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Women working in coffee shops harassed in Morocco Open in fullscreen

Laila Amzir

Women working in coffee shops harassed in Morocco

Women may be fired if they complain about harassment [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 December, 2014

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Conservative Moroccan society believes women working lack morals, despite many of them simply wanting to make a living.
Many young women work in coffee shops in Moroccan cities. They always greet customers with a smile, hiding the frequent barrage of sexual harassment they have to face. These women are looked down on because they have broken a social taboo in search of a decent living.

Amal is a 29-year-old working at a cafe in the capital, Rabat. After trying unsuccessfully for a long time to find another job she was forced to become a waitress. However, she facing much criticism from conservative elements within Moroccan society, which believe waitresses lack moral fibre.

Some waitresses give the profession a bad name in the eyes of conservatives, engaging in "out-of-hours rendezvous" with customers. However many do not.
     I work with my head held high. It is fine as long as I don't lose my dignity.
- Hanan, waitress

"I work with my head held high. It is fine as long as I don't lose my dignity. I like my work and I work hard to feed myself. I don't care what others think. I don't think my job is disgraceful, it's like any other job," Hanan, a 34-year-old waitress working in Casablanca in the west of the country, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Tempting fate

Adil, a sociology researcher who did not want to be fully identified, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that cafe owners hire beautiful women to attract customers.

"It has become a form of commercial seduction," he said. "Some owners decorate their cafes and buy nice furniture, others recruit girls to seduce customers. Naturally, girls who work in cafes are sexually harassed everyday. The men often give the girls tips to flirt with them."

Safaa, a 22-year-old student, said she didn't think waitressing was appropriate for Moroccan society "or Arab culture in general".

"Waitresses are not treated like female workers in other professions," she said. "They are only seen as a body for customers to look at, especially in working-class coffee shops. It is different in expensive cafes because they recruit respectable, well-trained staff that have graduated from hospitality institutes. I think regulating the profession will ensure servers and customers behave in a more professional manner."

Sara is a 27-year-old journalist. She said that most coffee shop owners know their female servers are being frequently harassed, but they only care about making money. Many fire the women if they complain.

No difference

However, some Moroccans believe it is normal for women to work in this field.

"I always go to cafes for breakfast and I don't notice the gender of the server," said Faisal, a 26-year-old computer expert. "I only care that the meal is good and the plates are clean."

Jalal, a 37-year-old government worker, agreed with Faisal, and argued that society needed to show greater respect to women. However, he added: "It is up to the waitresses to create barriers with customers by dealing with them in a firm yet respectful manner."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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