Morocco is an absolutely gorgeous country. Unfortunately, it also has a bit of a reputation for having unreasonably high levels of street harassment.
I really do wish this was another negative stereotype I could correct for you, but in keeping with our core promise, I have to be honest: it’s pretty bad.
It can become very stressful to spend a long period of time there as a woman who doesn’t come from a place where they are harassed in this way with this frequency. Unfortunately, there isn’t a surefire way to stop the street harassment. So these tips will serve you best if you’re looking for ways to ease a bit of the attention and manage your frustration.
The first and perhaps most important tip is to understand what’s happening to you and prepare yourself to deal with stress. The more you know about street harassment and what it means, the better equipped you are to choose the best response.
Preventing street harassment
Wear sunglasses: making eye contact can be one cause of extra unwanted attention. When I lived in Morocco, I got into the habit of wearing sunglasses every day any time I was outside. Shielding you eyes prevents people from knowing where you are looking and whether or not you can see them and is an easy way to increase your comfort a bit.
Wear headphones: This one will do double duty for you. For one thing, street harassment you can’t hear is far less likely to bother you than street harassment you can. Visibly wearing headphones also shows men on the street that you definitely can’t hear them, so they are sometimes less inclined to bother you. This one works best if you’re in transit, as men who don’t think you can hear them may resort to more in your face means of getting your attention if they have the opening to.
Wear understated clothing– This doesn’t necessarily have to be too conservative. You don’t have to only wear maxi skirts and shapeless long sleeve shirts. The idea is to simply avoid attracting unwanted attention with clothing that is too flashy. Wear muted colors and pass on large, expensive-looking accessories.
Responding to street harassment
Say hshooma-this is the Moroccan Arabic version of “haram.” Essentially, you’re reminding the men that what they are doing is seriously inappropriate and alerting other women around you that something unacceptable is going on. If a man grabs your butt on the street or does something else overly forward, loudly snap “hshooma” at him and watch him flee.
Change up your walking routes-If you notice you’re being harassed by the same groups of boys on the same street corners or see the same men following you, change the way you walk to where you’re going every few days. Some boys will get into the habit of harassing you if they see you regularly (and being foreign makes it easy to remember how often they see you), so try to change up the ways you walk through the city to avoid becoming part of somebody’s routine.
If you speak Arabic, let them know-If a man is harassing you in English or French, he likely wants you to hear him. But if he’s talking about you on the corner with his friends speaking Darija, he likely thinks he’s safe from repercussions because odds are, you don’t understand him. But when they’re wrong, boy is it a sight.
For example, Jacky, who is the much better Arabic speaker of the two of us, asked her host sisters to teach her all of the dirty slang words in Moroccan Arabic so she could identify what men on the street were saying about her. Needless to say, when she responded to them in their own language, they were shaken enough to let it go for a little while.
Don’t be afraid to laugh it off-Some street harassment is legitimately threatening and you shouldn’t hesitate to do what you need to do to feel safe. That being said, a lot of the attempts to get your attention are going to be downright comical. Let them be. The theatrics of the street harasser are Broadway-worthy, and you’re going to see men trying to serenade you, men falling on the ground shouting “I’m not a monster” after you didn’t dine at their restaurants, and much more.
The truth is that you can’t really change the street harassment situation in Morocco. But you can control your own mindset, and you’ll be much less stressed out if you do. I’ll advocate once again for gaining an understanding of what should feel threatening so that you’re able to be less bothered by the little things.
Common advice that doesn’t really help
Wearing a wedding ring-this is a common piece of advice across online forums, the idea being that if you signal that you already belong to another man, people on the street will leave you alone. While this may fend off some more serious advances, you ultimately shouldn’t expect it to shield you from the majority of harassment. Men will not check to see if you’re wearing a ring before they shout at you, and even women who are clearly wives and mothers experience regular harassment.
Wearing a headscarf-many Western women wonder whether they should be wearing a headscarf when they travel to Morocco to avoid street harassment. Honestly, it won’t help much. Girls in Morocco get harassed whether or not they choose to wear a hijab. The same goes for dressing more conservatively. The reasons you are being harassed likely have nothing to do how well covered you are. While you may experience more harassment if you wear much more revealing clothing than the norm, don’t expect conforming to conservative standards of dress to prevent you from being bothered.
Walking with another man– So this might help if that man is obviously, visibly, your significant other, but probably not. A lot of new study abroad students fall into the trap of believing that as long as they have a male friend escorting their group, they should be safe from harassment. Be prepared for this to not be the case at all.
Finally, just remember to prepare for what you’re going to be facing. For a short term visitor, street harassment may only end up being an annoyance, but for study abroad students planning to spend a long time in Morocco, street harassment can pose a major danger to their mental health.
Remember to check in with yourself regularly and practice self care in effective ways, and allow yourself to feel complicated feelings of frustration as you adjust to life abroad.