Thursday, February 23, 2012

Language update

The Peace Corps recently asked me to participate in a focus group consisting of volunteers along with directors of the Youth Centers in which volunteers work. The meeting was run by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the division of the Moroccan government with which the Peace Corps works, and was intended to help Peace Corps and the government work together to develop a countrywide curriculum that supports shared goals and objectives for Moroccan youth. 

I was very excited to be involved in the project because I want to get involved in the strategy behind our programming, and I want to help provide resources for Peace Corps volunteers in meeting our goals and objectives. My excitement waned a little (okay, a lot) when I found out a crucial piece of information: The focus group would be held entirely in Darija (Moroccan Arabic). These days I have no problem using Darija in my classes, when I go to the market, greeting people on the streets, or just hanging out with friends - but I'm pretty sure that there is a whole branch of the language starting with the word "curriculum" that I have never used before.

We did have a bit of translation help in the meeting fortunately, but even without it, I ended up feeling really grateful for the experience. Why? Well, it got me out of my everyday language rut ("I'll have 1 kilo of tomatoes, please") and forced me both to use my language in a different way, and to listen carefully and even learn a few new words. Here are a few new additions to my vocabulary:
The focus group experience, while daunting at first, motivated me to find ways week to week to get out of my comfort zone, learn new vocabulary, and use my language in new and interesting ways. In the spirit of learning new things, I thought I would teach a few words in Moroccan Arabic that I most commonly use. If you recall from this early blog post, I included a few greeting words, so this is Lesson #2!

- Shnu smitk? - What is your name?
- Smiti Layla. - My name is Layla. (That's my name here, since it's easier to pronounce than Lauren. It's starting to grow on me!)
- Mtshrfeen. - Nice to meet you.
- Shukran. - Thank you.
- Aefek. - Please.
- Bslama! - Goodbye!
- Dar Shabab - Youth Center (this is where I work)
- Mudir (if a male), Mudira (if a female) - the Director of the Youth Center
- B Shwiya eafak - Slowly please (this is one we use a LOT!)

So study up on your Darija (particularly Mom and Dad Weinrich and Mom and Dad Bernstein who are visiting us in the upcoming months)... I'll be quizzing you on these soon!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Week in Photos

Last week was spent in Mehdia (north of Rabat) for training sessions -
bundled up but still on the BEACH!!
Moroccan surfers
Can't get much good fish in our site,
so I made a beeline to the nearest restaurant -
here's today's local catch!
Justin jumped off a ledge and landed in a big pile of sand,
and I caught a funny moment on camera :)
Moroccan surf school - Mehdia is apparently
a big surfing town in Morocco
Lots of old-looking buildings that are
abandoned during the non-summer months
The ceiling in our training site - beautiful!
Sunset over the rocks and water in Mehdia
Back home from Mehdia and we celebrate Valentine's Day with pizza!
Third time I've made it and the best so far.  Recipe will be posted soon!
The day after pizza, we craved something hot as we are in the dead of winter and
no heating in the house! So it was time to break out the matzah ball soup mix,
courtesy of Mom and Dad (THANK YOU!!).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gender in Morocco

Last month, I spent a few days in Rabat doing planning for the year with Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee (also known as GAD – as Peace Corps loves their acronyms!). At the end of our training in November, my group elected me to represent them in GAD, something I was really excited about as gender issues (particularly for women) are in a state of change in Morocco and it's really exciting to learn more about it and to help provide resources for other volunteers. 

The GAD group works to support all Peace Corps Morocco volunteers (about 250 throughout the country right now) in  understanding and appreciating gender roles in Morocco, and provides resources and initiatives geared towards gender and development – from pairing with nonprofits, to creating women's empowerment camps, to developing small one-off programs. I am working on developing a website to house all of GAD's resources and to provide a space for volunteers to better collaborate together and share best practices. More on GAD in a future post, but today I wanted to talk a little about women's rights in Morocco and to provide some historical context based on what I have learned so far. I have been fortunate to meet with both a professor and a PhD student from the Center for Studies and Research on Women at the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fes, and a lot of the below historical background and cultural insights come from them. 

I'll be talking a lot more about gender roles from my own experiences in future posts, but to start I thought it might be helpful to have a bit of context on the history and culture. A lot of people know about Morocco's recent constitutional changes, but perhaps might not know some of the steps leading up to it and the challenges still facing women. Bullet-pointed to make your history lesson as painless as possible :)
  • 1996: Changes in Morocco's constitution grant women equal civil and political rights related to freedom of movement, opinion, and association, as well as access to public office, employment, and education. 
  • 2002: 35 women are permitted access to Morocco's Chamber of Representatives, and the percentage raises from less than 1 percent to 10.8 percent.
  • 2003: Morocco's new family code is adopted (called the Mudawana, based on a school of Islamic Law) and emphasizes equality in relation to the family – Both women and men share joint responsibility in the rights of marriage, property relations, divorce, repudiation, child custody, and inheritance law provisions.  You can read an overview of the Mudawana provisions here.
  • 2004: The Nationality Code is developed, in accordance with the Mudawana Family Code (see 2003). Women who are married to foreign Muslim men now have the right to pass on Moroccan nationality to their children. (In case you are curious like I was about the use of the word “Muslim” in there – I asked and learned that men have the right to marry non-Muslim women, but women cannot marry a non-Muslim man, from Morocco or from another country). 
  • 2009: Responding to a minimal decrease in gender-based violence in the 5 years following the Mudawana (and protests from women's rights groups), Morocco begins to create special information centers for women on domestic violence, along with judicial assistance to women who are victims of violence, and special training for lawyers in women's rights. 
  • 2011: Starting with the February 20 movement and ending with a draft passing on July 1, the new constitution is intended to provide men and women with equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.

So these are all clearly strong advances, but there are a number of challenges that Morocco continues to face on implementation:
  • Illiteracy rates are very high (35-40% for women), which is preventing many women from full knowledge of their change in rights.
  • Poverty is a big problem when it comes to legal fees and the means to get around.
  • Cultural norms inhibit implementation: Discriminatory gender practices, the archetypal man in Moroccan culture in a commanding role, and limited social mobility for women.

With all of this happening, it's an incredibly interesting time to be living in Morocco. The gender-related issues that I and other volunteers face are very deeply tied to cultural norms here, so my role with GAD is to help volunteers to acknowledge these cultural norms and challenges and to develop strategies in the classroom and in their communities to engage in open dialogue and empower both men and women to think about their roles and relationships. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with all of you to help you better understand the role of gender in Moroccan culture – so more to come!