The United Nations has been critical of Morocco recently with the respect to women’s rights, and in particular violence against women. ‘The 118th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee looked into the 6th periodic report of the Moroccan government’ with the delegation from Morocco undergoing tremendous criticism over the status of the implementation of women’s rights within the country, according to Moroccan World News. The central examination of the Moroccan status of women’s rights took place in the context of law, sexual assault or rape, housing, polygamy and child marriage, and the level of discrimination of women. The research prior to the meeting was done by the Mobilizing for Rights Associates and numerous other Moroccan nonprofits. In general, the research was on women’s rights with a particular focus on “women’s rights in the family and violence against women.” Let’s run through the list of inequalities, which can mean disempowerment for women, equality and empowerment come as a package.
In law, the absence of rights for one group of people implies a separate set of rules given everything else as equal. That is, women and men are adult Moroccan citizens and should, and deserve, equal rights. A trivial statement, even a truism. When it comes to violence against Moroccan women, women victims of violence, in law, do not have civil protection orders.
In sexual assault or rape, which means sexual violence, the World Health Organization defines it as follows:
any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.
Victims of sexual violence within Morocco can be, if married and raped by someone other than their partner, “prosecuted for taking part in sex outside of marriage.” That is, the Moroccan legal system, in an inverted ethic, turns the punishment for the crime onto the victim. To make this clear, the law is functionally equivalent to the conditional statement: if a married Moroccan woman is raped by somebody other than her husband, she will be prosecuted for sex outside of marriage.
In housing, and once more on the topic of violence against women, but in the domestic arena, female victims of domestic violence need safe havens to escape the abuse – physical, emotional, social, and spiritual – of some abusive intimate partners. This means the need to have housing centers, which remain one common solution to the problem. According the Centers for Disease Control, intimate partner violence comes with tremendous problems for the victim: society via the economy, physical, reproductive, psychological, social, and inadvertent negative effects on health behaviour for women. It is straightforward. The consequences are short- and long-term. Safe housing can help. Morocco was chastised for not having appropriate provision of them.
In polygamy and child marriage, which implies simple marital and intimate relations, the persistence of these activities indicates systemic socio-cultural problems for the country, which cannot be ignored, and were not, by the international community. In the examination of the nation, the exploitation of women through polygamy and girls through child marriage demarcates an unequal power relation and disempowerment of women and girls, across the age spectrum in other words (intergenerational sex discrimination).
In divorce cases, and so if the cases are considered of discrimination in marital and intimate relations because of polygamy and child marriage, in disproportionate violence against women and provisions for victims because of a lack of safe housing, in sexual assault or rape cases involving married Moroccan women because of full blame on them for ‘sex’ outside of marriage, and in law because of no civil protection orders for women, then the ‘icing’ to the discrimination pie (of which Moroccan women get a greater share) is general discrimination in divorce.
Historical context informs this, too. It is not only a current, ongoing phenomena with the discrimination against Moroccan women. Indeed, this continues right into the present because of the historical context, in part, with the past states transitioning into the present. Morocco was run by the French. Its citizens did not garner independence from the French until the late 1950s.
In 1958, soon after Morocco got its independence from the French, notable male scholars of the country wrote a Family Code Law (the Mudawana) which would be legally implemented by the state, and is still part of Morocco’s legal system. The Mudawana was based on Islamic principles regarding marriage, abortion, divorce and child custody. Despite improvements in the Mudawana in recent years, Morocco still has a lot to cover on its way to bring its legal system to standards where human rights and gender rights are respected and protected, especially when it is still based on Islamic law and principles.
The Mudawana has indeed been updated to allow abortion in case of rape, making the legal age of marriage for both men and women equal and allowing a woman to divorce her husband. However, it is very questionable how, if ever, the reformed version of Mudawana, that was so praised by Moroccan authorities, is followed. The country does not still have a law protecting women from domestic violence, something that puts the country much behind on what can be described as a modern state. In fact, a national survey by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning showed that 62.8% of women had, at least once, been victims of physical or sexual domestic violence. What should concern one the most is that only 3% of those cases were reported to the authorities. What is more, the authorities don’t seem to protect victims of domestic violence, as researchers of the Human Rights Watch mention. There is no doubt that in the absence of a strong domestic violence law, the authorities will keep ignoring those cases.
More than 10 years after the Mudawana’s greatest reform, its implementation into the Moroccan society still lacks behind. A great number of people, and most importantly women, are unaware of what the law allows them to do and as a result do not seek for taking advantage of the increasing equality that the legal system allows them to. In fact, because of conservatism especially in Morocco’s rural areas, women are not interested in implementing the new laws into their society but keep living on the same traditionalist grounds that they are used to. What is more, the Mudawana is limited mainly to urban areas and as a result women in rural and underdeveloped areas do not have access to justice. Thus, citizens of rural areas do not have the chance to be educated on the new law. As a result, a new kind of inequality has been created, that of the difference in implementing the Mudawana in urban and rural areas. Also, one would expect that the judges and legal personnel would be educated at a great, if not absolute, degree about the new rules and their application to the Moroccan society but sadly this is not the case as there are financial barriers in educating them.
In addition, where a legal system gains its credibility is on its application. The reformed Mudawana, unfortunately, makes unfair exceptions in a way that it still fails to protect human rights and achieve gender equality. It may had been the case that the reformation was praised for modernizing Morocco but statistics and facts show otherwise. A concerning fact is that underage marriage still exists in Morocco. Despite that being illegal, a loophole in the system allows the judges to allow men to marry underage girls if that is ‘proven’ to be for the girls’ benefit. According to statistics provided by UNICEF, 16% of girls in Morocco are unlawfully married by the age of 18. Proving that despite the law’s changes it’s difficult to change society’s moral values, the ‘family honour’ system is still in practice in Morocco’s rural areas where if a girl remains unmarried then this means that she breaks the family’s honour in the community. The judicial system does not seem convinced to change that as it has approved 90% of the cases presented before it which asked for allowing a man to marry an underage girl.
Even in everyday life, the law seems unable to be put into practice. Reports of personal experiences show how sexual harassment against women is part of Moroccan culture and it’s considered a norm. A form of sexual harassment of which no woman can escape from, and includes stalking, grobing and catcalling. It seems that Morocco is still a male-dominated society in which men try to be dominant even in their everyday lives, showing that misogyny runs deep in them.
The women’s rights examination of Morocco with respect to child marriage and polygamy as persistent practices in the culture to the present day, sexual assault and rape of married Moroccan women with the blame on the victim, the absence of civil protection orders in law, safe housing for domestic violence victims, and the level of discrimination of women in divorce in general. The Mudawana, or the Family Code Law, is an example of this in historical context as well. It is founded in Islamic Law. Gender rights and human rights are not exactly enshrined in it, in spite of piecemeal improvements – the Mudawana becoming more in line with gender rights and human rights. In addition, the pervasive traditionalism and conservatism in the country create additional barriers for the equality of women and the proper implementation of women’s rights. The research by the Mobilizing for Rights Associates and other non-profits indicates the level of discrimination against women in Morocco, and the UN did not hold back. They gave direct, firm criticism of the Moroccan delegation of the status of women’s rights in the country. As presented here, we do, too.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.