There are few such opportunities in rural areas. Women who get into difficulties have to go to the city to find work. One of them is 31-year-old Mona (not her real name) from Ouarzazate in the conservative southern region of Morocco. Mona is also divorced and she has two children. Her family was able somehow to accept her divorce because her ex-husband drank and beat her.

But then Mona met a new man who promised to marry her. She got pregnant and her lover abandoned her. Her son was born out of wedlock. "My family doesn't know about my second child," she says, "just my sister. I don't care about the rest of the family." It's not the man's betrayal that would have met with disapproval; she alone would have been blamed for her plight.

Standing on one's own two feet

Fearing rejection, Mona left her hometown to seek her fortune in Marrakesh. "In Marrakesh, it's easier for a single woman to get by. That's why I came here," she says. Being excluded from their own family is very painful for many women. In a society where family means everything, it is hard being cut off from these close social ties.

Mona lived from cleaning jobs until she heard about "Amal" and applied. Now she takes the bus every day to the training centre in the Targa district. At first she had a hard time because she still had to learn to read and write. So she didn't complete the training on her first try. In the meantime, though, she's one of the best.

Oumaima Mhijir knows how difficult it is for women like Mona to deal with malicious gossip and the widespread double standards in their country. People are so quick to use the word "shame". But Mhijir also believes that values are slowly changing. "Women are paying less attention to others and their idle gossip," she says. "But it is also important that women speak openly about what has happened to them and don't try to hide."

I'm single and a mother, so what? Morocco still has a long way to go before women can adopt that attitude, but single mothers are in fact no longer a rarity here. It is estimated that one in five families has no male breadwinner. And in many cases, women now make more money than their husbands. Young women today are better educated than their mothers, who were mostly housewives.

However, many laws still lag behind these new realities. In recent years there have been some improvements for women, for example the abolition of the unspeakable clause that let rapists go free if they married their victims. A new law passed in February 2018 is intended to protect women better against violence. Nevertheless, extramarital sex is still a crime according to Article 490 of the Criminal Code, even if this law is rarely applied.

The mothers training with "Amal" therefore still have some work ahead of them, even though family structures in Morocco have long since changed.

Claudia Mende

© 2018

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

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