World News

Young Moroccan girls threatened with sexual assault and forced marriage after the earthquake | Earthquake News

A torrent of messages posted online by men promoting underage marriage and other forms of exploitation in the wake of Morocco’s powerful earthquake has put activists and women’s rights organizations on alert .

Amid the rubble of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains on September 8, an adult man, purportedly a volunteer helping survivors, poses next to a young girl around 10 years old .

“She doesn’t want to come with me to (Casablanca) but she whispered that when she grows up, we will get married,” the man wrote in the caption of his Instagram story with a photo of him and the young girl.

Another popular Facebook page criticized “city girls.”

“Why would you marry someone spoiled who always wants to dress in exposed and tight clothes, spend a lot of money, raise their children inappropriately,” the message read, urging men to marry “ girls who wouldn’t ask for anything.”

“(The men) are campaigning to marry these girls, some of them justifying (their) interpretation of religion… Even if they are minors, we will save them (they say)”, Yasmina Benslimane, Moroccan activist and the founder of Politics4Her, a non-profit organization promoting gender equality in politics, told Al Jazeera.

Benslimane and other Moroccan women’s rights activists had stressed the importance of menstrual care immediately after the earthquake when they were quickly alerted to the campaign calling on Moroccan men to go to remote villages to “save ” young ladies.

Many young Moroccans have lost family members, including their parents, putting them at risk of exploitation (File: Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP Photo)

At least one man was arrested this week for promoting such content, a 20-year-old student from the town of Errachidia who bragged online about traveling to earthquake-hit areas with the intention to sexually assault young girls, according to local media.

These stories led Benslimane and his organization to call for a gender-sensitive humanitarian response following the earthquake. They issued a manifesto calling for such a response.

“We knew that something like this was going to happen, that there would be risks of gender-based violence, that there would be risks of exploitation, and that is exactly what is happening with the alarming cases that we we saw online,” Benslimane said.

“It is absolutely crucial to have a gender-sensitive approach to disaster relief,” she added. “According to (the United Nations Development Program), women and girls are 14 times more likely than men to die in disasters. »

Neighborhoods of the Nation

As recovery operations continue, Morocco has paid some attention to the particular risks faced by the most vulnerable populations.

Last week, King Mohammed VI conferred the status of “Quarter de la Nation” on children orphaned by the earthquake, in order to “protect them from dangers of all kinds,” including trafficking, said Karima Mkika, president. of the Al Karam association, based in Marrakech. an NGO that works to protect vulnerable children, told Al Jazeera.

Mkika’s organization has not documented any cases of child trafficking that occurred in the wake of the earthquake, but it has set up a hotline for people to report such abuse.

According to Laila Baker of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Morocco has long worked to ensure that combating gender-based violence and implementing reproductive health measures are essential elements of its national health plans. emergency preparedness.

But, Baker said, UNFPA’s response to the disaster is not as robust as its operations in Libya, another North African country rocked by environmental disaster after flooding from a storm last week last killed thousands of people.

“We are actually much more well supplied in Libya because there is an ongoing conflict,” Baker told Al Jazeera.

In Morocco, according to the regional director, there is anecdotal evidence of cases of sexual assault that took place following the earthquake.

But compared to its operations in Libya, UNFPA has a less structured system in Morocco for providing services in such cases, including advice, she said.

A country’s level of preparedness to respond to the gender aspects of crises is therefore essential, Baker added.

People affected by an earthquake camp outside their homes,
People affected by the earthquake had to camp outside their homes in the village of Moulay Brahim, near Marrakech, Morocco (File: Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP Photo)

Periodic poverty persists

Although concerns are high about possible forced marriages, trafficking and sexual assault, the fundamental issue of menstrual hygiene persists.

“Women don’t stop having their periods just because there’s an earthquake,” Nora Fitzgerald of the Amal Women’s Training Center, a Marrakech-based nonprofit, told Al Jazeera .

In the hardest-hit mountainous regions, period poverty – or limited access to menstrual products – already existed before the earthquake.

Women and girls in the mountains often don’t use disposable sanitary napkins but instead use cloths, Fitzgerald said.

“But at least they have some privacy and can wash things and such.” So now you can imagine there are not even toilets,” she said, particularly referring to people from isolated populations who now travel to cities to seek shelter and support.

Organizations that campaign and purchase menstrual supplies for affected women and girls are therefore providing educational resources as they provide them.

“(It’s) very important to understand cultural norms before donating menstrual products that they may have never seen before, or even don’t know how to use,” said Manjit Gill, CEO and founder of Binti International, an international charity focused on alleviating health issues. period of poverty.

Gill’s organization therefore provides more reusable menstrual products than disposable ones, taking into account what local women and girls are used to.

UNFPA is using this opportunity to not only provide information about the menstrual kits it distributes, but also to talk with young girls about their needs, to make the process “more humane,” Baker said.

“Babies never stop being born”

Meanwhile, as hospitals are filled to the brim with injured people and villages are isolated due to earthquake damage, pregnant women face difficulties.

According to UNFPA, at least 4,100 pregnant women were affected by the earthquake.

The UN agency responds to requests for a mobile clinic and options for safe deliveries.

It also runs a development program in Morocco focused on training midwives, an essential service in many countries, Baker said.

She said relying on hospitals can pose a challenge especially in emergency situations.

An image of Morocco's King Mohammed is seen as earthquake survivors queue at a military field hospital.
Earthquake survivors, mostly women, queue at a military field hospital in Asni, Morocco (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

This is especially true in places where there is little or no medical care.

“Babies don’t stop being born (after an earthquake),” Fitzgerald said.

Her organization received a request from a rural village for a tent and clean sheets, to set up a makeshift delivery room for women to give birth.

“They literally have nothing,” she said.


Back to top button