Who’s Afraid of Miniskirts?

Date: 25 July 2015

Region: Morocco/MENA

Morocco_Miniskirts_ProtestProfessor Manuel Castells, the sociologist well known for his theories on network society in the Information Age, said that communication technologies create new possibilities for “self-mobilisation of society, by-passing the barriers of censorship and repression imposed by the state”. It seems like that is what has happened in Morocco this month, at least on online magazines and social media networks. Two Moroccan women aged 23 and 29 have been acquitted of indecency and public obscenity charges after they went on trial after they were heckled by merchants who accused them of wearing flimsy miniskirts, near the southern city of Agadir.

The charges sparked both national and international outcry denouncing the trial. Moroccan women launched an online campaign where they published pictures of themselves wearing miniskirts to express solidarity with the two women. An online petition calling the arrest a violation of personal freedom and asking the authorities to drop the charges attracted thousands of signatures around the world.

Several rallies in solidarity with the women were held in Rabat, Agadir, Casablanca, and Tangiers and hundreds of lawyers came forward to defend the two charged because of wearing miniskirts. The trial was further condemned by Amnesty International labelling it as a pattern of discriminatory practice.

Fouzia Assouli, Head of the Federation of the League of Women’s Rights, told AFP news agency: “This acquittal is positive and shows that wearing a dress is not a crime, as this is about sexual harassment and violence against women.”

“What happened to these women could happen to me, to you and to any other woman, simply because women are still considered as offending men if they wear a short skirt. Actually, the dress is not the problem, it is men’s mentality and the predominance of masculine and authority as well as the wrong interpretations of religious texts in favor of men’s domination vs. women’s subordination,” Zineb Boujrada, a master’s student and member of the Regional Thematic Network of Young Leaders in the MENA region said for the Media Diversity Institute (MDI) website.

“Social media played a crucial role in spreading the word and mobilizing civil society and activists to defend the rights of women to wear whatever they want. It provided us a space to challenge the authority,” Boujrada adds.

The trial and its consequences has raised concerns of a possible regional attack on women and the way they dress. Last month also in Morocco for example, a publicly broadcasted concert by Jennifer Lopez has provoked outrage in local media criticizing the singer of being scantily dressed. In Algeria, a law student was banned from her exams because the security guard decided that her dress was too short and indecent, an incident known as “affaire de la jupe”.

Few months ago in Egypt, a female student at Cairo University was filmed while sexually harassed by male students. A tycoon TV presenter, Tamer Amin, said that it’s the victim’s fault, as she was “dressed like a belly dancer”.