Morocco’s women surfers ride out waves and harassment

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Meriem, a 29-year-old Moroccan engineer and surfer, surfs off the coast of Rabat on April 1, 2018. (AFP)
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Rim, a female Moroccan surfer walks along the beachside after a surf session in Rabat on April 1, 2018. (AFP)
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Meriem, a 29-year-old Moroccan engineer and surfer, exits the water after a surf session in Rabat on April 1, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2018

Morocco’s women surfers ride out waves and harassment

RABAT: Moroccan women surfers have become a common sight as they skim the waves off the coast of the capital, Rabat, but they still can face prejudice and harassment back on land.
“It’s easier in the winter because the beaches are empty,” said surfer Meriem, 29, who, like most of the women surfers, wears a wetsuit.
“In the summer we suffer a lot of harassment, that’s why we pay attention to what we wear.”
The engineer, who took up the sport four years ago, said she’s lucky to have grown up in a “tolerant” family.
For many Moroccan women from conservative backgrounds, such activities are off limits.
“Some families are ashamed that their daughters practice water sports,” said Jalal Medkouri, who runs the Rabat Surf Club on the capital’s popular Udayas beach.
The gentle waves nearby are ideal for beginners, but nestled at the foot of the 12th century Kasbah and easily visible from the capital’s bustling touristic heart, the beach is far from discreet.
Yet some club members say attitudes are changing.
Rim Bechar, 28, said that when she began surfing four years ago, “it was a bit more difficult.”
“At first, my father accompanied me whenever I wanted to surf,” she said. But now, “people are used to seeing young women in the water, it’s no longer a problem.”
Today, she surfs alone, stays all day and goes home without problems, she said.
Surfers first took to the waves off Morocco’s Atlantic Coast in the 1960s, at the popular seaside resort of Mehdia, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the capital.
Residents say soldiers at a nearby French-American military base were the first to practice the sport there.
A handful of enthusiasts, French and Moroccan, quickly nurtured the scene, traveling further south to the lesser-known beaches of Safi and Taghazout, which later gained popularity with surfers from around the world.
The sport gradually gained Moroccan enthusiasts, including women. In September 2016, the country held its first international women’s surfing contest.
But mentalities differ from beach to beach.
Despite efforts to improve the status of women in the North African country, attitudes have been slow to change.
A United Nations study in 2017 found that nearly 72 percent of men and 78 percent of women think “women who dress provocatively deserve to be harassed.”
The harassment women surfers can face in Morocco ranges from looks and comments to unwanted attempts at flirtation and attention from men.
In Mehdia, however, surf instructor Mounir said it’s “no problem” for girls to surf.
Last summer “we even saw girls in bikinis on the beach and the authorities didn’t say anything,” he said.
Back at Udayas beach, popular with young men playing football, attitudes are more conservative.
“Girls are often harassed by the boys,” Bechar said.
“At first it wasn’t easy, so I decided to join a club.”
The Rabat Surf Club now has more than 40 surfers, half of whom are girls, Medkouri said.
“Parents encourage their children when they feel they are in good hands,” he said.
Club surfing is particularly popular among girls because the group setting cuts harassment and eases the concerns of some families.
Ikram, who also surfs there, said she hopes “all girls who were prevented by their father or brother from doing what they want will follow this path.”
“Surfing makes you dynamic,” she said.


Finnish Santa Claus spreads message of sustainability in run-up to Expo 2020

Updated 04 December 2019

Finnish Santa Claus spreads message of sustainability in run-up to Expo 2020

DUBAI: Expo 2020, being billed as the world’s greatest show, will feature sustainability as one of the integral pillars when the six-month event opens in October next year.

And Finland’s real-life Santa Claus is spreading the message of sustainability and the importance of adapting a circular economy to combat climate crisis, one of the most pressing issues the global community is now facing.

During a recent visit at Arbor School, the UAE’s only ecological school, Santa Claus delivered an open letter challenging those in power to listen to their youth and include them in the conversation surrounding sustainability and environmental issues.

Santa Claus also hoped that his message in the letter would start a wider dialogue about the environment, what we can all do to help heal the planet by adopting a circular economy, which Finland has adopted as a national policy.

During the 2018/2019 school year, over 70,000 children and young people from primary school to university age studied the circular economy as part of Finland’s national curriculum.

“The decline of biodiversity and subsequent challenges made to traditional societies and economic strategies are driving countries to make drastic changes and develop sustainable solutions to guarantee the future our youth deserve. We believe education is the foundation of any significant change,” Marianne Nissilä, Finland’s ambassador to the UAE, said.

“With professions of the future becoming more and more diverse, it is vital we prepare our younger generations by giving them access to the knowledge, understanding and the appetite essential to effect positive change.”

Finland’s pavilion in the Expo 2020 will be centered on its main theme ‘Sharing Future Happiness’ wherein over 100 Finnish companies would showcase globally-leading clean technologies, a circular economy with sustainable use of resources, sustainable energy and digital solutions among others.