CASABLANCA — Sufiane Hennani is convinced that the fight for equality between the sexes will not be won without men. And so, this 28-year-old doctoral student in medical biology has decided to shake up the codes of patriarchy by launching a series of podcasts dedicated to the debate on gender relations in Morocco.

The first episode, listened to by several thousand in Morocco and France, sparked a debate on social media and in homes. "We are pleasantly surprised by the public's reactions," says Hennani. "Even public television invited us to talk about it! 'Finally,' people told us. 'It was about time.'"

Although violence against women is regularly denounced in the kingdom, the role of men is rarely questioned. That's where Hennani's show, called Machi Rojola, comes in. Developed during the coronavirus lockdown period — at a time, specifically, when associations have observed an upsurge in domestic violence — the podcasts directly target sexual assault, harassment and male domination.

Machi Rojola means "it's not like being a man" in the Moroccan Arabic dialect. Episodes are released bi-monthly. The idea, its creator explains, "is to deconstruct the discourse of men, to make them responsible, in order to initiate change in our society."

The program was launched in partnership with Elille, a collective of Moroccan artists and activists, and the German foundation Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS). It's similar to other feminist podcasts but "with the Moroccan sauce, with all its specificities," Hennani explains.

Each program, illustrated by the feminist artist Zainab Fasiki, invites intellectuals, artists and activists to reconsider the notion of masculinity. Guests have included the writer Abdellah Taïa, the essayist and specialist on Islam Asma Lamrabet, and the Tunisian researcher Monia Lachheb.

We finally admit that masculinity is plural, that it's complex.

"In Morocco, we think of man as if there was only one model: the hegemonic dominant male. Anyone else is considered not 'man enough,'" Hennani says. "In Machi Rojola, we finally admit that masculinity is plural, that it's complex."

The first episode, released on Dec. 2, tackles "toxic masculinities." As feminist activist Fatna El Bouih explains: "There is a great pressure on men, on the notion of being a man, which remains very unclear. And this sometimes leads to violence."

Author and journalist Hicham Houdaïfa agrees. "Since we were children, we have been taught models of masculinity that have caused us a lot of harm," he says. "We had to show that we were boys. Sometimes you become violent because you have to be."

It is this notion that Sufiane Hennani wants to challenge. Originally from El Jadida, south of Casablanca, the young man is the only boy among his six siblings.

"I lived through my cultural revolution during the 2011 Arab Spring. And what bothered me was the persistence of sexism in these spheres that were nevertheless fighting for change," he says. "They denounced the hogra [a colloquial word used during the Arab Spring to express resentment and injustice], but they didn't talk about invisible minorities or the situation of women."

Machi Rojola's first episode, released on Dec. 2, tackles "toxic masculinities." — Photo: Machi Rojola

In recent years, nevertheless, several sexist and homophobic attacks have provoked waves of outrage in Morocco. The media coverage of these cases has contributed to freeing speech. On social media networks, tongues are loosening and, little by little, taboos are cracking.

"There is a generation that is being born in Morocco and that questions the notion of gender," Hennani says. "We want to get out of this heteronormative system and put an end to the silence that surrounds these issues in Moroccan politics."

In a country where out-of-marriage relationships, adultery and homosexuality are still punishable by imprisonment, sexual frustration is often blamed.

"Very little is said about the sexual misery of Moroccan men," says Sonia Terrab, and novelist and film director who in 2019, together with writer Leila Slimani, launched Collective 490, a women's movement to defend sexual freedom in Morocco. Also known as the Moroccan "outlaws," the Collective takes its name from Article 490 of the penal code that punishes sexual intercourse outside of wedlock.

"[Men] grow up with the idea that they are superior. But in the end, they are very fragile, vulnerable beings, whose ego is based on hollow things," says Terrab.

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