Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Moroccan Beaches ~ the Gender Debate Continues

A few days ago The View from Fez reported on the call by women in Tangiers for an exclusive beach. While Moroccans seem split over the notion, the women have now expanded their campaign and taken to the social networks, including setting up a page on Facebook

The Tangéroises say they need their own beach to defend their right to bathe in "dignity" and away from "sexual harassment", which they claim is very common in the Tangiers, especially in summer.

The women say they are "conservative" and "live in a conservative city" and do not want to "disobey God by wearing swimsuits when seen by men". Comments on the Facebook page, from Morocco and abroad, generally applauded the initiative. Women outside of Tangier, have also suggested private beaches in their areas of the country.

 Photo flashback - Tangier was not always so conservative

Others are not as positive and point to a time a few decades ago when mixed bathing was not seen as a problem. Some go so far as to accuse the women behind the page "serving the agenda of Daesh (ISIS) in Morocco." Other less virulent comments say that it is a non-issue, as a majority of Moroccans are not affected by this kind of appeal, adding that they love to swim with normal bathing suits and have no problem being seen by men.

Even a cursory glance at the fashionable shops around the country shows that the bikini appears to be the referred swimwear for a modern Moroccan woman. Even in the public swimming pools in conservative Fez, the bikini is seen as normal. At surf beaches, wearing traditional clothing can increase the risk of drowning as it is makes swimming very difficult.

Traditional clothing can be dangerous in rough water

Divergent positions fuel the debate and highlight the growing gap between the emergent modernist Morocco and another more traditional and conservative Morocco fighting to maintain conservative values. The wave of respect for individual freedoms complicates the matter and will ensure that this debate continues.

The role of males in this debate is generally overlooked by the mainstream media. Questions that need to be asked include the role of education. Why is it women are forced into demanding a private beach to be free of harassment rather than men be educated that harassment is wrong? Where are the men's voices in the debate? Do they support single sex beaches, family beaches, or are, as some claim, conservative men behind the demands of the conservative women?

Photo flashback - Beauty contest Casablanca 1982

The last thing that either side needs is further polarisation. The case in 1996 in Dubai of a young woman drowning, is a stark lesson in how ignorance and extremism can have fatal consequences.

In the incident at a popular Dubai beach the father of a 20-year-old girl let his daughter drown by physically stopping life guards from rescuing her. According to Lt. Col Ahmed Burqibah, Deputy Director of Dubai Police’s Search and Rescue Department, the man preferred that his daughter die rather than she be touched by a strange man.

Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Lt. Col Ahmed Burqibah, Deputy Director of Dubai Police’s Search and Rescue Department said at the time that this incident took place at a beach in Dubai.

Lt. Col Ahmed Burqibah  “It shocked me and many others who were involved in the case"

“It shocked me and many others who were involved in the case. The Asian father took his wife and kids to the beach for picnic and fun. The kids were swimming in the beach when suddenly, the 20-year-old girl started drowning and screaming for help. Two Lifeguards were at the beach, and they rushed to help the girl. However, there was one obstacle which prevented them from reaching the girl and helping her.This obstacle was the belief of this Asian man who considered that if these men touched his daughter, then this would dishonour her. It cost him the life of his daughter.”

Lt. Col. Burqibah said "The father was a tall and strong man. He started pulling and preventing the rescue men and got violent with them. He told them that he prefers his daughter being dead than being touched by a strange man.”

He pointed out that this delay caused by the girl’s father cost the girl her life.

At the time, Waseem Ahmed, director of risk at Dubai Festival City said that religious beliefs in Gulf countries mean female lifeguards are needed to save women struggling in the water. "Organisations and governments must employ certified female life guards to deal with females which in most cases is already in lace whether it's government or private sector.

Beaches belong to everybody

"Beaches belong to everyone. But it is equally important to create an awareness amongst the community that the role of a lifeguard is that of a life-saver like a doctor and if in extreme cases when female life guards are not available male lifeguards must act or else we risk losing human life."

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