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In Morocco, online gender-based violence is real but change makers won’t be silenced

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17 March 2023 Tags: AMPF, gender-based violence, Morocco, online, SGBV

Online gender-based violence affects all societies. In Morocco, civil society organisations are taking up the issue in the hope of changing attitudes and influencing policy makers. On the final day of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) today in New York, Manal and Adil from AMPF tell us about their hopes and the obstacles the country is facing to tackle online gender-based violence.

UN Women’s 2021 report on online gender-based violence in the MENA region states that online space is not safe for women in the Arab States. In 2021, 58.1% of women were victims of online violence and harassment in Morocco. This worrying figure is not surprising for Manal and Adil. They both work at AMPF, a Moroccan civil society organisation that promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights and witness this issue daily. “When I was a student, I was harassed via direct messages after posting my phone number in a group dedicated to student’s life,” RHRN national coordinator Manal says. According to her, online harassment in Morocco is mainly made of “direct messages being sent to women via Instagram or Facebook, such as dick pics and negative or sexual comments posted under women’s pictures on social media.”

This harassment makes life difficult for SRHR female activists or influencers who tend to withdraw from online platforms.

“They are constantly insulted; therefore, they are not very active on social media but behind online activist pages, there are actually many women.”


Tackling social and religious norms

These pages reveal that many people in Morocco, especially young people, want to make things happen. Manal quotes Instagram page No Hchouma (No shame) that raises awareness on SRHR topics. There may be a causal link between the emergence of that kind of online initiatives and some progress made in the field of Moroccan policies. “In the past, when women filed a complaint, police officers used to normalise the issue, now the laws are much tougher and more perpetrators are prosecuted,” she thinks. Adil, AMPF communication manager, shares her analysis. “Moroccan media outlets begin to break the silence on the issue of gender-based violence”, he says, which helps “amplify the work of civil society organisations and policy makers on that issue.”


In a country described by Adil as “conservative”, where freedom of expression is hindered by social and religious norms, raising awareness without shocking Moroccan people is essential. “Raising awareness by using research and scientific truths is key,” Adil explains, adding that “we protect the victims by doing educational work to let Moroccan people know that some laws punish online defamation or online violence.”


From online to offline violence?

One of the main dangers of online gender-based violence is “to see perpetrators take action.” His fear echoes the figures of UN Women’s report on online gender-based violence in the MENA region: “33 per cent of women in the MENA region who experienced online violence report that some or all their experiences of online violence have moved offline.”

Over the past years, Morocco has been the scene of many online and offline gender-based violence cases. Manal outlines the massive online “bereavement” via hashtag #Meriem, a 14-year-old girl who died after an illegal abortion made by a man who was exploiting her. This story put the issue of gender-based violence and the need for legislation back at the heart of the public debate.



Taking a gender-transformative approach

Within AMPF and as part of RHRN programme, many online campaigns have been launched to try to change mentalities and raise awareness on a range of SRHR issues that are not easy to raise, gender-based violence is one of them. Manal mentions #7JoursSansTabou online campaign as well as campaigns on contraception and gender-based violence. “In 2023, as part of RHRN programme, we are going to collaborate with platforms and influencers followed by young people in order to tackle online sexual violence,” she plans. AMPF wants to create Instagram stories as pedagogical content to raise awareness and let people know what they can do when they are victims of online sexual violence, focusing on the illegal nature of these practices and guiding the victims.

Changing norms and mentalities is hard work but there is hope. “What used to be described as “online persistent flirting” is now seen as harassment,” Manal is pleased to say. AMPF, like many Moroccan civil organisations, have started to take a gender-transformative approach in their work. “Promoting positive masculinity and parenthood in comprehensive sexuality education and through different initiatives (AMPF, in partnership with RNW media, developed for instance online games tackling stereotypes) is very important to decrease online and offline gender-based violence,” Manal thinks.  Adil gives the example of a software built by AMPF to detect online violence.

Our online campaigns can help women. We’ve received many positive comments and thanks from women who feel heard. These women can become campaigners against gender-based violence and talk to their partners about it

They both expect a lot from the CSW in New York but also from Moroccan authorities. “Decision makers must take the issue of online gender-based violence seriously and make it a priority,” Manal argues. Adil reflects on the importance of Moroccan decision makers to turn words into action: “We’ve won some battles but more needs to be done to eliminate all types of violence.”

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