Morocco Pushes Women's Rights; Reform of Family Law Aimed at Easing 'Injustices,' Boosting Status

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

Morocco Pushes Women's Rights; Reform of Family Law Aimed at Easing 'Injustices,' Boosting Status


Byline: Delphine Soulas, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The thorough reform of Moroccan law bearing on the status of women announced last month by King Mohammed VI, which would recognize them as adults, is expected to put that country's women on a par with Tunisia's.

This would leave only Algeria among North African former colonies of France where the traditional family code continues to significantly limit women's civil rights.

"How can society achieve progress while women, who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence and marginalization?" asked the king in his address to the opening session of Morocco's parliament last month.

Since the promulgation of a series of family laws in 1957 and 1958, the status of Moroccan women in civil law has been governed by the Code of Personal Status, known as the Mudawwana and based on the Malikite school of Islamic law.

Under the code, women are treated as legal minors, have no say in their marriage contracts, have very limited access to divorce and are required to obey their husbands in all matters.

"The personal status code, part of Morocco's civil law, establishes a system of inequality based on sex and relegates women to a subordinate status in society," said Human Rights Watch in urging the Moroccan government to change its legal code.

"Women face government-sponsored discrimination that renders them unequal before the law ... and restricts women's participation in public life," the group said.

Some reforms of the code were adopted in 1993 after Moroccan women's rights activists conducted a million-signature campaign. That effort resulted, for example, in the marriage contract requiring the consent and signature of the bride.

But Amina Lemrini of the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women said the only positive effect of the 1993 reforms "was to make the code less sacred." Agreeing that the reforms were "minimal," Human Rights Watch said that "numerous provisions still discriminate against women."

"The absence of a global vision of development and the lack of firm commitment to the equality of women has for decades contributed largely to keeping women's status equivalent to that of minors," Ms. Lemrini told a seminar last year organized by the International Federation for Human Rights.

When Mohammed VI ascended the throne in July 1999, hope that a new era of reforms was about to begin increased among Moroccans.

"The new king has stated on more than one occasion his support for human rights and his belief that protecting human rights is consistent with Islam, Morocco's official religion," Human Rights Watch said.

In March 2001, the king and Prime Minister Abderrahman el-Youssoufi met representatives of women's organizations and announced that a commission would be formed to amend the code, after a previous committee failed to act on the issue in 2000.

Months later, the Spring of Equality collective, a coalition of women's organizations, continued to protest the lack of progress in family-law reform.

"Women's groups still complain of unequal treatment, particularly under the laws governing marriage, divorce and inheritance," the U.S. State Department said in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2002.

In his speech last month, Mohammed VI said the reform of the law would "free women from the injustices they endure, in addition to protecting children's rights and safeguarding men's dignity."

Among the measures is that wives would acquire joint responsibility for the family with the husband and be recognized as equal. This means they no longer would be required by law to obey their husbands.

Regarding marriage, the legal minimum age of female consent would be raised from 15 to 18, which is expected to allow more women to obtain higher education before marrying. …

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