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Worldcrunch

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

Article illustrative image Partner logo A cafe in Marrakech, Morocco

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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