Like I mentioned in an earlier blog, role models of educated or workingwomen are hard to find; a girl’s goal is to settle down and start a household. Like teenage girls in any country, I often find girls heads filled with boys and not about their studies or learning a new skill, working, traveling, or starting a business. They talk about crushes and boyfriends and ask when I plan on marrying and having children. I’m another anomaly now as the young woman who has made the choice to focus on work, live far away from my home, share responsibilities in my future marriage, and lead a different lifestyle.
19-year old Miriem is in her first year of studying economics at Cadi Ayyad University. Once I went to her house, and she was having a panic attack before her final exams. She had all her notes scattered around her room and was moaning, “Rosana, I hate economics!” “I don’t understand French.” Many subjects at the universities in Morocco, like biology or chemistry, are taught in French, based on the education system inherited from French colonial rule.
Then, Miriem confessed she was seriously considering a marriage proposal because she was having a terrible time with her studies. She had received a marriage proposal from a friend of her father’s with the one condition that she had to wear the niqab (headscarf with face covering). I encouraged her to continue on with her studies, to ask the professors for help, attend office hours, seek out fellow students, anything to work hard at completing her studies. We made a list of pros and cons for getting married versus finishing university. Why not finish university and then get married? Why not do both? Like the high school education for Fatima Zahara, a university education for Miriem would provide more job opportunities at a higher pay scale. Her English is pretty good, too, and that would be an asset in any job. Alternately, she could change her major to English.
Thus, girls in my community face many obstacles to finishing their education. I realize that I have had a very different upbringing, which has made me embrace different values. I grew up in a liberal, middle class college town. I had few household chores like cleaning my room, emptying the dishwasher, and setting the table. It was expected that I graduate high school with good grades and go to university. I got a tutor when I struggled in Geometry and attended many extracurricular activities. When my friends and I still hadn’t learned how to drive, our parents would drop us off and pick us up from the movies if we wanted to go. We would walk into town for lunch or dinner and meet up with boys. When we learned how to drive, we would cruise around town at night. I had many university educated, working, independent, strong female role models and single and divorced mothers who were seen as equals and well respected in the community. I saw men helping out around the house and cooking up delicious meals. Relationships and marriage are different in the West. I will be able to date and choose my husband. For all these reasons, I find traditional gender roles in Morocco hard to understand and limiting. I do know that in the West there are traditional roles, too, but they are changing, especially for my generation. But, I have to admit that during my Political Science studies at college, I didn’t find many female role models in politics.
I believe I am, just by being here, a role model for girls and young women. I am university educated, am working, and am unmarried, not even engaged! I live alone and travel on my own in Morocco, and I’m independent. This difference is accepted though it might not be a choice for them. I’ve shared my background and life goals with them and in this exchange created friendships with a space to think differently.
In my work here I will continue to be a friend and a mentor to the girls, advising them as best as I can when asked and emphasizing the importance of education. I will continue to encourage them to develop their interests and gain experience for their future. This recognition of their own potential will open up new awareness and possibly new opportunities.