Celebrating Moroccan mothers is an act of feminism

We can fight for rights — and acknowledge our mothers at the same time as Morocco’s football team did at the World Cup.

morocco football mother
Morocco's Sofiane Boufal, left, celebrating with his mother after his team's win in the FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 10, 2022 [File: Luca Bruno/AP Photo]

As Morocco beat Portugal to qualify for the FIFA World Cup semifinals in Qatar in December, an explosion of joy that started on the pitch and spread through the stadium bleachers ultimately reached all parts of the Arab world and indeed, far beyond.

One particular incident grabbed the world’s attention: Sofiane Boufal, a key player in the Moroccan national team, danced with his mother in the middle of the field. Pictures and videos of this spontaneous expression of happiness were shared by thousands of internet users. Many saw a representation of their own relationship with their mothers.

However, some interpreted it differently. A Dutch columnist argued that we need to “stop glorifying mothers”. More specifically, she said, the instance of “mother-worship” hid a more “pessimistic picture” of the state of women in Morocco. Citing low employment rates for women in the country, the piece said “the Moroccan woman is far too much a mother, and nothing else”.

That article underscores how mainstream feminism often ends up silencing the very people it claims to represent. For so long, Moroccan women have had others supposedly speaking for them. As a Moroccan woman, a daughter, and a feminist, I believe it is essential that we — the women and mothers of my country — speak our truth and reclaim it.

It is up to nobody but us to decide how we must fight for women’s rights in Morocco based on our local feminism. The complex identity of Moroccan women and mothers must be defined by us alone.

Essentialising Moroccan mothers

Growing up, my mother was the spine that allowed our family to stand on its feet. Not only did she work and excel as a doctor, but she was also the glue that held her household together. I watched her put everyone’s needs before hers.

Her story is typical for many Moroccan mothers who juggle work, kids and household chores, wearing multiple hats, running from one place to another, giving and most of all, sacrificing. Oftentimes, fathers do not contribute to household labour.

Even those Moroccan mothers who are not working outside of their households have full-time jobs: They go grocery shopping, prepare every meal with care, keep the house clean, feed the crying baby and play with the toddler.

A vision in which “the Moroccan mother” is solely a mother is not only false but is also essentialising to Moroccan women as a group. In fact, there is no such thing as “the Moroccan mother”. Moroccan women and mothers — like women and mothers across the world — occupy a plethora of positions in society, from merchants, doctors and stay-at-home caregivers to business owners and farmers.

Reducing them to just one identity takes away their unique, multidimensional personalities.

Dismantling a binary lens of feminism

For some branches of feminism, household work is not considered labour since it is not financially compensated. Stay-at-home mothers’ work indoors is devalued and is seen as non-essential. It does not matter if they struggle and work without a break, through the day. What they do is taken for granted.

The gender inequality in the household division of chores and the non-recognition of domestic work as labour are important conversations that civil society must have. But by looking at women through black and white lenses and classifying them as either “valued” or “oppressed” based on what they do, some feminists risk perpetuating the very same patriarchal mechanisms they claim to be fighting.

Creating a local Moroccan feminism

If there are those who believe that motherhood must be devalued to reach equality, we, as Moroccan feminists, can set the rules differently for ourselves. It is possible to preserve some of the cultural characteristics that have distinguished our upbringing, while still fighting for women’s rights.

It is up to us to define our own feminism, tailor it to the needs of our unique local experiences and mould it so it fits every Moroccan woman.

We will advocate against laws and social norms that fail to protect mothers and will not stop until each one of them is freed from what she considers as chains. And in parallel, we will value the strength, courage, and grace that they keep demonstrating.

An ode to Moroccan mothers

Whether they are stay-at-home mothers or working outside of their household, whether the division of domestic labour is done equitably or not, whether they are perceived as “girl-bosses” or “just mothers” by others — Moroccan mothers deserve to be celebrated.

They deserve public recognition for navigating a harsh system that taught them that they had to sacrifice to be perfect mothers. They deserve a standing ovation for surviving an unjust social order, sometimes backed by unequal family laws.

To do so is not a “glorification of mothers” or “excessive mother-worship”. It is acknowledgement and appreciation of all that they do.

Boufal has spoken of his mother’s sacrifices — how she would leave for work at 6am to help build a future for him. Far from showcasing the alienation of women, the footballer’s decision to share the limelight of Morocco’s biggest-ever sporting moment with his mother by dancing with her on the field was a joyous representation of what millions in my country feel about their relationships with their mothers. The personification of the purest form of love.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.