Game changers: Ibrahim Hachane and Kalista Sy, in the name of women

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Game Changers

By Mehdi Ba and Nina Kozlowski 

Posted on Friday, 24 December 2021 12:20, updated on Monday, 27 December 2021 00:45

One is a lawyer in Morocco, the other a scriptwriter in Senegal. Both have, in their respective fields, helped shake up the conservatism surrounding women’s rights.

This is part 5 of an 8-part series

Ibrahim Hachane, against all odds

Born in Dar Ould Zidouh – a rural commune located in central Morocco, at the foot of the Middle Atlas – and “proud of it”, 40-year-old Ibrahim Hachane is a fighter who never gives up.

In August 2018, Morocco was shocked to discover Khadija Ouakkarou’s ordeal. At the time, the 17-year-old girl shared a video online where she described how she had been kidnapped, falsely imprisoned, raped, abused and forcibly tattooed all over her body over a two-month period by 13 men aged between 15 and 29, in the region of Beni Mellal.

As soon as she filed her complaint, Ibrahim Hachane, a criminal lawyer and member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), from the same region as the adolescent, hastened to defend her against all odds. However, for the lawyer, who is committed to left-wing politics and far from the spotlight of the Casablanca-Rabat axis, it has been an uphill struggle. Many people have simply “abandoned Khadija”, he says.

In 2018, the horrific story of the young girl aroused the interest of national and international media outlets, and mobilised associations as well as public figures. Khadija benefitted from financial, legal and psychological support. Several doctors, as well as the ministry of health, volunteered to remove her tattoos. Then, the tide gradually turned: the media, the families of the accused and even Khadija’s neighbours questioned her version of events and dragged her name through the mud, claiming that the young girl was a ‘runaway’ with a bad attitude.

Support evaporated and some lawyers who had come forward to assist her dropped the case; eventually, Khadija’s story was no longer of interest to anyone. Hachane, on the other hand, stayed. He endured insults and physical attacks – even within the court – and he endured the slow and disinterested justice system that did not want to deal with a case this complex and sordid.

Three years later, and after a period of confinement, he finally succeeded in obtaining exemplary sentences: 11 of the 13 aggressors were sentenced to 20 years in prison after they were found guilty of “trafficking minors”, “rape”, “forming an organised gang”, “kidnapping” and “false imprisonment”.

Hachane considers these sentences as “normal in view of the seriousness of the crimes, especially as effects on Khadija will be with her all her life”. The lawyer therefore appealed seeking “30 years of prison for the accused”. This is a great victory for Khadija and for all women in Morocco, who are still forced into silence by the prevalence of rape culture.

Kalista Sy, the scriptwriter who caused the scandal

Some accuse her of having offended public decency on prime time television at an hour when children and teenagers are still up. The 39-year-old Senegalese is the scriptwriter and co-producer of a sulfurous television series, which – since 2019 – has captivated Senegal, provoked a huge scandal and, perhaps, started to shake up the ever-conservative society.

Maîtresse d’un homme marié, which deals with sexuality, adultery and polygamy, was a huge success from the outset. However, the sometimes crude depiction of Senegalese customs and the attention paid to the perspective – and desire – of women was not to everyone’s taste. “Initially, Maîtresse d’un homme marié was a column that I had created and shared with a group of women via social networks, to fuel the debate on social issues,” says Kalista Sy. “Then I decided to turn it into a TV series. Its success can be explained by the fact that Senegalese women identified with the characters. For once, the narration belonged to women.”

Twice in 2019, a collective of about 50 civil society organisations led by the Islamic association Jamra and the Committee for the Defence of Moral Values in Senegal made appeals to the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA). The latter twice asked the producer (Mara TV) and the broadcaster (2sTV) to “make corrections”.

Then in March 2019, the CNRA referenced “remarks, behaviour and images deemed shocking, indecent, obscene or offensive” as well as “scenes […] likely to harm the preservation of cultural identities” in the series. Two months later, the CNRA, judging that its criticisms had not been taken into account, presented a formal notice to the channel to ensure that the excesses complained of “are no longer broadcast”.

“We did not make an appeal to the CNRA because the series depicts certain crude realities of Senegalese society, as that is something that could even be considered educational,” says Mame Mactar Guèye, spokesperson of Jamra. “But what we reproach is the series’ use of marital infidelity as a pretext to promote adultery and glorify fornication, against a backdrop of verbal pornography, during prime time.”

“I think the series caused a controversy because not everyone in Senegal was necessarily ready to hear women talk about these ‘taboo’ subjects and their intimacy,” says Kalista Sy. I lived serenely with these warnings, which did not change anything. I continued to do my job.

Last June, however, she packed her bags after disagreements with the production. “I was no longer in line with their vision for the project,” she says. The series has, for now, stopped at the end of season 3, but Kalista Sy, who owns the rights, has not ruled out new episodes.

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