Equality, Freedom, Modernity
Kenza Séfrioui - 03/05/2012
Since the election of the Justice and Development Party (PJD)[i] at the head of government Moroccan modernists are on alert especially with regards to women’s rights. There is only one female minister, the very conservative Bassima Hakkaoui and several polygamist ministers including Mustapha Ramid, Minister of Justice. Not to mention the party’s Islamist benchmark that leads it to very conservative positions on social issues. Progressive forces are therefore far from being reassured and this is why there are mobilised. On the 8th March, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, women and human rights associations, development and cultural organisations as well as others representing the Amazigh movement called for a rally that was held in Rabat. Chanting slogans such as “Bghit 7o9o9i koulha, I want all my rights”, “Moussawat lyoum, 9bal ghedda, Equality today before tomorrow”, “My body belongs to me”, they all proclaimed their desire for a modern and democratic society. A society based on gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights.
With a long background as a feminist as a social assistant in charge of legal issues at the Ytto Foundation, Saïda Bajjou struggles against child marriage and customary among other issues. She expresses her concerns: “the present Islamist government does not guarantee the advancement of women’s rights and this is not because there is only one women in government. Even if there were thirty, the social project they defend will not advance the feminine cause.” She recall the weight of conservatism in Morocco: “There have already been women representing leftist parties in government but they have not managed to do something remarkable for women as they were hampered by people’s mentalities.”
The movement therefore demands the implementation of the provisions of the new Constitution on equality, parity and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against women, the establishment of mechanisms to protect and promote women’s rights as well as measures to eradicate violence and discrimination. The movement also calls for the enactment of laws that guarantee the principles of individual freedoms and the harmonisation of the Moroccan legal system with international human rights conventions ratified by Morocco. This is the key issue, explains Saïda Bajjou: “Today, the Constitution does not really guarantee women’s rights as it places the Sharia above international conventions.” In fact, Article 19 was revised in a restrictive sense. Its original version, “men and women enjoy equal human rights, equal civil, political, economic, cultural and environmental freedoms…” has been completed by the following: “in respect of the Constitution’s provisions, laws and constants of the Kingdom”, including Islam… “The people who wrote this Article 19 should explain what they mean by equality”, insists Saïda Bajjou. The defence of women’s rights is an integral part of other references: “If we are convinced that the woman is a human being, her full rights should be recognised: the right to dispose of her body, freedom of conscience, the right to be an atheist…But we are not audacious enough to claim secularism. When looking at all the issues, there is neither urgency nor priority but rights to defend. If we start to divide by talking of what is urgent or what is not, we leave the door open to Islamists to stop us”. Today, Moroccan society is at the crossroads between these two frameworks and it is urgent to decide.
Saïda Bajjou: “The legal issue is urgent”
The Ytto Foundation activist identifies seven women’s rights and gender equality abuses.
“Do not oblige me to get married at the age of 8!” The Family Code allows child marriage. This is unacceptable at the twenty-first century. As long as child marriage is allowed, there is a violation of the International Convention of Children’s Rights.
Polygamy is restricted but we are still in contradiction with international conventions. We have made foreigners believe that the equality between men and women was real. This is a scam, a communication operation: we sign international conventions but implementation is another thing.
Sexual relationships out-of-wedlock
Article 490 of the Penal Code provides for up to one year in prison for people who have sexual relationships outside marriage. If a woman is pregnant out of wedlock, she is guilty of debauchery and risks going to jail. Many women are afraid to go to court to claim their rights even if they know their partner. Yet, both of them are involved! The woman is penalised and they do not even try to know who the man is. On the one hand, this penalty violates human rights if the woman is over 18 and consenting. On the other hand, it stigmatises the children on the Registrar even if the right to identity is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It is simple the right of women to control their own bodies. If this right is guaranteed, abortion will no longer be a problem.
There are regions in Morocco where women do not inherit. Even the unequal inheritance provided by Islam is not applied. In Aït Abbas, I considered shameful for a woman to claim her inheritance. People consider that inheritance belongs to the family and do not want the women’s husbands to benefit from it. Women are ashamed to speak out. When we explain what the Koran provides, they do not want to believe… Yet, given their economic and social situation, why should it be only a man to benefit from the family’s inheritance? Women need it as well. They will not spend it on makeup but use to benefit the family!
Marriage with non-Muslims
This is pure and simple act of discrimination. Islam promises paradise to the Muslim man that marries a non-Muslim woman with the idea that she will eventually convert to Islam. This is not the case for the Muslim woman that marries a non-Muslim man. Yet, even the authorities that contract marriage acts are well aware that these are fake conversions. The woman has the right to choose someone who is not Muslim. This situation is a prohibition of love outside religion and the issue is still a taboo. It is false to say that it few women are concerned: several women among the Moroccan diaspora live in this situation.
Violence against women
All the situations listed above are acts of violence against women: economic violence, psychological violence etc. With regards to physical violence, Articles 495 and 496 block the establishment of women centres of accommodation as they sentence “anyone who assists a women who escapes the authority to which she is subject by law” from one to five years. These Articles have not yet been abrogated.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech
[i] Partie de la Justice et du Développement