“We hope these beauty tips will help you carry on with your daily life,” said a make-up artist on the morning show Sabahiyat on Morocco’s state television last Wednesday. But this was no typical make-up advice: She was teaching women how to cover up bruises from domestic violence.
It was, to say the least, a misguided attempt to commemorate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25.
The show sparked outrage. Activists in Morocco preparing for United Nation’s annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence – from November 25 until Human Rights Day, December 10 –were furious that the show told domestic violence survivors to “cover up” rather than speak out. They started an online petition calling on the government to take action against the channel.
The channel removed the video from its website, and apologized on Facebook that Friday and on the show Monday, calling the segment “completely inappropriate” and “an editorial error of judgement.” It hosted an hour-long segment on violence against women last Thursday, with continued coverage since on the topic. But plenty of damage was already done.
Violence against women is widespread in Morocco. A government survey found that nearly two-thirds of women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. Of these same women, some 55 percent reported “conjugal” violence i.e. violence by their husbands. The show reinforced the prevailing impulse to cover up, rather than confront, gender-based violence.
Moroccan authorities have failed time and again to implement measures that can help prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute their abusers.
I interviewed 20 women and girl domestic violence survivors in Morocco last year. They spoke of the horrors of being tortured – physically, sexually, or mentally – in their own homes. It took courage for them to leave abusive situations. Many had nowhere to turn. An 18-year-old woman told me how, despite being raped, beaten, and slashed with a knife by her husband, her father commanded her: “Stay with him even if he wants to kill you.”
Many of the women said the police refused to record their statement or investigate – even if they had been beaten, bruised, or burned. Sometimes, police told them to return to their abusers. Prosecutors often resisted getting involved.
A weak draft law on violence against women is before parliament’s second chamber for review. The chamber should strengthen the draft by including a definition of domestic violence, setting out the duties of police and prosecutors, and providing for civil protection (restraining) orders that could save women’s lives.
Make-up tips won’t stop the blows. What will help is adopting a tough law and promising to hold perpetrators accountable.