Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Morocco: Women’s rights in Morocco: from the private to public sphere

Women’s rights in Morocco: from the private to public sphere

by Fatima Outaleb

8 November 2011

Rabat - According to a recent study by Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, the national institute for statistical analysis, 68 per cent of Moroccan women have experienced domestic violence and 48 per cent have been subjected to psychological abuse.

This is a shocking statistic and reveals how much more there is still left to be done in terms of women’s rights. But the encouraging news is that women's organisations in Morocco over the past 20 years have managed to transform the issue of domestic violence from a private concern to a public and political issue.

Women’s rights associations began emerging in the 1990s to raise awareness about the alarming violence and discrimination women were subjected to and to change the situation.

The Family Law, which was first drafted in 1957, allowed marriage at a young age and stipulated that the onus was on women to prove they were victims of domestic violence if they wanted to use this as a reason for divorce. The law also meant that women wishing for divorce could be forced by a judge to return to their husbands if they had tried to leave and been asked to return. In this way, violence against Moroccan women was “legitimised”.

Changing this reality became the priority of the women’s movement in Morocco. To achieve reform, women’s rights groups organised roundtable discussions, petitions and workshops to analyse and modify legislation. One such campaign, led by The Union of Women's Action (UAF) in 1992, called for reform of the conservative personal status code for women and raised public awareness about the increase in incidents of violence against women – something that had not been explicitly acknowledged by the government or by the general public.

In 1993, the UAF petition led to legislative amendments to the personal status code. One of the main changes was that women gained the right to designate their own guardian, a male relative who signs a marriage contract in the name of the woman. Previously, women had no say in this matter. With the revision, however, a marriage could no longer be performed without at least the indirect consent of the woman.

Although these actions introduced only minor changes to women’s rights in the country, at the very least, women’s issues had clearly made it to the public sphere.

In 2002 the Minister of Women’s Affairs – a position created in 1998 – developed a national strategy to combat violence against women in partnership with women’s organisations. Since then, they and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Solidarity and Family have organised a yearly national campaign calling for measures and mechanisms that protect women from sexual harassment and domestic violence.

As a result, the issue of violence against women has received attention from political leaders and the general public. Many government departments have since created units on gender issues. And to address gender inequality, Morocco adopted gender responsive budgeting in 2006, a process in which women’s issues are taken into consideration in national plans and actions.

By ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 the Moroccan government undertook measures to harmonise its national laws with CEDAW provisions. Between 2002 and 2007, it reformed the personal status law even further, along with the labour code, the penal code and the nationality law which, when revised, allowed women to pass their nationality to their children.

In addition, the constitution was amended in June 2011 to address the supremacy of international gender laws over national ones.

Under significant pressure from civil society, Morocco committed to implementing national legislation to end violence against women and to work actively to implement international agreements with the same goal.

A coalition called Spring of Dignity, comprised of 22 women’s organisations, submitted a memorandum to the Minister of Justice last year with recommended amendments to the penal code. Their concern is that the code does not punish perpetrators in cases of rape. In fact, according to the penal code, both the victim and the rapist can be considered guilty of engaging in prostitution, especially if the victim is 18 or older, regardless of any other circumstances, such as the victim having been trafficked, which would then require special consideration and treatment.

Women’s groups are fully aware that reforms to the family code, the penal code, the labour code and the nationality law could not have occurred without the close collaboration of all stakeholders and without major mobilisation by diverse women’s organisations. Though some forces are trying to hinder the progress of democracy and women’s rights, Morocco has embarked upon a process of change. A recent amendment of the penal code that legalises abortion – subjected to certain conditions – is another symbol of hope for Moroccan women.

We know that the journey towards true social justice is long and that there is still much to do, but if women’s organisations continue their work with the same strength and commitment as they have demonstrated in the past 20 years, they will achieve their goals and ensure that future generations enjoy their rights – regardless of their gender.


* Fatima Outaleb is a member of the Union of Women's Action (UAF) Board of Directors in Morocco. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 8 November 2011, Copyright permission is granted for publication.