By Lisa E. Laskaridis*
Morocco World News
New York, September 7, 2011
Morocco’s last decade of economic growth has generated significant progress in terms of national income and employment rates. Still, women in the labor force make up a mere 28 percent. As economic factors have a positive and sustainable effect on women’s societal voice and participation, women’s access, and the extent of access, to the workplace is a significant indicator of gender equality. Further integration into the labor market and a visible presence in the political hemisphere is essential for increasing social status in the long-term, enabling these women economic independence.
Numerous factors are accountable for women’s participation rate in the work place. While women’s employment statistics are closely linked to literacy rates and school enrollment ratios, access to the workplace is also manipulated, essentially determined, by the attitude and acceptance of employers, the family – society at large. The extent of that access and other opportunities are also subject to companies’ cultures and their workers’ ethics. In addition to the difficulties of integration, constitutional norms resist change when convenient to the needs of the business owner.
While modernity has brought about some significant social changes in the Moroccan household, in some areas working outside the home is still seen as making women vulnerable to new forms of exploitation and repression.
Women’s attainment of economic independence and the role of women as financial providers are still opposed by traditional views. Interconnected is of course also men’s view of their role as the sole provider. Islamic instructions dictate that the husband/father serves as the provider of the family, regardless of his wife’s possible wealth; ingrained in culture and tradition, using his wife’s money can be considered humiliating and shameful.
Gradually women are becoming more visible in the workplace, being seen in nearly all fields of profession, particularly in entrepreneurial occupations as well as the associative sector. A notable development in this advancement is the accepted appointment of female ‘murshidats’ (religious preachers), an occupation strictly reserved for men in the past, and still is the case in most Muslim countries.
While the labor market has experienced an increase in the female workforce, Morocco still experiences substantial discrepancies between the genders. The percent of women in the labor force, ages 15 and older, stands at 30 percent compared to 79 percent of men.
The numbers differ between geographical locations as well as the areas of profession where 37% of Moroccan enterprises operating in services are run by women, 31% in the trade sector, and 22% in industry.
Unfortunately these women face many inequalities once they enter the workforce; the most pertinent issue being the significant salary gap Moroccan women continue to earn, on average, which is 40 percent less than men with similar degrees and positions. Women in urban areas often work for less than the minimum wage or work longer hours than recorded.
One of the professional areas where women occupy a particular low status is in the realm of Moroccan mass politics. In 2008, the UN Development Program Gender-related Development Index placed Morocco 146 out of 158 countries, shown by objective measurements of international institutions.
Progress was seen in the June 2009 local elections, where women entered the municipal councils in force for the first time in Moroccan history, reflecting a desire on part of the political elite to diminish the gender imbalance within elected institutions. The 3,406 women elected represented over 12 percent of the total successful candidates, compared to less than 1 percent in the 2003 elections.
In an attempt to enhance women’s employment prospects, strategies have been put in place by national authorities including the launch of a national initiative in 2005, incorporating the gender issue. In 2008, the government withdrew its reservations to the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Among other efforts is the growing number of women and professional training centers that have been established across the country.
These professional induction and training courses aim to encourage and enable women to enter the workforce. Approximately 26,000 women a year benefit from these seminars. Another 8,000 benefit from the professional training offered by special centers.
An additional demographic benefiting from these reforms are the younger generation of girls who have not yet received or have been unable to complete their formal education and are able to undertake training to obtain proper academic qualifications. A significant number, 141,702 women, have already benefited from such permanent programs. Extended activities at existing centers have assisted over 300,000 women.
A number of associations and civil society groups are also working closely with these women centers to provide further support for schooling, careers guidance, re-integration of disadvantaged women, information technology and artistic and cultural activities.
Enabling women to attain paid professions will in the long-term reduce political marginalization, as well as increase participation in decision-making, all elements essential to change gender relations and women’s overall social status.
A vital step in this upward direction is the upcoming national elections on November 25, 2011. Women’s visible presence could prove a noteworthy and hopeful indicator of the actual meaning and impact of this historic political reform and the increased civil rights it proposes.
The parliament to be elected in November will be granted more comprehensive legislative authority. A number of challenges are expected in the process of implementing this new constitution and accomplishing a new status quo. As the structure of this possible new government will be the catalyst for future social, political and economic development in Morocco, the inclusion of women will have a lasting democratizing and modernizing impact in this region, as its citizens will gradually grow accustomed to seeing women managing personal and public affairs.
*Lisa E. Laskaridis is a contributor to Morocco World News.