By DANIELLE DOUGLAS
RABAT, Morocco—As Rupert Joy stood behind the podium at the front of Rabat’s Le 7ième Art Cinema, his tall shadow reflected on the floor-to-ceiling movie screen behind him, the flags of the European Union and Morocco positioned in parallel fashion beside him. Joy, the European Union Ambassador to Morocco, echoed through the crowded theater—first in Arabic, then again in French— as he addressed the importance of women’s rights and gender equality.
“Equality between men and woman is one of the fundamental values of human rights that is supported by the European Union,” Joy said.
In honor of International Women’s Day, the E.U., Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH), and L’Association des Rencontres Méditerranéennes du Cinéma et des Droits de l’Homme (ARMCDH), joined together on Thursday, March 10 to present a screening of Leïla Kilani’s film “Sur la planche.” The screening, held in the geometric, orange and white movie theatre in central Rabat, was followed by a debate moderated by CNDH advisor Younes Ajarrai on the status of women in Morocco stemming from issues invoked in the film.
“Sur la planche” chronicles the lives of factory workers in Tangier, some of whom are employed by the shrimp industry, others by major textile businesses. In the city of Tangier—the only international free trade zone in Morocco—the high pressures of foreign consumers make the working conditions in the female-dominated industries grueling and intense. In both industries, the meager pay forces the women to seek alternatives of livelihood, often resorting to illicit and criminal activities in the hours of the night.
The film draws upon the lived realities of women in Morocco, where there is vast gender inequality. Kilani illustrates this point explicitly: the close shots and often jerky camera work reflects the tension felt by the women, who live in a system where they feel unprotected both legally and socially. In Morocco, there is no legislative protection from street harassment. Laws pertaining to domestic violence are weak and rarely enforced. Additionally, according to CIA World Factbook, the rate of illiteracy is far higher among women than men: only about 59% of women have the capacity to read, compared with 79% of men.
Given the systematic state of inequality, some are skeptical towards the Moroccan government’s embrace of the international day of women’s recognition. Zakaria Lasri, vice president of the Rabat sector of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), argues that just because the public becomes more educated about women’s rights and inequalities—through education events like film screenings—it does not mean the government will begin making changes to legislation.
Joy echoed the sentiment that political change will take more than simple acknowledgment, given the extent of the problem. He noted that the exploitation of women is an issue that impacts women in numerous domains. Kilani’s work explicitly depicts this trend: it is not only pervasive in the workplace, but in realms such as education, family, and economic freedoms. Badia, a factory worker in the shrimp industry in “Sur la planche,” portrayed the frustrations of many women as she justifies her criminality: “I don’t steal, I get my fair share.”
Joy added that gender inequality is a major point of tension not only for Morocco, but across European nations and other countries around the globe—underscoring the importance of such international days of women’s recognition. It is hoped that International Women’s Day, celebrated since the early 1900s, sheds light on these issues as it promotes global awareness.
“Even if equality between men and women is improving, we still have a long way to go,” he said.