I was the victim of a horrible rape at the age of 16 by a person who was supposed to protect and love me. This person was none other than my uncle,” she narrated to a translator, who helped write her journal.
Opening up about her sexual assault did not come easy for 21-year-old Fatima Ezzahara, who hails from Morocco, a Muslim country. In her village, people work mostly in the farming and handicrafts industry and have extremely conservative views.
Five years ago, Fatima was raped in her home by her uncle. Initially, she kept the incident to herself. “Shocked and afraid, I could not talk about it to my family or anyone I knew,” she narrated.
Finally, Fatima gathered the courage to tell her mother about the rape. “After a few weeks of suffering in silence, I decided to tell my mother, who began to suspect that I was pregnant. My mother was furious, asking me who the perpetrator of this heinous act was. When she heard the answer, she was in utter disbelief. She was horrified at the thought of what my family and neighbors would say if they found out,” Fatima said.
In order to hide her pregnancy and avoid revealing her daughter’s rapist, Fatima’s mother sent her away to another town to stay with a friend. “There, I found shelter and a welcoming home,” she narrated.
But, Fatima was keen to abort the foetus. “I was determined to get an abortion and be free of the burden, weighing me down socially and mentally. I decided to ask the woman for help.”
Due to restrictive abortion laws, her mother’s friend could only propose illegal and what Fatima described as “dangerous” means of terminating her pregnancy. Fatima was made to drink medicinal herbs and that resulted in hemorrhages. “During one of these (abortion) attempts, I experienced serious bleeding and pain, leading me to be urgently taken to the hospital,” Fatima related.
Until 2015, abortion was permitted in Morocco only if the woman’s life was in danger and if there was spousal consent. Upon the directive of King Mohammed VI, Article 453 of the penal code was revised to make abortion legal in cases of rape, incest, danger to the mother’s health and birth defects. However, the amendments haven’t come into force as the parliament is yet to vote on it unanimously
Policies and programmes in Morocco are influenced by strict interpretations of Islam. This has restricted women’s access to safe abortion. The Moroccan Association for the Fight against Clandestine Abortions estimates that 220,000 Moroccan women undergo illegal abortions each year.
Fatima was one of these women. Besides struggling with the trauma of rape, she had to turn to illegal and risky methods to abort. And when that failed, she faced administrative and judicial difficulties before being admitted by the hospital’s gynecology department to complete the abortion. By then, her life was already in danger.
Thankfully, Fatima survived the ordeal. However, because of the stigma and fear of the law, she was unable to tell anyone about her experience. “Apart from my mother, no one knew about my horrible story,” she said.
Fatima then went into depression. However, she was determined to recover. “I decided to stop suffering in silence and sought the help of AMPF (Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale). There I was taken care of, provided with counseling sessions and directed to helpful resources,” Fatima said.
She eventually decided to move away from her family, in order to avoid seeing her uncle, the rapist, who still visited her parents. “I felt abandoned by my family and friends,” Fatima confided.
Fatima found a small room to rent. She initially worked as a domestic worker and also took up commercial sex work to make ends meet. But, now she is working as a packer in a farm. She finds it challenging to live by herself due to prejudices in Moroccan society towards unmarried girls.
“A new adventure has begun for me, living on my own. I am constantly exposed to risks, problems, and societal constraints related to gender. This makes life difficult for me,” Fatima related.
AMPF is still helping Fatima get over her harrowing experience so that she may one day find peace. They are also helping her get legal justice for the crime committed against her.