Lamya Ait Ali’s classmates want to be fashion designers and secretaries because those are jobs suited to women. She stands out because she is determined to become a computer engineer.
“Women always work in some office and stay all day in [a] chair,” said Ait Ali, 16. “I don’t want that.”
In the loud cafeteria at the Association Tischka in Ouarzazate, Morocco, Ait Ail and her peers catch up after spending the summer apart. She is one of about 100 female students ages 14-20 who pay for room and board at the Non Government Organization. The association is their only affordable way to study far from home.
Unfortunately, affordable housing is not the only challenge that faces young girls trying to get an education in Morocco. Among these are illiteracy, sexism and proximity to schools. In early 2013, Morocco’s Minister of Education RaouiaAyache told a 12-year-old schoolgirl in Marrakech that she shouldn’t be wasting her time on an education.
“Your time would be better spent looking for a man,” Ayache said.
Ait Ali is quite literate, speaking both French and English in addition to Moroccan Arabic, and she is able to pay the $241.35 to stay at the association. But there is nothing she can do about the obstacles she faces as a woman competing in what she describes as a “man’s field.”
“Boys don’t have these problems,” she said. “They can do what they want.” If she were at home in Tinghir, Morocco she would be preparing to attract a husband.
“If I don’t study … I will learn how to make cousous and tajine and go marry,” Ait Ali said. “I am so young for that. I don’t even know to take care of myself.”
Ait Ali’s two older sisters are both doctors — another career lacking in women — and her family supports her dreams of college and an engineering job in France. Still, they would rather she dropped out of school and stayed at home.
Ait Ali constantly worries over her grades, because a bad report card could provoke her mother — a widow after her father’s death many years ago — to make her go back to Tinghir.
“When some girl has a low score her parents have a cause to take her out of school,” she said, recalling classmates who have left for that reason.Even so, marriage will be in the near future for many of her peers, regardless of the level of education they receive.
“They say, ‘She’s going to study but finally she’s going to marry. It doesn’t matter.” Because of this, many girls staying at the association lie to their parents about what they are doing there.
After receiving her baccalauréat, the equivalent of a high school diploma, next year Ait Ali hopes to go to an engineering school. To do so requires incredibly high scores on the difficult exam that constitutes the baccalauréat.
“I have just one dream,” she said. “I want to be an engineer and travel wherever I want without someone who tells me, ‘Don’t do that. You are so young for that.’ I want to be free.”
Despite popular opinion, Ait Ali will not be dissuaded from pursuing her passion. “I don’t care what they say to me,” Ait Ali said of her family and those who doubt her. “I have a say in my future because it’s mine.