Morocco’s national TV just normalised domestic violence, shockingly so

In a special segment, a make up artist showed how to adeptly camouflage scars from a beating, in a special for International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Written by Nandini Rathi | Updated: December 5, 2016 11:28 am
morroco-759 A demurely smiling model with ‘cinematic bruises’ sat calmly in the chair as the artist got to work, with a multi-corrector concealer pallette. (File)

A makeup artist recently appeared on Moroccan national television to show women how to adeptly camouflage their bruises after a beating, with concealer. A demurely smiling model with ‘cinematic bruises’ sat calmly in the chair as the artist got to work, with a multi-corrector concealer palette. Light music played in the background. All was as it should be in a light lifestyle show.

“Make sure to use loose powder to fix the makeup, so if you have to work all day, the bruises don’t show”, the host said in Arabic towards the end of the segment, and went on to recommend the best products among heavy coverage foundations and concealers. She did not feel the need to discuss domestic violence — it was an understood.

This was on November 23rd – the fact that it was two days before the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women was no irony – it was consciously and well-meaningly timed for it. Journalist Samia Errazzouki translates the artist’s beginning in her Guardian column:

“Today, we’re going to move to a topic that is saddening, but on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’m going to show you the makeup that can cover bruises from the hits a woman may experience. It’s a topic we shouldn’t even have to discuss, but unfortunately, this is what it is.”

Almost immediately, appalled Moroccan women and activists took to social media condemning and criticising the offending segment, broadcast on Channel 2M’s daily show ‘Sahabiyat’, for teaching women how to hide abuse rather than take action against the aggressor. “2M decided to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with anti-violence makeup,” said Twitter user Maha.

The channel responding by reading out and publishing a statement of apology on its Facebook page for this “error of judgment”, which did not mollify many — leading to the creation of a petition called “Don’t Cover Domestic Violence with Makeup, Condemn the Aggressor” which called on Morocco’s High Authority of Audiovisual Communication for severe sanctions against 2M and Sahabiyat. What is shocking is the normalisation in this “accepted” premise on domestic violence, on national television, which is usually a controversy-free, family-friendly line-up for palatable consumption. This was no random YouTube tutorial on how to conceal scars but part of a legitimate, daily women’s show — orchestrating a “useful” how-to on dealing with the problem of domestic violence scares, as though they were sad but otherwise no different from stubborn mango stains – inconvenient but oh-well must-fix. Corroborating that bizarre quotidian feel, is the fact 2M’s editorial division is led by a French-Moroccan woman and that Sahabiyat is hosted entirely by women. Thousands of people who reacted on this, couldn’t have helped but wonder: Whoever thought this was a good idea?

The make up artist, Lilia Mouline, like the channel, said that she in no way was endorsing domestic violence, but defended her tutorial with the following statement: “We are here to provide solutions to these women who, for a period of two to three weeks, are putting their social life aside while their wounds heal. These women have already been subjected to moral humiliation and do not need to also have others looking at them”.“Make up allows women to continue to live normally while waiting for justice”, Mouline added.

Her words “while they wait for justice” are shocking yet reflective of the dismal state of affairs in Morocco, where there is still no law against domestic violence – a draft bill on combatting violence against women is long pending in the parliament. Even this bill, which has good elements, lacks a specific, definition clause of ‘domestic violence’.

Human Rights Watch reported that a national survey of women aged 18 to 65 by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning found that in 2009 nearly two-thirds – 62.8 percent – had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, or economic violence. Of this interviewed sample, 55 percent reported “conjugal” (partner-based) violence and 13.5 percent reported “familial” violence. Only 3 per cent of the victims of conjugal violence had reported it to the authorities – an important reason being that in the absence of a loophole-free, effective law – they lack guidance on effective response and are of little actual help to take action against the aggressor.

The video has become an important flashpoint of conversation about women’s rights and the normalisation of an extensive problem of gender violence in the country.