World Policy Journal is proud to share our revived weekly podcast, World Policy On Air, featuring former Newsweek On Air host David Alpern and West Wing Reports founder Paul Brandus. Click here to subscribe on iTunes!
Africa Investigates is a new podcast from World Policy Institute in partnership with the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting and with funds from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. Join Chris Roper as he showcases recent exposés into corruption across Africa. Click here to subscribe on iTunes!
By Cyrielle Bedu
At age 32, Moroccan journalist Fedwa Misk is the founder and editor in chief of the women’s webzine “Quandisha”. On her website, she lets Moroccan women speak freely about subjects that really matter to them. Misk made enemies since the launch of “Quandisha”, but to her, it is a small price to pay for women’s equality in Morocco.
When and how did your webzine « Quandisha » start?
The webzine was launched in august 2011. The idea was to give Moroccan women an alternative to traditional women's magazines, which never represented us. Theses publications only deal with subjects such as beauty, fashion and cooking, and never talk about news or politics. It was a shame that, with all the changes that were happening with the Arab Spring, these magazines kept writing about superficial themes. It made me angry as a woman and as a journalist. This is why I wanted to create a magazine where women would not necessarily be sweet and soft creatures without any demands.
Why the name “Quandisha”?
I chose “Quandisha” because, in the Moroccan mythology, Quandisha was a woman considered devilish because she upset men. She really existed in the past and some people would say she attacked men, others that her freedom annoyed them. Chauvinists said she was diabolical so people wouldn't approach her. Since I knew we would also be criticized and attacked for our freedom of speech, I decided to use her name.
Who writes in “Quandisha”?
“Quandisha” is a collaborative webzine. I've always wanted it to be a loud hailer for Moroccan women. It is opened to those who want to express themselves and take position on political, economical or societal subjects. To me, it is by debating that one can learn and become mature. I wanted to give women the opportunity to talk about all types of things and to say what they think. In the Arab world, women have many inhibitions: we can speak out, but we are always put down, while men are never afraid to say what's on their mind, even when it's silly.
How do you explain “Quandisha”'s success?
I did not expect the webzine to do so well nor the fact that we would be supported by so many men. A lot of women trusted me from the beginning but we were also helped by journalists who mentioned some of the articles published on the webzine. This is how major cases started on the website. Recently, an article was written about two teenagers who were raped by the sons of well-known Moroccan colonels. These stories happen all the time in our country where impunity is very present. After the publication of the article, there was a big rallying behind theses girls and their families. The case is now being heard by the court.
How do you decide which articles will be published in the webzine?
Some women directly come to me and ask if they can write about certain things. But we also have a facebook page where many conversations are started every day. We talk about everything, from very serious to very light subjects. Eventually, one conversation gets more attention and someone asks if they can write about it. Recently, a conversation was started about the fact that two young women were arrested because they were smoking cigarettes in the street during the Ramadan. They may be imprisoned. An article about the freedom of conscience has just been written relating to this story and will be published shortly.
When I receive an article, I check the information and I pay attention that we don't insult anyone if the article is polemic. Each article engages the person who wrote it. We publish all types of articles, even some that are against us.
Are men allowed to write in “Quandisha” ?
Yes, but they have a specific section where their articles are being published. At first, I was a bit reluctant at the idea of giving men space in the webzine. I was afraid that, at some point, women's voices would be taken by storm and that they would not dare express themselves as much. But it actually works quite well.
Do you have many detractors?
The website has been hacked several times. Many people also tried to put labels on us: some say that “Quandisha” was financed by Israel, by the United States or by France... We are also regularly called names, especially when we talk about sexuality or religion.
In March 2012, a 15-year-old teenager named Amina killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist. In Morocco, according to article 475 of the Family Code, rapists can avoid prison if they marry their victim. Amina's suicide restarted the debate over the repeal of this law. In your opinion, did this story make a difference in the public opinion in Morocco?
Unfortunately, these types of stories are common in Morocco and some people still think this law is good to recover the honor of the victims and of their families. Some even tried to minimize the story by saying that Amina was dating her rapist and that it was therefore not really rape...
Besides, the “buzz” around the Amina case especially happened on the internet and in the foreign press. Moroccan television barely talked about it, so many Moroccans did not have access to proper information on this story. But for people like me, who followed this affair very closely, the fact that the government decided to head towards a repeal of the law 475 after the scandal around Amina's suicide is a strong sign. It makes us realize that it is possible to change things and that the current Islamist government is a bit less hermetic than the previous ones. But there is still work to do to stop stories like this to happen again.
The Family Code was re-examined in 2004 by the Moroccan Parliament. Do you think it went far enough?
It changed certain things but not enough. Besides, even if some laws are very good in it, the fact that they are often not implemented is a huge issue. In Morocco, the law enforcement system is weak. Even if we had an unerring law, if the police and the justice didn’t follow it, it would be pointless. The Family Code was not perfect in 2004, but the fact that it was re-examined was a sign of hope. It took a long time to have it done and the work was a great effort on many levels. But today it is already obsolete.
Did the “February 20” protest movement of 2011 help women's condition in Morocco?
Not really, but it was the same in the Arab countries were the Arab Spring happened. I have an interesting story about that. A young journalist I know followed protesters of the February 20 movement. She saw that when the female members of the movement insinuated to other protesters that they were eager to have more freedom, they would be looked down on and called names. It showed that things were not changing.
The mistake these women and the other women from the Arab Spring protests made was to think that the fact that the people was asking for more democracy necessarily implied that women's rights would be taken into consideration. It was not the case. They did not speak out from the start, they did not say their demands right at the beginning. They should have said: “If you want us to fight with you, this is what we want at the end of this”. Instead, they fought for democracy but their claims were not heard. With “Qhandisha”, I wanted to offset the weakness of the feminist section of the February 20 movement. But this only concerns me, not all the women who write for the website agree with that or are as politicized as I am.
Do you have other projects linked to “Quandisha” ?
I would always want to keep the collaborative side of the webzine but my dream would also be to have a small editorial board of journalists who would go in the field to get news. It would boost the webzine even more. I am also thinking about doing awareness campaigns, with a caravan for instance that would go in small villages to alert women on contraception or sexually transmitted diseases.
On Moroccan television, movies where women accept happily their husband's polygamy or fall in love with their rapist are still being broadcast today. There is still a lot of work to do. I have also been approached by sponsors and, instead of having an ad on the website, it would be interesting to have them engaging themselves in causes such as women emancipation or young girls’ literacy. We also want to create a web radio where we would help Moroccan women in their daily life and give them hope and strength.
Cyrielle Bedu is a World Policy Journal Editorial Assistant Emeritus.
Photo courtesy of See Wah Cheng.