Rabat – The voices that cried, the protesters that rallied, and the overwhelming majority of 73 percent of women who suffer daily sexual harassment have finally received legislative retribution–or so it seems.
On January 30, the House of Councillors adopted draft law 103-13 on violence against women. Verifying prior evidence that women rights are low priority for the Parliament, only 23 members voted in favor, 15 voted against and 82 councillors were absent.
Lawmakers’ have long turned a cold shoulder to the discourse around gender-based violence and draft law 103.13,a law presumably drafted to protect the country’s female population. But the aforementioned negligence from the councillors is but the tip of the iceberg.
A national campaign on violence against women launched in 2006. Dubbed “Towards a Law on Violence Against Women,” the movement, led by women rights organizations, has been met with promises of a law “in progress” or to “be adopted imminently.”
Seven years later, Bassima Hakkaoui drafted law 103.13 and presented it to the parliament. Once in their house, the bill was locked and forgotten in the representatives’ drawers until the National Observatory on Violence Against Women revealed alarming findings on gender-based violence in Morocco. In its 2016 report, the observatory found that 73 percent of Moroccan women have suffered from sexual harassment and verbal assaults in public spaces.
Further findings show that one in three women in Morocco are victims of physical violence, one in four suffer sexual violence, and one in two undergo psychological violence. Women and their representatives in civil society were enraged and heavily pressured the representatives to react.
The same year, the House of Representatives approved the bill, barely amending the original text. “This shows how much Parliament is negligent of the catastrophic condition of half of its population. I suspect that they barely bothered to read the content of this bill that can only be described as totally inadequate. It suffers from so many inconsistencies; it’s a shame to label it as a law,” Stephanie Willman Bordat, Founding Partner of Mobilising for Rights Associates, told Morocco World News.
The bill was then sent to the House of Councillors. Fueled by constructive criticism, resentment of the status-quo, and anxiety for social change, NGOs and women’s rights advocates embarked on a journey to advocate and lobby for councillor amendments to the bill. This endeavour lasted more than 1.5 years.
“NGOs and women rights organizations did all kinds of things to push the councillors to amend the bill. We sent emails, WhatsApp messages, organized conferences, wrote reports and summaries of those report. We struggled,” Bordat said.
An Amateur’s Sleight of Hand
Far from what El Hakkaoui deems “a fundamental legal tool to stop female targeted violence,” draft law 130.13 is, in fact, “a setback for women’s rights rather than a progressive move,” according to Bordat.
“It basically adds prison sentences, fines for convicted aggressors, and creates a number of commissions that will be operated by bureaucrats, who will most certainly do nothing to further advance the cause of women,” explains Bordat.
Indeed, the draft law states that convicts of sexual harassment will now face sentences ranging from one to six months in prison and a fine of MAD 2,000 to 10,000. If the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or security official, the penalty doubles and reaches up to 5 years in prison and a fine varying from MAD 10,000 to 50,000, if the aggressor is a family member.
The bill does nothing to cover the reporting, investigation, and prosecution phases of violence against women cases. Neither does it address current deficiencies in sexual violence laws, guarantee adequate protection for victims, or provide women with concrete or specific services.
The draft law only provides protection for women once they have filed a criminal complaint.With only 3 percent of women victims of conjugal violence reporting to the authorities, Bordat finds that civil protection orders should instead be issued by the family judge.
Bordat believes that “quite frequently, women victims of violence just want the violence to stop, without having to involve the police.” For her, a much better solution is to give the family judge the power to issue civil protection orders tailored to each case in order to guarantee real protection for women.
The draft law also lags in providing women victims of violence with protection orders prior to the criminal prosecution. “This gap places women at risk of continued violence. Women should be able to obtain a civil protection order quickly and as soon as it is requested,” she said.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to the Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, urging her to amend the bill on the basis of the UN-established legislation on violence against women. HRW recommend that the bill should expand the scope of application of domestic violence crimes to prosecute aggressors of non-married women victims of violence, even if they are not engaged to marry.
Likewise, the National Human Rights Council urged Hakkaoui to harmonize the draft bill with the constitution and international human rights law, mainly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. “We recommend implementing the “due diligence” standard to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women and girls.”
Bordat explains that other recommendations include providing financial support for women and children, prosecuting offenders even if the victim retracts her testimony, compelling the police to conduct thorough investigations, providing free legal assistance automatically to women victims of violence, and guaranteeing safe and immediate shelter for women victims of violence in emergencies.
When the House of Councillors met Monday to vote on Draft Law 103.13, none of these recommendations were taken into consideration.
The Draft Law will soon be tabled in the House of Representatives for a second revision before being officially adopted and implemented. Bordat suspects that they will make amendments to it, but unfortunately, she predicts that once again, “Moroccan women will be left with yet another inadequate law that does nothing to protect them.”