The Status Of Women In Morocco

The Status Of Women In Morocco

THE EARTH TIMES, Feb. 15, 2000

Last year when on July 23 King Hassan, the longest-serving monarch in the Arab world, died, Crown prince Mohammed inherited a throne that seemed to face in two directions: One the legacy of his father and one created by his own humanitarianism. In his short political career, the prince has ventured into city streets to befriend the handicapped, gave food to the hungry, and talked about helping the poor, about recognizing women’s rights, and improving on an array of other social issues[ldots]

What distresses many health officials most has been the high death rates of mothers and babies during delivery. The UN Population Fund estimates that 330 women out of 100,000 who give birth today die – a shockingly high mortality rate even though it represents a great improvement over the maternal mortality rate just 10 years ago, of more than 600 per 100,000 births.

And with Morocco’s infant mortality rate at 58 deaths for every 1,000 deliveries, the country ranks with the highest among its Arab neighbors, far worse than Egypt and Tunisia.

‘It is no surprise to me that we have such terrible health problems,’ said Hadija Nader, vice president of the Moroccan Family Planning Association, one of the oldest nongovernmental organizations in Morocco: it started 20 years ago. ‘We began with a few doctors,’ said Nader, ‘by walking door-to-door and telling mothers how to take care of their babies. We explained to them the concepts of child spacing and how it is permitted in our religion. It was difficult at first but we persisted.’

Today, women on average are having a little more than three babies and 42% of the 27 million are using contraceptives. ‘But during our door-to-door visits,’ she said, ‘we learned that many women fare very badly. Many cannot read and are treated like second-class citizens,’ she said.

‘We are trying to improve on all of the basic development indicators at the same time.[ldots] starting by going back to school.’ Within the compounds of a local elementary school there is one room which stays lit for much of the evening. Young women and mothers aged 18 and up fill the tiny seats and desks[ldots]

‘When we were kids our parents didn’t let us girls go to school,’ said Fouzia Mohtij, who lives several miles outside of Marrakech. ‘There wasn’t any school near our home, so only our brothers went to the city for their education. There is a large gap between men and women when it comes to literacy. Nationally, illiteracy rates for men are at 42 percent while women’s are 72 percent[ldots] The largest portion of the reproductive health care budget is going into safe motherhood according to Nader, from the family planning association. ‘Ever since the Cairo Conference on Population and Development our national budget has followed the trend to focus more on the mother and less on distributing contraceptives,’ Boujrad said.

Since the 1994 conference it was agreed that efforts to curb population growth could best be served if nations put their energies towards reproductive health programs. Immediately after the conference, donor aid for reproductive health programs more than doubled.

Though there are no statistics, some officials in Morocco say almost half of all married women have experienced some form of domestic violence. And the numbers may be even higher. The Moroccan Women’s Democratic Association is helping battered women by teaching them how to deal with the violence.

‘It is a very big problem because it has practically become a ‘tradition’ a cultural mentality in Morocco,’ said Zineb Benrahmoune, a member of the Democratic Association. ‘There is a lot of abuse of women,’ she said, ‘whether in schools, at home or at the workplace. Everbody is touched by this violence.

Though physical violence is punished severely in Morocco, there is no law saying a man may not beat his wife. But since the founding of the association 15 years ago, women have been trying to take domestic violence cases from the homes into the courts – even though they must challenge not only a centuries-old tradition but also a written doctrine instituted in Morocco in 1958, the Moudawana.

Inspired by the Koran, the Moudawana is a set of laws detailing the organization of family life explaining the heirarchies in marriage and children and setting out the procedures of divorce and inheritance. The women’s association objects to the Moudawana, which is also commonly referred to as the Code: it deprives women of their rights under the country’s constitution, which grants the same responsibilities to men and women [ldots]

Because parts of the Moudawana are taken from the Koran, many Moroccans consider it a sacred text, according to Benrahmoune. ‘But some people think that everything within it was drafted by religious leaders, and government officials and then submitted to the parliament. This gives us the legal basis to fight it[ldots]”


THE NEW YORK TIMES, Mar. 13. 2000

“Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of two Moroccan cities March 12 in rival demonstrations over a government plan that would grant more rights to women. In the capital, Rabat, between 200,000 and 300,000 people representing women’s groups, human rights movements and political parties marched in support of the plan, some chanting, ‘No to reactionaries.’ At least six government ministers took part in the march, which ended with a concert.

In Casablanca, officials said that at least 200,000 people – twice that, according to observers – demonstrated against the plan, which would offer women greater educational opportunities and help those going through divorce.

‘We defend Islam with our bodies and souls,’ the crowds chanted as they marched – men and women in separate columns – through downtown Casablanca under the eyes of the police and soldiers. ‘Men and women are equal before God,’ they chanted. The Casablanca march was supported by Abdessalam Yassine, the founder of the banned Justice and Charity Movement, who has been under house arrest for a decade.

King Mohammed VI took the throne following the death of his father, King Hassan II and has moved quickly to bring a variety of social and human rights reforms to his kingdom. The plan that provoked the demonstration yesterday has sharply divided Moroccans in the year since it was announced.

Among other things, it would fully replace the practice of repudiation – or automatic divorce by a husband – with court divorces, and provide for equal division of money and property. It would also support a literacy program for rural Moroccan women, 60 percent of whom are illiterate.”

COPYRIGHT 2000 Women’s International Network

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group