Filmmaker: Bouchra Ijork
High in the Atlas Mountains in central Morocco are remote villages almost entirely dominated by Amazigh women, a result of the geographical divide between the urban and rural poor, the volatility of Moroccan agriculture and lack of regional development. Their menfolk migrate for long periods to do agricultural or city work in other parts of the country.
While the absentee men send money back home, the women are left to care for the children, tend to crops and farm animals without any outside support. “Wives can’t accompany their husbands,” says Fatma Kadjik, from Tiklit village, so married women have to learn to survive on their own.
In 2005, Morocco began its National Human Development Initiative Support Project with a million dollar budget aimed at improving people’s living conditions and reducing poverty. By 2014, the overall poverty rate had been cut by about half, but there’s still a large gap between urban and rural poverty. Literacy is also low, especially among girls, who are often unable to continue their education beyond primary school.
While life expectancy is not much lower than in Europe, harsh living conditions and poor access to healthcare affect longevity. It’s a tough life for these resilient women, especially if as young girls they’ve been married off early.
“Imagine a girl married at the age of 13 or 14 having three or four children. At 19, she already looks 50. She’s no longer beautiful and healthy,” points out Saida Oukhali, from Oum Rabia.
She and her friend Aicha Jadda were both married at 16 but have since divorced, carrying a stigma in this conservative Amazigh society. “We weren’t mature enough for the responsibility of marriage,” says Saida. “Divorce is a big problem. You’re exploited and no longer respected.”
Ignoring village gossip, these young women now express themselves through music and song, where separation, hardship and women’s suffering are recurring themes.
Village women with children have a heavier burden to bear. “We never rest. We keep running all day until night falls,” says Fatima Kadjik, who lives with her sister-in-law, Hafida. She describes a typical day: “Hafida and I wake up at 6am to make bread and get the girls ready for school. After, I take the cow to the field to graze. Then we wash the wheat, lay it to dry and prepare lunch. By then the kids are back from school. I give the cow water and take it to graze.”
Her husband, Abdellah Hasbi, acknowledges that this is difficult existence and hopes things will change for the next generation. “I’m worried about the younger generation … Projects should be launched in this region, to create jobs for young people.”
Men like Abdellah get seasonal work in farming but Moroccan agriculture is volatile and only 18 percent of the country is arable, adding to these people’s vulnerability and insecurity.
While NGOs have stepped in to try and up-skill young people in of these communities – and this is the key to breaking the cycle that locks these women into such an unforgiving way of life. It might ultimately affect traditional Amazigh culture but it would more of the people of the Atlas the chance of becoming more valued members of Moroccan society as a whole.
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