By Hajare Elkhaldi
Rabat- After long discussions, alterations, and strenuous public outcry, Morocco’s House of Representatives has finally adopted a long-awaited law to fight violence against women. However, what may seem a bright light at the end of a long legislative tunnel may actually be a train that quashes the hopes of millions of Moroccan women.
On Wednesday, February 14, several media outlets reported the news as if it were the government’s love letter to Moroccan women: draft law 103-13 103-13 represented a major step towards achieving gender equality.
The Minister of Family, Solidarity, Equality and Social Development, Bassima Hakkaoui, declared that this bill “is part of an ongoing process to strengthen democracy and achieve parity, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution aimed at combating all forms of gender-based discrimination,” according to MAP. Hakkaoui maintained that the bill would offer preventive measures and increase penalties against those who commit violent acts against women.
Under the shiny headlines, a disappointing reality remains: while the law increases prison time and fines for certain acts of violence, such as when the violent person is a relative of the victim or if the victim has a disability, it does nothing to protect women, ensure that those in charge of women’s security execute their duties, or offer concrete services to victims of violence.
Currently, the Moroccan criminal law does not allow the police to intervene in domestic disputes unless there is an imminent threat of death, a policy aptly described by the infamous catchphrase “is there blood?”
Furthermore, prosecutors are incapable of investigating cases of assault and battery unless the woman provides a medical certificate that proves that she has been incapacitated for more than 20 days due to the injuries.
The law has also failed victims of violence by doing little to help women face the aftermath of violence. Stephanie Willman Bordat, human rights activist and founding partner of Mobilising for Rights Associates, told Morocco World News that the law should have also set up tangible services for women who flee violent situations.
In reality, women victims of violence often run from violence to insecurity, as the law does not provide them with shelter, health, or legal advice and assistance. “Why should someone who beats up his wife get to keep the house? If you take a human rights approach, the woman and the children should stay and the violent person should be the one to leave,” said Bordat.
One of the few changes that this law offers is the criminalization of sexual harassment in public spaces, expanding the crime beyond the realm of the workplace.However, the law does not mention sexual violence.
As a matter of fact, only three percent of rape cases get reported. In addition to the stigma that still surrounds rape and the victim blaming that rape survivors endure, Borat maintains that the law, which still criminalizes sexual relationship outside marriage, is a key deterrent, as women risk getting prosecuted. “Victims of rape will continue to suffer in silence,” concludes Bordat.
The Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI) declared, shortly after the bill’s approval, that it should also deal with the issue of marital rape, a criticism that has received consensus among women across Morocco, according to Bordat.
Nevertheless, many have mocked this amendment, calling the notion of spousal rape illogical and incomprehensible;many also found it contradictory to the teachings of Islam, following the prophet’s Hadith, “If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses [and does not come], and he spends the night angry with her, the angels will curse her until morning.”
This raises the question: how can the government reinforce laws that cover matters to which a substantial amount of citizens remain, sometimes adamantly, oblivious? Is it wiser to wait for social change eventually followed by the law, or push first for legislative reform?
To this Bordat responded, “People will always find a host of excuses to justify violence against women, but that does not exempt the government from doing its job. The government is still obligated to make marital rape illegal and provide services for women who suffer from it.”
Additionally, while examining the public’s opinions, it is crucial to assess who gets to speak. In fact, given the stigma that surrounds the topic and the intimidation that women might face, their opinions and experiences often get lost in a spiral of silence.
“The change is already here,” said the human rights activist, “the decision makers like to say that people are ignorant and that change should be slow. We think reality is actually the opposite. Social practices and social behaviors are way more advanced, the problem is not that the people are behind, the problem is that the law doesn’t respond to the current social realities,” she maintained.
In the absence of government action, women turn to NGOs that have been working on establishing local systems, working with local police and prosecutors to create a better response system and treatment for violence cases locally.
Bordat added that NGOs need to continue advocating for a real legal change, but until that happens, many aspects of the legal process should shift in order to counter the lack of political will. “There is a lot that should be done in terms of what a real law should entail and the role of MPs in a democracy: show up for votes, serve their citizens, and improve the lives of the people they represent, and this should be made clear to the representatives,” she said.
Meanwhile, the years of delay have resulted in an incomplete law that attempts to embellish Morocco’s image in the eyes of the west and human rights organizations, while perpetuating the idea that men are superior to women and can behave however they please without consequence.