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Why Women Still Can't Walk Into A Cafe Alone In The Arab World

A cafe in Marrakech, Morocco
A cafe in Marrakech, Morocco
Rime El Jadidi

CASABLANCA - Cafés are a public space like any other. Theoretically, nothing prevents women from entering one. But too many women still will not frequent certain cafés, which are always occupied almost entirely by men.

Obviously, we are not talking about chic cafés in the center of town. When they have the choice, some women prefer to go to more expensive cafés just to avoid harassment.

Using a video camera, we conducted a series of interviews in a café in downtown Casablanca. It is interesting to see that opinions on this topic varied greatly. It may seem mundane at first glance, but this is a sensitive subject. Many people refused to answer us or to be filmed. In the café where we carried out our inquiry, the proportion of women was minuscule, and among the women, only one was alone.

Paying more to be left alone

Among the women who were interviewed, many said they preferred to go to cafés only when accompanied, to avoid being harassed. Nada, 26, an assistant said, "If men are sitting with women in a café, I know I can go in. I would never go alone into a café where there were only men, not because they would bother me, but because I wouldn't feel comfortable."

Most of the women interviewed said that they had been harassed when they had entered a café alone.

Christelle, 33, is a manager for logistics and warehouses. She says there are more and more women in cafés, but they are rarely alone. "It's happened to me a few times that I am sitting with friends in this same café and men come over to bother us and even sit down at our table. I choose this café because it is near my job, more than anything else. But if I worked in a young, hip, bustling neighborhood like Maârif, I wouldn't go into this kind of café."

Adel, her colleague, is a sales manager. He says, "My coworkers and I often come here to take a break and de-stress. As a man, I don't see any problem with women going to cafés."

What men think

The presence of women in downtown cafés does not seem to disturb men, with a few exceptions. But all the people were categorical in agreeing that some cafés are not for women.

One of the people interviewed, a young man who refused to be filmed, told us that he thought there was nothing wrong with his going to a café with his girlfriend, but that it was out of the question for his sister to do the same thing. This is not a peculiarity of Morocco, since the same problem exists in other Arab countries.

In Belgium, an association of Arab women organizes "raids" on cafés every Sunday to get men used to the feminine presence. More radically, in Ramallah, Palestine, women have opened a café where men are banned.

Meanwhile, back here in Morocco this week, a young woman launched an appeal on social networks for women in favor of a "cooperative café in Casablanca, reserved for women." The appeal says that "men will not be excluded, only unwelcome, except for Friday during the day, which is reserved for them from the café"s opening until 3 p.m."

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Iran's War On Abortion Rights, A Toxic Mix Of Theocracy And Demographic Panic

Ending a pregnancy has become a major complication, and a crime, for Iranian women who cannot or will not have children in a country wracked by socio-economic woes and a leadership.

photo of a young child surrounded by women in chadors

Iran's government wants to boost the birth rate at all costs

Office of Supreme Leader/ZUMA
Firoozeh Nordstrom

Keen to boost the population, Iran's Islamic regime has reversed its half-hearted family planning policies of earlier years and is curbing birth control with measures that include banning abortion.

Its (2021) Law to Support the Family and Rejuvenate the Population (Qanun-e hemayat az khanevadeh va javani-e jam'iyat) threatens to fine the women who want to abort, and fine, imprison, and dismiss the performing physician, if the pregnancy is not deemed to be life-threatening. The law also bans contraceptives.

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The measures are in line with the dictates of Iran's Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He was already denouncing birth control policies by 2018-19, though conservative elements among Iran's rulers have always dismissed birth control as a piece of Western corruption.

Today, measures to boost families include land and credit incentives for young couples, but it is difficult to say how far they will counter a marked reluctance among Iranians to marry and procreate. Kayhan-London had an online conversation with individuals affected by the new rules in Iran.

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