I don’t know why the Lonely Planet book and the websites I came across when planning my trip to Morocco warn women of things along the lines of: “men will harass/hit on you terribly especially as a single woman” or “women should be really careful and are advised not to be out or walk alone after dark” – bullshit. I don’t know if it’s the way I carry myself, but attention from men in Morocco over my two weeks across most of the country wasn’t anything different in the amount or degree than I’ve experienced in America or Canada or Europe, and like anywhere else can be pretty easily shut down if desired. I’m someone who generally seems to draw male attention unintentionally, yet found the warnings unfounded, so I wanted to write this piece to counter the predominant message out there, and to encourage other women to travel to Morocco, and even solo, because why not – it’s safe.
I’m in my early 30s. I’m slender. While traveling around Morocco, I tried to be respectful of the culture by what I wore: capris or full length pants and three-quarter sleeve shirts, the shirts mostly form-fitting though and not baggy, and the pants not quite form fitting but slender. I walked with confidence, even if wandering. In the cities, in the rural villages. During daytime, at night. I would give a nod or smile if eye contact was made, continue on my way. If someone engaged me in conversation, I’d have the conversation. Mostly people were curious as to my ethnicity, would say hello to me in Arabic, French, Spanish, Chinese, German; English was never on their list, until I opened my mouth. Several people told me that my facial features, especially my eyes’ contours and being kohl lined (my usual) made people think I was northern Moroccan Berber, “shadow Berber” of the mountains – but an expat, maybe living in Europe. It must be my mix coming out in my features, the Anglo, Asian and Native American.
At one point I had wandered into the old medina in Casablanca. I found myself in this section that in America would be equivalent to an industrial area, but here were more small clusters of carpentry, machine shops, mechanics type of work. I think the people, the men, were surprised to find me along that street, around the men laboring. Was I harassed? No, I was taken care of. Medinas are easy to lose one’s bearings in, and I had my phone in my pocket, because I was frequently referring to its map. A couple of men quickly came up to me – telling me to secure my phone, don’t let it just be loose in my pocket. No one took it; but they also wanted me to have a positive experience of their country, they were protecting me, trying to make sure the space was safe for me. And as I continued through, they apologized for the dirtiness, that I had to step over the fish guts that were splattered on the ground next to the barrel I was walking by; I felt bad that they felt bad for me; I didn’t mind.
In advance to my trip, I had conversations with a couple of people who had visited Morocco, to see their thoughts of what to expect as a woman traveling there solo. I was told western women were on par status-wise to men there. I think this is probably true. It seemed to mean that men were the ones interacting with me when I was being served as a customer – arranging lodging in more rural towns (women were often at the front desk of hotels in the cities), being served meals. Especially in rural areas, women may be nearby, cleaning, helping to prepare the food. If they noticed something they thought I needed, and we were the only two around, even if I smiled at them, they would shy away, and inform one of the men to provide me whatever they thought I was in need of. When I was walking and women and I crossed paths, they would never initiate conversation or a hello, but would always respond if I offered an, “as-salaam-alaikum”. This meant that although I got to learn some of what life in Morocco is like for men as men told me their biographies, I did not get to hear from women their own stories. I could only piece together some ideas, from my visual observations.
And my visual observations again seemed to attest to the safety of women and for women in this Muslim culture and society. In the northern half of the country, I observed children walking to school, at least a couple of kilometers, was my guess. Little girls – perhaps even as young as 4 or 5 years old – would be walking without adult accompaniment. They would be with another little girl that age, or maybe a slightly larger group; sometimes with boys, and just as often not. One little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, tried to hitchhike a ride from me to school; I don’t think it mattered to her that I was a woman, just that I was driving a car. A society that lets their little girls walk to school without adults presumes a safety, even for these little girls.
And the after dark bit. Walking alone at night in cities, I would see other women walking around too. Like it was normal and not at all out of the ordinary. Yes, many women were with others, whether female friends, or family groups, as after all, the culture has a strong sense of community. But there were also occasional women walking alone. Not being harassed.
Ladies: Morocco is safe, even, and perhaps especially, if you are traveling as a solo female. The most hazardous thing about walking around at night (or day) is managing to not get hit by a vehicle.