“I was a little girl taking care of other kids” – After violence and neglect, women in Morocco find space to heal

UNFPA

Nuzha was barely six years old when her father forced her into domestic labour to support her siblings. “I was responsible for feeding the whole family,” she told UNFPA. © UNFPA Morocco

 

RABAT, Morocco – “I had always felt lonely. All doors were closed.” For 25 years, Alkabira* suffered her husband’s physical and verbal abuse in silence. “Broken…that’s how I felt.”

She had long contemplated ending her violent marriage, but her family opposed divorce. It would bring them shame, she knew.

What devastated Alkabira most of all was the impact the marriage had on her children.

“My husband never wished to provide for the family,” she told UNFPA. “My son and daughter had to drop out of school when they were young to help me provide.”

Alkabira had not planned to have four children. Her sister had given birth to nine – all at home, as her husband opposed both contraception and hospital visits. Alkabira feared a similar fate.

“My sister died very young and left behind two children with disabilities. Their father kept them confined at home at all times.”

Alkabira’s husband, too, forbade the use of contraceptives. According to the 2011 National Survey on Population and Family Health, men are the sole decision-makers on family planning roughly 18 percent of the time. Between sobs, Alkabira expressed how guilty she still felt to have kept her son from elementary school in order to make ends meet.

Breaking the silence

Alkabira’s daughter also bore the weight of her husband’s violence. It was she who decided to break the silence – which is how Alkabira came to learn of the UNFPA-supported Al-Bathaa Centre for survivors of gender-based violence.

“The centre was helpful because of the counseling and psychological support I got there,” she said. “Legal specialists at the centre also helped me get through my legal procedures.”

With support from the centre, Alkabira found the courage and means to divorce her husband. Her only regret now, she said, is not making the decision sooner.

Alkabira’s story is far from unique. Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. In Morocco, an estimated 63 per cent of women aged 18 to 64 have experienced some form of gender-based violence.

UNFPA is one of the UN’s lead agencies working to further gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to address the physical and emotional consequences of gender-based violence. UNFPA’s programmes offer psychosocial assistance, medical treatment and rape kits to survivors, and promote the right of all women and girls to live free of violence and abuse.

New beginnings

At the Al-Bathaa Centre, women also receive skills training and livelihood support services. Nuzha was barely six years old when her father forced her into domestic labour to support her siblings.

“I was responsible for feeding the whole family,” she told UNFPA. “I was a little girl taking care of other kids.”

Nuzha never went to school. And while she considers herself fortunate to have escaped child marriage, she did not escape an early pregnancy. After the birth of her daughter, Nuzha found herself without a job or a support system. “I was totally alone. I didn’t know where to go. I felt totally lost.”

In Morocco, single mothers often face stigma and other barriers to economic and social well-being. But when Nuzha learned of the Al-Bathaa Centre, she said, everything changed.

“At the centre, I found the warmth of friends, and support. I also had the chance to learn a vocation, which allows me to stand on my feet again today.”

Through partnerships with Morocco’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and civil society organizations, UNFPA works to enhance youth access to sexual and reproductive health services, and to provide life-skills programmes and psychological support.

Nuzha’s relationship with her family has significantly benefited from the support she received at the centre – so much so, she says, that she now dreams of starting her own programme.

Alkabira, too, does her part to reach other victims of gender-based violence. “No woman should ever be left alone in the face of violence,” she said.

– Aïcha Benhsine

*Name changed to protect privacy, safety