By khadija Safi-Eddine
By khadija Safi-Eddine
Morocco World News
Casablanca, May 4, 2012
As demonstrators demand political change across North Africa and the Middle East, women’s rights must be recognized and promoted as human rights. Women were and continue to be leaders of the revolutions but far too often post-revolutionary powers exclude women’s realities and needs. The three largest countries of the Maghreb–Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia–demonstrate how important women’s human rights will be in the future of this region.
My intention in this paper is first to provide a basic background of women in Morocco and then talk about the increasing awareness that led to the changes of women’s lives in Morocco. The question of women in the Arab world is of compelling interest in both the east and west, not only because women have often been placed at the center of the ideological conflict between the two poles, but also because women are treated as pawns (dolls) by both Islamist movement and western government. Yet, Arab women have their own voices and have spoken out and challenged the notion of the silent and /or passive Arab women for more than one hundred years. Now the latest group to take up the pen is Moroccan women who are engaging in a process of self-affirmation and cultural liberation.
Though there is a widespread agreement among Moroccans that Morocco will achieve modernization only by integrating women more completely into the country’s economic, social, and political fabric, a portion of women continue to be marginalized by patriarchal tradition and by rates of illiteracy that are 20 to 30 per cent higher than men. Yet, at the same time, according to the United Nations statistics, Moroccan women constitute some 50 per cent of university students and upwards of a quarter of university professors. 20 per cent of the nation’s judges are female, women make up a third of all doctors, and a majority of Morocco’s pharmacists are women.
Women were granted the right to vote in the first constitution of 1956, and in 2002 there were 34 women in parliament, Morocco being the only Arab country to legislate (enact) that at least 10 per cent of its parliament be female. Since ascending to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI has appointed 3 women to senior positions in government, including a royal advisor. He has made the full participation of women a key goal of his country.
In Morocco women have an impressive history of successfully coming together to push for reform, by exercising their individual power to incite more social change. Moroccan society experienced 2 generations of the movements of women’s rights: the first one appeared in the forties and the second one in the early eighties. Women’s rights associations began to emerge in order to raise awareness about the alarming violence and discrimination against women. Their aim was to change the situation! There are thousands of women who actively participate in grass-roots democracy movements in the vast network of human rights and non-governmental organizations. These women’s work is one of the best signs of hope for a genuine democracy in Morocco.
There are many women, by virtue of their education and relative privileges in society, who are actively pursuing social justice and democratic reform. Indeed, in the first decade of the 21st century, even some unexpected groups of Moroccan women are speaking up.
The movement of women’s rights was part of the tradition of political feminism that had benefited from the support given by major political parties of the time. We find different kinds of feminism, from the liberal feminism to the rise of Islamic feminisms, ranging from the politically active, fundamentalist brand of Nadia Yassine to the kind of feminist ‘jihadists’ who argue that it is Islamic and legal scholars—all male—who used their religious and political authority to hand out laws that codified women’s oppression and undermined the egalitarian reforms of the Prophet.
There has been a dramatic increase in women’s civil-society activism, aspiring for legal and protective right; battling illiteracy, in rural areas in particular; and cementing awareness to women’s question. Activism and policies addressing women’s roles and rights were present long before The Arab Spring; nevertheless, the revolutions in the region have given renewed vitality to Moroccan feminist activism. Indeed, women have been an integral part of these revolutions, organizing and marching along men. Women activists know they must fight to play a substantial role.
The Arab Spring can be seen as a powerful reminder that today we live in a global community and the political and social transitions can offer opportunities for transforming social, economic, and political structures. It also offers an opportunity to consolidate some of the changes that occurred as a result of the recent revolutions. The Family Law code reform movement* in 2004, one of the most progressive laws on women’s and family rights in the Arab world, inspired the world because it was mobilized and incited by the women of Morocco. It is the key to the gate of freedom and human rights for women. This victory was a spark that flared up not only in Morocco, it was heard around the world and became a powerful force for women to come together.
The dynamism of Arab Spring is characterized by greater claims for freedom and human dignity, and for equality: basic human values at the foundation of human rights. Gender equality impacts not only women but the community as a whole. It is increasingly clear that women’s rights are central to the developing social revolution in the Arab world, and the manifestations of the February 20th Movement in Morocco all seemed aware of this priority. For them, it was no longer a problem of solving the “women question,” but of putting it first, at the cutting edge of the struggle, “Women as vanguard” as was expressed by one of the leaders of the Marxist party. This is certainly a big step forward!
In response to the February protests in Morocco, King Mohammed VI called for a Consultative Commission to review the Constitution and deliver recommendations for democratic reform. Women were five of the 18 members. Women’s rights organizations played an active role in advocating reforms to establish women’s rights. There has been a need to preserve prior gains on behalf of women and to ensure that women are at the forefront of transitional justice in this period of historic transformation in the region.
The successful Constitutional referendum to strengthen democratic institutions on July 1st, 2011 has been described as a “decisive historic transition” and is a positive road-map for the region. The major changes include: recognition of women and men’s equal status as citizens; a ban on discrimination and a commitment to fight it; a commitment to government action to advance the “freedom and equality of all citizens and their participation in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres; recognition of the need for a legal provision promoting equal access for women and men to elected positions and to improve the participation of women on local authorities; and most importantly, the need to bring national law into agreement with the country’s international commitment.
Moroccan women have expressed the hope that the protests of February 20, 2011 have opened up possibilities for progress in women’s rights in Morocco while acknowledging that obstacles remain. The real solution is about controlling the implication of rules in the Moroccan courts and civilizing the society at first. This can happen only by eliminating illiteracy, putting an end to corruption and discrimination. We know that the journey toward true social justice is long and that there is still much to be done. However, if women’s organizations continue their work with the same vigor and commitment as they have demonstrated in the past 20 years, they will achieve their goals. I believe that the consolidation of recent gains and promotion of gender equity are difficult to achieve without a greater involvement and inclusion of the younger generation. I conclude that the Moroccan women activists are challenged into re-connecting and re-inventing their strategies to expand their appeal among the younger generation.
*a Family Law Code ( a Personal Status Code) is the collection of laws that govern an individual’s rights and obligations within the family, including rules that regulate engagement, marriage, divorce financial maintenance, inheritance, and child custody.
khadija Safi-Eddine is professor of English Literature, Literary Criticism, World literature and women writers at Ain Chok faculty of Letters and Humanities. She is greatly interested in implementing civic engagement that is working together to make a difference in the civic life of society and developing knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. She strongly believes that the role of civic education is to communicate values such as human rights, democracy, liberty, equity, and peace.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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