By Stephanie Willman Bordat and Saida Kouzzi
Rabat – The long-awaited Law 103-13 on the elimination of violence against women in Morocco went into effect this week.
Despite more than twelve years of diverse governmental and civil society efforts, the analyses from legal experts, international human rights mechanisms, and Moroccan NGOs have detailed the numerous shortcomings and deficiencies in the content of Law 103-13.
Now that the law has been enacted, it is crucial to reflect on the reasons why the law falls short of basic human rights standards, and why it failed to incorporate the substantial input and propositions made by Moroccan civil society for improvements. While some may point the finger at the Ministry of Family, Solidarity, Equality and Social Development, responsible for preparing the original Draft Law 103-13, it is important to not forget the other key actor in the legislative process – the Moroccan Parliament.
One of the legislative functions of the elected Parliamentary representatives – the deputies and the councilors – is to make amendments to Draft Laws (Article 83 of the Constitution). Despite this, the House of Representatives only made some 28 minor amendments to the Draft Law before voting on it in July 2016, with only ¼ of the representatives present for the plenary vote. After 18 months, the House of Councilors then passed Law 103-13 in plenary on January 30, 2018, with a quasi-absence of amendments to the Draft Law and only 1/3 of the councilors present for the vote.
The Constitution ensures the rights of NGOs to contribute to the elaboration, implementation and evaluation of decisions and projects of elected institutions and public authorities, and of citizens to submit motions in legislative matters (Articles 12, 13 and 14).
In the two years from when the Draft Law was submitted to Parliament for review in March 2016 to when it was passed in February 2018, women’s groups from diverse regions across the country, from large cities to small villages, conducted legislative advocacy directly to representatives in both houses of Parliament for much-needed amendments to the Draft Law. According to the findings from our recent initial online survey of NGOs and activists across the country about their experiences, much work remains to be done to create true citizen-centered advocacy and transparency and accountability among representatives to the constituents that elected them.
Although local women’s groups used a variety of communication forms to contact parliamentarians, including Facebook, phone calls, e-mails, letters, text messages and WhatsApp, 50% of respondents reported that they did not receive a response from parliamentarians they contacted. Likewise, respondents expressed their opinions that the parliamentarians were seldom to not at all available (67%), and that they were not very or not at all receptive to issues of violence against women (62.5%).
Women’s groups conducting direct legislative advocacy faced numerous barriers in their efforts to contact elected representatives. 83.3% of respondents reported that it was not easy or not at all easy to obtain the contact information for parliamentarians, relying primarily on ad hoc efforts to obtain such information through personal contacts. In the absence of official, publically available contact information, women’s groups had to patch together themselves an incomplete contact list of representatives in a Shared One Drive document.
62.5% NGOs reported that it was not easy or not at all easy to obtain information on the steps in the legislative process, or of the timing of the reviews and votes on the Draft Law to follow it. The parliamentary websites were often not updated in a timely manner for NGOs to be able to intervene effectively and efficiently, and consistent information from the parliamentarians themselves was often not forthcoming.
Following the final votes on the law, NGOs also reported their inability to follow up on and hold the elected representatives accountable for their behavior, due to the unavailability of information on which representatives were absent for the vote, or on how individual members present voted.
These deficiencies illustrate the need for several measures to improve the accountability and responsiveness of elected representatives, and to promote real citizen-centered advocacy for the future, including:
- Publication and sharing in a timely manner of detailed reports of votes, including the names of absentees and the voting record of each parliamentarian;
- Public availability of a list of professional contact information for all individual parliamentarians;
- Timely public dissemination of information throughout all stages of the legislative process;
- Known and accessible mechanisms for all NGOs to participate in direct dialogues with parliamentarians.
The lack of responsiveness to citizen input on Draft Law 103-13 is problematic for two reasons. First, it prevented the law from reflecting the complex realities of violence against women on the ground, which will limit the law’s ultimate effectiveness. Second, it risks fostering a lack of faith in elected institutions among civil society and the broader population, a dangerous sentiment to encourage indeed.