Morocco: The Women's Caravan for Full Equality, Citizenship and Development in Rural Areas

Her participation in the Caravan supported by WLUML, Najlah Atamnah of Alssiwar - The Arab Movement for Supporting Women Victims of Sexual Violence, tells us more about her experiences and the work of those involved.
In July 2006 I participated, as a member of Alssiwar, in the women’s Caravan in Morocco, entitled, “Al-Atlas; Caravan for Full Equality, Citizenship and Development in Rural Areas,” organised by Yatto, a women’s group in Morocco that was recently established to provide support for women victims of violence.
The Caravan consists of a group of volunteers with various skills and from different backgrounds who visit villages in South East Morocco to work with local communities on issues relating to equality, citizenship and development. With the help of local community groups the Caravan organized a number of workshops in these villages on health, environment, women’s rights, human rights and family laws, etc. The Caravan also provided counselling and legal advice to women on family laws and violence against women.

Alssiwar was invited to participate in the Caravan as part of an initiative, by the organisers, to share the experience with women’s groups in Africa and the Middle East. Yatto were very interested to link with us and invite us to take part of this unique project because of our experience and work on issues of sexual violence against women in both raising awareness on the issue and providing support to women victims of violence. Yatto is linked with Alssiwar through the network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and with the support of WLUML, we were able to participate in the Caravan.

I was requested, as a member of Alssiwar and as a music therapist, to work with women who witnessed what is known in Morocco as the “Bullet Years,” which is the term given to the years that followed Moroccan independence in 1956 and continued till the nineties. During this period, the Moroccan regime was responsible for major human rights violations. According to Yatto, women from the South East of Morocco had never before had the opportunity to share their harsh experiences during that period: some were imprisoned because they were political activists themselves or because their relatives were; many were tortured and their husbands, fathers or brothers were kidnapped and never returned; and, some were sexually abused by government officers. Therefore, it was very important to provide them with the opportunity and space to share their stories and experiences and provide them with necessary support.

I took part in the Caravan for two weeks and worked with five groups of women in different villages in the provinces of Tinghir and Imilchil. These villages are marginalized places where people live in conditions of abject poverty and depravation.

However I am rendered speechless when trying to explain the psychological effects of the ‘Bullet Years’ on these women. The opportunity to take part in the Caravan was very significant to me, to be able to interact with women using this safe space to share their history, harsh experiences and pain and support each other. The fact that I am a Palestinian woman, with experience of political oppression and domination by the Israeli authorities, helped these women to relate to me and to share their own stories.

It was also very important to link with Yatto and learn about their general work in addition to that of the Caravan. As a Palestinian group based in Haifa, Alssiwar was isolated from the rest of the Arab world for many years and for us, it was very important to break our isolation. We are now linking with women groups and activists in the Arab world, to exchange our experiences, strategies and analyses and our participation in the Caravan is part of this.

I found the Caravan to be difficult but enriching, as women’s realities were varied and often harsh but we felt solidarity and support for each other and this, along with practical assistance, confirmed our common bonds.

I feel that it will be very useful to share this experience with other groups from different countries and communities. I am looking forward to sharing this unique experience with other groups in Palestine and to try to find a way to plan a similar programme in our local context, in order to address women’s and human rights in marginalized areas.