Foto: Nidal Abu Arif

The microphone is the weapon in the Moroccan women’s movement

Single mothers in Morocco are weak in both legal and social terms. A local radio station in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier gives voice to a group of female citizen journalists who are all single mothers.

Rusty satellite dishes and multi-storey buildings – some new, some old – as far as the eye can see. Naima is pointing to the places she has visited in connection with her reporting from the city. She gestures towards the old town, to the district she lives in, and to the large shopping centre in the city. She has no difficulty navigating around the city and seems at ease in the apartment that houses the first Arab radio channel for single mothers.

“I do it for my twin daughters. I want them to grow up in an enlightened society where they can educate themselves and have a good life.”

Naima
Cook and citizen journalist on 'Mothers on air'

“I do it for my twin daughters, they are nine years old. In a couple of years, they will be teenagers, and I don’t want them to pay a price for my actions. I want them to grow up in an enlightened society where they can educate themselves and have a good life.”

This is how Naima explains her motivation to be a citizen journalist on a radio channel for single mothers in Morocco.

One day, her two daughters came home from school devastated and in tears. Another student from the school had shouted at them and told them that they are unwanted children, since they are the offspring of an illegitimate relationship.

Naima is a citizen journalist on a radio channel for single mothers in Morocco. Photo: Nidal Abu Arif

Naima, 32 years old, comes from the famous Moroccan tourist city Agadir. After she had her two daughters, she set off as a single mother on an 800 km journey north through Morocco and settled in the city of Tangier. It is a story that she has in common with tens of thousands of young single mothers who have children out of wedlock, are rejected by their families and local community, and who have to go elsewhere to make a new start.

Large gap and legal limbo

There are no exact figures on how many single mothers there are in Morocco. The women’s organisations in the country all agree that tens of thousands of women give birth each year to children for whom no man is willing to take on the role of father.

Naima currently works as a cook and spends most of her spare time sitting behind the microphone on the Internet radio channel ‘Mothers on air’.

“When I go out on the street with a microphone, men are more reluctant to talk to me. They are not happy to talk about their views on the topics that I raise in my programmes,” says Naima.

“We saw that there was a large gap between single mothers and society, and there are many prejudices about them. The channel is an attempt to give them a voice, so they can talk about their life and existence.”

Sarah Al-Majri
The organisation ‘100% Mothers’

She produces two programmes on the radio: one is about legal advice for single mothers and the other is broadcast under the headline ‘Amal’ (‘hope’ in Arabic), which focuses on the relationship between mother and child. Naima offers tips to her listeners on how they, as single mothers, can give their children the best possible upbringing.

The Moroccan family legislation, Moudawana, was reformed in 2004. The reform meant that women in the country generally got more rights, but it is still illegal and frowned upon to have children out of wedlock and it is not legal to have an abortion. This puts single mothers in legal limbo.

The radio channel was launched by the Moroccan organisation ‘100% Mothers’ in 2017 as an attempt to draw attention to the situation of single mothers in Morocco.

Naima (left) with her colleague Wahiba (right). In the centre is Sara Al-majri from the organisation “100% mothers”. Photo: Nidal Abu Arif

“We saw that there was a huge gap between single mothers and society, and there are many prejudices about them. The channel is an attempt to give them a voice so that they can talk about their life and existence,” Sarah Al-majri from the organisation ‘100% Mothers’ explains.

Al-majri points out that the radio channel is a tool for speaking up for the single mothers and for fostering a debate about the legal and social conditions in which they live.

More confidence and fighting spirit

International Media Support (IMS) is a Danish organisation that has supported the local radio stations in Morocco for years as part of their work under DAPP. The women are trained in interview techniques and idea development, as well as being introduced to the editing tools. Naima has taken part in the training.

“We received more knowledge and insight into how we can deal with the topics in a relevant manner, so that they are more interesting to our listeners and to society in general. Apart from this, I got more confidence, and I feel that I have become better equipped to conduct interviews with the guests on the programme,” Naima says about the skills that she got from the training.

Confidence is really important when it comes to walking the streets as a journalist for a radio station for single mothers.

“After the local grocer from my neighbourhood saw me on the TV station France 24, he stopped me on the street and said: ‘Naima, keep on drawing attention to this topic, we need your voice.’”

Naima
Citizen journalist on 'Mothers On Air'

“When I go out on the street, I introduce myself as a journalist. But when some people hear that I am doing a report for a radio station for single mothers, they begin to accuse me of furthering unvirtuous behaviour in society. They do not want to look us in the eye. They would prefer us to just disappear into thin air,” says Naima. She hastens to add: “I can’t argue with them on the street, so I just move on to others who are willing to express their opinion about the topic that we have chosen to focus on.”

When the radio channel was launched in mid 2017, it caused a stir in the Moroccan and Arab media. Most Moroccan media ran the news of the new channel, and several of the major international news agencies and TV channels ran the story, including Al Jazeera, CNN Arabic, France 24, and Euronews.

Even though the radio programme has received positive feedback from international media, the single mothers still meet resistance on the street. Photo: Nidal Abu Arif

The publicity in international media generated a favourable response.

“After the local grocer from my neighbourhood saw me on the TV station France 24, he stopped me on the street and said: ‘Naima, keep on drawing attention to this topic, we need your voice,’” Naima recounts with pride.

This is something that her radio host colleague Wahiba has still not experienced. She is 23 years old and is the mother of a three-year-old girl. She moved to Tangier from the Moroccan capital, Rabat, in 2016.

“I once sent a link to my cousin to hear her comments about our radio. I got no answer back from her,” says Wahiba, who works in a sewing room.

Two years with taboo-breaking radio

In May 2019 the radio channel will celebrate its two-year birthday. The single mothers’ legal status is still uncertain, and the topic is still the subject of debate in society. But the journalists on the radio station “100% Mothers” have not lost their passion for the work.

“If we remain silent, we might be able to avoid all the negative attention. But if people’s mentality does not change now, what is going to happen to my daughters, when they become teenagers?” is the answer from Naima.

At Naima and Wahiba´s request, we have only used their first names in this article.