AUP graduation ceremony at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

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AUP Alumna Sonia Terrab Wins 2020 Simone de Beauvoir Prize

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Sonia Terrab G'11

On January 9, 2020, the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom was awarded to AUP alumna Sonia Terrab G’11, along with writer Leila Slimani and poet Karima Nadir; they accepted the prize on behalf of the Collective 490 hors-la-loi, or Outlaws Collective 490, a group of women and men claiming sexual freedom in Morocco. The award ceremony took place at the Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris.

The Simone de Beauvoir Prize was founded in 2008 by Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-French philosopher and novelist, to mark what would have been de Beauvoir’s 100th birthday. The prize honors individuals and institutions that defend women’s freedom. Past winners have included Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Giusi Nicolini, a former mayor of Lampedusa, Italy, who worked to protect the rights of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Sonia Terrab is a Moroccan film director, novelist and journalist – and a graduate of AUP’s MA in Global Communications. She established the Outlaws Collective 490 with Leila Slimani, the Prix Goncourt–winning Franco-Moroccan author. The collective aims to protect the rights of Moroccan citizens by opposing Article 490 of the Moroccan criminal code, which criminalizes extramarital sex.

“In Morocco you can go to jail because you are in love,” says Terrab. According to the collective, in 2018 alone, 14,503 people were accused of having extramarital sex, 3,048 for adultery and 170 for homosexuality. What’s more, as Terrab notes, abortion is illegal, which is something the outlaws are also campaigning to change. It is estimated that between 600 and 800 clandestine abortions take place in Morocco every day.

The collective unveiled its manifesto, originally signed by a group of 490 women and men, which denounced the law and proclaimed that the signatories themselves had broken it. The manifesto was in part a response to the arrest of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni on August 31, 2019. Raissouni was arrested for having had an “illegal abortion” and “extramarital sexual relations,” before being freed that October. “It was revolting for us as women to think that something like this could happen,” says Terrab. “We felt the need to denounce the arrest and state our anger.”

By revealing their identities, the signatories declare themselves to be outlaws and publicly assume a sexual freedom denied to Moroccan citizens by law. “We wanted to talk about this important issue and raise a national debate,” she explains. “We have so many testimonies from young people who have suffered because of these laws. A lot of women are speaking up and saying this is a problem.” The manifesto has today over 15,000 signatures, and over 70% of the accompanying testimonials come from 18- to 25-year-olds.

The collective has now presented its petition to Moroccan parliament. “We are trying to use the tools we have as citizens to change this law,” explains Terrab. A new campaign, “Love Is Not a Crime,” was launched in December 2019, seeking to repeal what the collective refers to as “repressive laws relative to love.”

As well as her work with the collective, Terrab has published two novels, Shamablanca in 2011 and The Revolution Did Not Happen in 2015. Her 2016 documentary film, Shakespeare in Casablanca, profiles a Casablanca-based theater troupe preparing a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream while discussing definitions of love with the city’s residents. Her web series, Marokkiates, gives Moroccan women a platform to voice their uncensored views about their daily lives and experiences.