In recent years, Morocco has made great strides in creating a legal framework for the protection of women’s rights.
Rabat – These changes include the ratification of the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) in 1993,
the reformation of the Moudawwana in 2004, constitutional changes for gender equality in 2011, and as well as countless others.
While women are guaranteed more rights in a legal sense, there has arguablybeen minimal progress within their day-to-day lives. Reasons for this disconnect are active resistance, lack of awareness, and the patriarchal stronghold within the country.
This work will explore the positive aspects and limitations of a few of the legal changes in Morocco that shape the status of women within the country.
Changes to the family law, Moudouwwana
The changes to the Moudawwana in 2004 were extensive and progressive. Among the most significant were: raising the minimum age for marriage to 18, permitting a wife to divorce her husband for domestic violence, abandonment, abstinence, or not following a condition in their marriage contract. The changes also allowed spouses to inherit from each other.
The reforms also changed the laws relating to men taking multiple wives, a husband can now only marry a second wife with approval from a judge (Human Rights Education Associates). The Moudawwana did not abolish the institution of polygamy but instead implemented a strict set of guidelines.
A judge is able to grant permission to those who want to marry another wife only after they present detailed documentation of their finances, valid,signed consent from their first wife or wives, and proof that all their wives will receive equal treatment.
The reform has successfully reduced the number of polygamous marriages in Morocco. The abolishment of repudiation is an equally important change to the family code. A husband is no longer entitled to divorce his wife through repudiation and women are able to file for divorce for the reasons listed above.
The changes in 2011 to the constitution include Article 19 stating, “men and women have equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and freedoms” and “the state shall work towards the establishment of parity between men and women. »
Morocco’s parliament recently reealed a penal code that allowed rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims. The change came two years after sixteen-year-old Amina al-Filali committed suicide after being forced, by her parents and a judge, to marry her rapist. Subsequently, Article 475 of the penal code became the subject of international debate and placed Morocco under intense scrutiny, forcing the country to make a change, albeit a particularly slow one.
These changes are all significant strides for women’s rights in Morocco, but still leave much to be desired in terms of their implementation and reforms that were not made.
Inheritance law dilemma
The laws of inheritance have been a growing, contentious issue in the Muslim world.
The traditional laws derived from the Qur’an were preserved in the most recent Moudawwana of Morocco.
Changes to the inheritance laws have faced fierce resistance because of their specificity in the Qur’an.
The sacredness of the words make them nearly impossible to question, but this has not stopped Moroccan feminists from trying to create a dialogue and implement change. Saida Kouzzi argues : “This law of inheritance was based on the fact that men were the head of the households, which is not the case anymore as many women are the ones who provide for the family or at least contribute in a significant manner.”
Moroccan society does not function exactly as Islam dictates. Men do not always provide for the women in their families, as they should; more frequently, women have no relations with men and/or have an independent source of income. Families have been working around the law by leaving their property in the name of their children, especially the girls.
Ultimately, if any changes to the inheritance laws are to be made, the religious and conservative sides of Morocco must be appealed to.
Aida Alami asserts that the argument for change needs to include the fact that Islam is based on the concept of justice and thus there must be room to reinterpret the texts to be in line with the idea of justice.
While many feminists, amongst other citizens, strongly desire, or are open to, consider changes to laws of inheritance, many Muslims reject the reform because of a desire to preserve tradition and follow the Qur’an’s clear orders.
Muslims in the country opposed to the reform most certainly include women, even when the current laws have detrimental effects on them.
This kind of understanding can also be applied when considering the legality of marital rape.
It is not illegal or recognized as a crime in Morocco. Fatima Mernissi outlines the Islamic understanding that the only legitimate sexual intercourse occurs between married people, that marriage guarantees sexual satisfaction for both husband and wife, and that men and women are penalized for failing to provide sexual services to each other.
This framework dictating the nature of sexual relationships within marriages exists to prevent zina or illicit sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
Those who are most likely to engage in zina are sexually frustrated individuals, who are considered dangerous to members of the Muslim community (Fatima Mernissi). With this in mind, it may be hard for some individuals to understand a woman’s refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with her husband to the extent that they would consider sex, while she refuses, as rape.
There is in fact an understanding that the man is entitled to withhold material goods from his wife if she refuses his sexual advances (Fatima Mernissi).
In an ideal world, husband and wife would happily engage in a sexual relationship with each other, but unfortunately, this is not always the case and the law must reflect this inconsistency. There is a long road ahead in Morocco for changing social attitudes and creating an atmosphere of open mindedness for reinterpretation of holy Islamic texts in order to legally guarantee women’s rights.
Resistance to reforms
To further understand resistance to reforms in the name of women’s rights, one must
consider the history of the feminist movement in Morocco. Moroccan feminism grew out of the wealthy and urban ranks of women from Fez. These women all had fathers who were members of the Istiqlal party, which viewed women’s progression as a way to progress society at large.
The advancement of women thus became a necessary stepping-stone towards modernization. For example, Hassan Ouazzani called for equitable inheritance laws because he viewed them as a necessary step towards establishing a “modern egalitarian society” not because the current laws are harmful to women.
This notion of women’s rights for the sake of progress became problematic in the imaginary of many Moroccans, especially when considering their relatively newfound independence from various colonial powers.
During and after the French protectorate period in Morocco, there was a rejection of western influence and change. This resistance to western ideals is one of the motivating factors, which delayed and prevents necessary changes in Morocco.
Preservation of the patriarchal society
Preservation of the patriarchal society is often enforced, not only by the average citizens
of Morocco, but also by those in power. According to a data report from 2010 by the Justice
Ministry, in 90% of cases, judges have granted permission for the marriage of minors. This is six years after the changes in the Moudawwana. Some may find a way around the law while others may genuinely not be aware of the amendments.
This issue extends to various other legal changes that the judges and people either refuse to enforce or remain ignorant of. According to Noureddin ELKhayaty, implementing the reforms throughout Morocco has proven to be a difficult challenge.
Leadership Féminin conducted a study which revealed that 87% of women in six different rural areas of Morocco were unaware of the changes to the Moudawwana (Fatima Mernissi).
Rural areas where men’s, and especially women’s, illiteracy rates are high are less likely to be aware of the changes. As a side note, even women who are aware of the changes in the law may still refrain from invoking their rights or reporting crimes against them for fear of various social consequences or lack of resources.
Depending on one’s location and literacy level, some citizens, especially those that live in rural communities, may not be aware of the new laws and their new rights. Laws specific to marriage in the Moudawwana are particularly questionable in their effectiveness because rural communities do not always have access to court systems and legal contracts.
The most recent legal changes in Morocco in the Moudawwana and constitution are helping build a framework for protecting women’s rights, but more steps should be taken in order for the changes to be effective in everyday life.
While changes to laws are extremely important, implementation and awareness of these changes is vital to their success. While women’s rights in Morocco have made significant gains in a legal sense, there is still work to do to achieve justice for women in everyday life.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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