Thursday, March 15, 2012

International Women's Day in Rabat

First of all, happy belated International Women's Day! 

International Women's Day, which falls on March 8th, is a much larger holiday in Morocco than in the United States. On March 8th, all the female professors at the office walked about with huge smiles and a bounce in their step. They patted one another on the back and wished one another a "happy women's day". The male professors were also getting into the holiday spirit - wishing all the women at the office a happy day. After her class, the Gender Studies professor  came up to me to wish me a "happy women's day" and struck up conversation. I told her that I was amazed by how widely recognized the holiday was in Rabat, and all of Morocco in general. In the United States International Women's Day is barely celebrated. While surprised by my statement, she suggested that perhaps it was because the United States had already achieved gender equality, and therefore it wasn't as important for them to honor a specific day in honor of women's rights. Although comparatively, it is no question that American women enjoy far more freedoms and much greater gender equality than Moroccan women, I still don't think it's a valid excuse for disregarding the holiday. Shouldn't countries like the United States acknowledge the holiday as a way of setting a positive example for other countries to do the same? 

This semester I have decided to audit the Intensive Advanced Modern Standard Arabic class at the study abroad program. While I have technically already surpassed the curriculum, it is a great opportunity to continue practicing, learning, and refreshing my mind of all the complicated grammar rules. In honor of International Women's Day, my Arabic professor requested that for homework we each go out and purchase an Arabic newspaper, find an article about March 8th, read it, and then present a summary to the class the next day. At first, I thought that the assignment was a bit presumptuous. I wondered if it was safe to assume that each newspaper would include articles with enough content on the holiday for it to be worth using? 

After class that day, I went out and bought As-Sabah ("The Morning" newspaper. As I flipped through the pages, I was amazed to find that there was an entire section of the paper dedicated to articles about International Women's Day, events happening in honor of the holiday happening throughout the country, local and international women's rights news, and editorials about how people feel about the holiday. For homework, I read an article where I learned about the source of International Women's Day, which dates back to the Bread and Roses Strike, which, according to the article, happened in 1912 in New York City.  I did a little research of my own and learned that the Bread and Roses Strike was a women-led demonstration that actually happened in the textile mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts and female mill workers took to the streets to demand improved labor rights for women and children. The article spoke about the Bread and Roses Strike as the first important step in the international women's rights movement. It continued by discussing women's role in the ongoing protests and uprisings happening throughout the Middle East and North Africa, stressing especially the fact that one should not think that Muslim women are absent from this discourse. I found the article to be emotionally charged, fairly informative, and inspiring. It makes me wonder what the Boston Globe looked like on March 8th. 

Another exciting element about having this assignment for my Arabic class was that it forced me to buy a newspaper, sit down, and read it. At first glance, Arabic language newspapers look especially daunting. The small print is so and the pages packed with information and articles would make any non-native Arabic speaker feel slightly intimidated. However, after taking a deep breath and diving in, I was pleasantly surprised by how well I could understand the article at first glance, without assistance from a dictionary. It is small daily achievements like this that remind me that although it may not feel like it, everyday that I step outside my door and integrate myself into Moroccan society, I am learning and growing because of it. Some days a small realization like this is all I need to feel like I'm headed down the right path. 

(It also didn't hurt that on March 8th we went out to dinner and upon receiving our menus, the waiter presented me with a single white tulip wrapped delicately in cellophane and tied with a red ribbon in honor of the holiday.)