum: this topic is on the table now. After the makeup was aired, the reaction of the radicals and the general public was swift and provoked by what they saw. They believe it is a false message to the survivors of domestic violence. The moroccans have been asked to talk about it. You need to turn from “what she deserves” to “this is a crime”.