While it is now many years since settling disputes and conflicts through mediation has been one of the options on the table in developed countries, it is a relatively new option in Morocco.
By Abdellah Azzouzi
Rabat – As the field of Advanced Mediation flourishes, and there are hundreds of schools and institutions that train mediators and equip them with all the necessary academic, professional skills, and savoir-faire tools to solve conflicts between two or multiple parties, Morocco introduced this concept and practice into the divorce process at the beginning of 2005.
How that change came about and what are its social, political, and cultural backgrounds, as well as what can be done to boost the initiative, will be explored in this article.
To start with, many Moroccan women have suffered different types of injustice within the family milieu because of the Moudawana, the Arabic word for the Personal Status Code, which Morocco adopted after its independence in 1956.
The Moudawana enhanced man’s authority over his ‘life-long’ partner (wife), putting all the household powers in the hands of the husband, regardless of his educational status, legitimizing polygamy and forced marriages so keeping women victimized and voiceless for decades.
In 2004, after a long struggle for women’s rights and equity led by the Moroccan civil society, especially by the Women’s Action Union (L’Union de l’Action Feminine), the national parliament passed a law that was called “the Family Code Reform”. The reform signaled a turning point in women’s empowerment.
The code restricted polygamy, raised the marriage age to 18 years old, gave wives– if ill-treated by their spouses– the right to request divorce unilaterally; it also gave them the right of self-guardianship and the right to child custody.
What is interesting about the history of marital law is that the adopted family code made Mediation an integral step in the divorce procedure for the first time in the judicial system of the kingdom, though it (mediation/reconciliation) was a common practice in the Islamic tradition that was always there to mitigate couples from bringing the marital conflicts to court.
Nowadays, before the judge makes a decision on a divorce case he or she invites the two parties to have a “reconciliation session”.
However, the sessions are not mediated by independent freelance experts in the field of mediation and conflict resolution, but seem to be informal and quick. The mediation sessions are not run in a comfortable environment conducive to negotiation and are chaired by the judges themselves within a very short period of time (as judges usually turn out to be under a huge pressure because of the workload and the complexities of cases).
The judge often asks one simple question to the about-to-collapse couple, who are usually surrounded and supported by their parents, saying: “would you like to reconcile or not?”
The outcomes of these inside-the-judge’s office mediation initiatives usually bring little hope or change to the hard situation in which the young couples find themselves and, therefore, do little to stop the drastically increasing rate of divorce among Moroccans that has serious repercussions on the society and the future generations.
If those mediation sessions were mediated by professionals from the academic field of mediation and conflict resolution, there would be a significant impact on the family judicial system. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of broken conjugal ties and shared lives would be rectified, redeemed and immediately brought to normalcy within a society that has quite enough stories of failed marriages already.
Therefore, the Moroccan Government, namely the Ministry of Justice should outline a plan where mediation becomes institutionalized; this institutionalization, of course, starts from making mediation of conflicts a recognized academic field in the Moroccan higher education system. Scholars and graduates from the fields of languages, law and Islamic thought would be a good fit for this branch of study.
If this plan is carried out, I predict the rate of divorce, which has been tearing the Moroccan social texture ever since the new Moudawana Code was adopted, fueled by the damage being done to the educational system and to religious values, as well as to the impact of social media on the newly-weds, would surely fall to its lowest levels.