Battered men often choose to hide their agony so as not to be rejected by society. In Morocco, an association and a retired social worker are helping the victims and trying to break the cycle of violence. Their initiative has been scorned by… women.
Rabat, Morocco, in the early 80s. A wife accuses her husband of battering her, in court. When the judge asks why he beat her, the accused replies saying that his wife had previously hit him several times. Dumbfounded, the judge asks: “You a man have been beaten by a woman!?”.
The reaction of the judge who sentenced the dishonest husband sums up how battered men are regarded in the Moroccan society today. They are the subject of ridicule, while their masculinity is questioned. It must be said that beating up a husband was practically unheard of in the past.
“In the past, women could in no way raise their hands or even their voices against their husbands. They were beaten and made to stay with their children, especially in the south. Whenever they reported the case, the man was simply reprimanded and fined,” said Jamila Arsalan, a social worker and retired civil activist.
Moroccan women have changed
Times have changed. Although civil society partners believe that male victims of domestic violence are far less compared to the number of female victims, they have noted an upward trend. According to Jamila Arsalane, “it is a small problem that could grow.” Young couples are particularly vulnerable. “The educated woman enjoys economic independence,” says the social worker. “She argues that both her husband and herself share household burdens on equal terms. This is crucial to the power struggle”. The report tends to lean in favour of women.
“Men are finding themselves unemployed more often than not. Moreover, some women do not really understand the Mudawana (the Moroccan family code, editor’s note) and use it to put pressure on men,” notes Bahjaji Abdelfattah, president of the Moroccan Network for the rights of men (RMDDH), created in February 29, 2009. The first of its kind in the Moroccan kingdom.
The ensuing result now is that Moroccan women won’t go down without a fight. And surprisingly men are now talking about their experiences. “Early in our marriage, I slapped my wife thinking I would go scot-free,” Ali told the daily Aujourd’hui le Maroc. “She responded with a much nastier slap. So I tried beating her up, but she fought back… As stubborn as I was, I always wanted to go beyond the limits of my strength, but each time I did she won the fight. This has now aroused a certain level of fear in me”.
“The man will always be guilty”
M’Hamed, is married to a “sort of muscular tomboy”. His ordeal began on their wedding night. “She asked me to prove my love to her. I then asked what she meant. In fact, she wanted to give me a slap. I agreed, thinking that a woman’s slap was nothing to write home about. Since then, whenever we disagree on something, she asks me the same thing and I agree. Over the years, it has become a habit,” the trader told Aujourd’hui le Maroc.
Many are those who do not retaliate like the man who was sentenced at the Rabat court. The attacker who gets attacked could go to the police. The danger here is twofold. On one hand, “not only will society never forgive a man who beats his wife but in addition, he could be found of mitigating circumstances. No matter the man’s explanation, he will always be guilty,” said Mr. Abderrahim Bouhmidi, from the Rabat Bar Association. On the other hand, reporting the matter to the police followed by a complaint, could lead the battered man’s dark secret to be made public… It is an unbearable idea. Petrified at the thought of losing their children, many refuse to hit back. And the few who decide to seek redress lack the courage to follow up their cases.
“I have only had one battered man as a client,” says Mr. Mourad Bekkouri, also from the Rabat Bar association. “The man was often insulted and hit by his wife, who even once slit his face with a knife. Each time he came into my office, he had a new scar and fuming with anger he would ask me to begin legal proceedings against his wife. But he always retracted.”
The Moroccan society will neither settle for a lawsuit nor support these men. While there exist several organizations and shelters for battered women, men are struggling to find help. The RMDDH is trying to deal with this injustice by providing “psychological help to victims, while informing them of their rights as citizens as well as advising them when they decide to take the case to court,” says Abdelfattah Bahjaji. The RMDDH, however, prefers to invest most of its efforts in mediation. In many cases, couples have been sent back home reconciled.
Jamila Arsalan, who has met over fifty battered men, so far, and hopes to begin an association for them, also believes in mediation. “Although it has no legal value, I ask the husband and wife to put down what the other has no right to do on paper. Whenever they fight on one of the points noted, I tell them that I will back the victim against the aggressor in court … and it works very well!”
Could this be the beginning of a revolution? Maybe. “Male victims could not speak out before the creation of the network, because it was shameful to say they had been beaten. Now they have started talking about it,” says the chairman of RMDDH, whose small team has registered some “300” battered men.
An uncomfortable question
Still, this issue has raised some eyebrows. Women’s groups have complained that too much energy is being invested to fight a marginal issue, while much remains to be done for female victims of domestic violence, to enable them speak freely without being told that they deserve to be battered. Indeed, an Arab proverb says: “Beat your wife every morning, if you do not know why, she does.”
Also, while some share the objectives of RMDDH or see it as a “tool for resolving domestic problems,” others have taken a strong dislike to the movement. “They think we are a group of men who want to ridicule women’s liberation movements,” says Abdelfattah Bahjaji. But we are here to defend the Moroccan family, not just the men”