WITHIN THESE WALLS: EDUCATING GIRLS IN RURAL MOROCCO
This series is about daily life at a girls’ dormitory in rural Morocco. My goal was to take an intimate look at the lives of ordinary Moroccan girls taking part in a historic process to free themselves from marginalization and illiteracy. I lived in Morocco as a young girl. Supported by a Fulbright grant, I returned to the Muslim country in 2004, just as reforms to the Moudawana, or Family Code, were addressing women’s rights and gender equality in Morocco.
The challenge of educating girls is especially difficult in the countryside, where the school attendance rate falls as low as 16.5 percent in the most isolated areas. Attendance especially drops off after primary school. To combat the problem, the king of Morocco has supported a national initiative to build dormitories near secondary schools to help girls in remote areas continue their education. As the king said, “We have focused our interest, first, on rural women, the group most affected by the ills of illiteracy and poverty – two issues I firmly believe are at the heart of human rights, just as they may constitute structural obstacles to democracy.”
My exploration led me to a Dar Taliba, a girls’ dormitory, located in southern Morocco, in El Hanchane, a small dusty town between the tourist spots of Marrakesh and Essaouira. Although the dormitory was designed for sixty students, one hundred and eleven girls boarded there. They were between the ages of 13 and 18. Some went home on the weekends, like Rachida, who brought me to her family’s farm. Many other students, because of finances or distance, stayed at the dormitory for weeks at a time.
Within the walls that separate girls from the public space of boys and men, I discovered a hidden world. I photographed at the dormitory for several months, spending much of my time simply being with the students. We played volleyball, worked on their French homework, shared meals and slept next to each other in the bunks. Late at night, we danced, and I was included in their talk about boyfriends and secrets.