Sunday, July 10, 2011

What next for women's rights in Morocco?

While the recent referendum enshrines equality for women in the Moroccan constitution, further action is needed to ensure reforms for female equality are implemented, says a leading campaigner for women’s rights.

Quoted in The Guardian last week, Rabéa Naciri is the former president of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc, one of the largest non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Morocco focused on women's rights, and now sits on its steering committee. She is also a professor at the University of Rabat, and served on the progress advisory group for the UN Women justice report published on Wednesday.

Despite the Mudwana Family Code (2004) which saw important changes to marriage, divorce and property laws and the recent "yes" vote on the constitution which will cement women’s equality, Ms Naciri says there are still significant barriers for women seeking justice in Morocco.

"Many women aren't literate and so obviously their understanding of the judicial system is weak," she says. "Poverty is an issue too – legal fees, transport costs, the means to get around. In fact, many women don't have freedom of movement. As well as the social issues, there's also cultural practice. For example, it can bring shame if a woman takes a member of her family or her spouse to court – it can be a difficult experience to go through and can be perceived badly."

There's also the attitude and outlook of the legal professionals. "I don't mean to generalise, but some have a tendency to take sides and moralise. The whole patriarchal system kicks in. Some will position themselves against the woman as they don't believe she should be asking for a divorce. Even if she has the right to ask for a divorce, if her husband doesn't beat her and still provides for the family, magistrates may be against divorce and make women provide concrete reasons to justify it."

Since the Family Code was adopted, efforts have been made by the state and the government to provide better access to justice especially through family tribunals – steps such as information centres for women, training for lawyers on women's rights and recruiting social workers to advise and support women. But the bulk of the work is being done by NGOs - women's organisations and feminist groups - which have set up their own advice centres in addition to the government ones.

These services are still thin on the ground but are a crucial support, according to Naciri, who describes the implementation of the Family Code as "a social and political challenge for Morocco", especially on issues like violence. Official statistics show that, as is so often the case, those who carry out violence are usually the husbands. What is needed now is a network of services for women who've suffered discrimination and violence, to guide them through the whole process from the complaint to the police, through medical checks and right to the courts, says Naciri.

You can read the full article by Lucy Lamble in The Guardian:

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