Women in Public Spaces

Women’s ability to move freely and safely in public spaces supports their ability to fully participate in the civic, political, and economic life of their communities. The SWMENA survey asked women in Morocco how free or restricted they felt in associating with persons of their own choosing; expressing their views on critical issues to family members, neighbors or friends; leaving their house without permission; and moving about in public areas without fear or pressure.

Figure 2 shows that there are significant differences in freedom of mobility among women by marital status, age, work status and income adequacy. 

The survey asked respondents who felt somewhat or completely restricted in moving about in public areas why they felt this way. Open-ended responses were coded into categories. Up to three reasons could be provided by a single respondent. The top five most frequently cited reasons are shown in Table 1.

The survey respondents were asked about their experiences in public spaces (local markets, walking down the street, etc.). Specifically, women were asked how frequently men made “unwanted/sexually suggestive noises, comments or gestures” and how often men “touched, pinched or made otherwise unwelcome physical contact.” Generally, unwanted physical contact is much less frequent than harassing comments and noises.

Figure 5 shows that there are also discrepancies among the experiences of single, married and formerly married women. Single women are far more likely to receive unwanted/sexual comments and experience unwelcome physical contact.

Figure 6 shows that women in urban areas are more likely than women in rural areas to receive unwanted/sexual comments and experience unwelcome physical contact.  This is not surprising, given that urban areas tend to be more congested than rural areas.

Some differences appear between Arabic and Amazigh speakers in experiences of harassment in public places (Figure 7). Amazigh-speaking women are less likely than Arabic-speaking women to experience men making unwanted/sexual comments.  This trend may be related to the fact that Amazigh-speaking women are more likely than Arabic-speaking women to live in rural areas where harassment is less pervasive according to the survey results. In Morocco, 64% of Amazigh-speaking women live in rural areas, compared to 39% of Arabic-speaking women.