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The wave of popular uprisings across the region in 2011 reached Morocco. Protest groups that had been active for years strengthened around common demands for democratic reform. In the face of mounting pressure, King Mohamed VI announced a series of reforms, including the adoption of a new constitution and early parliamentary elections.
Moroccan civil society organisations seized these opportunities to push for the protection of women's rights, with significant results: Morocco withdrew its reservations to CEDAW; the new Constitution enshrines the principle of equality between men and women and contains provisions on increasing women's participation in decision-making bodies. However, an electoral law established a quota for women's representation of only 15% and the proportion of women elected to the new parliament did not exceed the quota. The new 30-member government contains only one woman minister.
Women’s participation in protests
Protests organised throughout 2011 called for democratic reform, social justice and an end to corruption. The 20th February Movement (date of the first major demonstrations) brought together diverse groups within civil society united around these central demands. Women were at the forefront of demonstrations, including as spokespersons for the movement.
During some of the initial protests, groups carried slogans calling for hard-won rights to be withdrawn through the abolition of the Family Code (Moudawana). Women activists in the 20th February Movement subsequently established committees to discuss specific demands relating to women’s rights.
Timeline of key events
2011 20 Feb: Thousands of demonstrators across the country call for democracy, justice and dignity and an end to corruption. The 20th February Movement, which initiated calls to protest via social networks, grows and unites a range of civil society actors. 21 Feb: King Mohamed VI announces a series of reforms. A sit-in organised in solidarity with the Libyan population meets with violent repression by the security forces. Khadija Ryadi, President of the Association marocaine des droits de l’Homme (AMDH) is wounded. 27 Feb: Over 2000 people demonstrate in Casablanca. The protest is marked by a strong presence of women. 9 Mar: The King announces the establishment of a commission (CCRC) to propose amendments to the Constitution, aimed at limiting the power of the monarchy and strengthening the roles of the prime minister and parliament. Parliamentary elections planned for September 2012 are brought forward. 13 Mar: Protests in Casablanca are severely repressed. Organizers report over 100 arrests and 100 wounded. 8 Apr: The government announces the withdrawal of its reservations to the CEDAW Convention. The government also promises to increase wages and pensions. 11 Apr: A dozen human rights organisations make recommendations on constitutional reforms and are auditioned by the CCRC. 1 May: A coalition of civil society associations, the Feminist Spring for Equality and Democracy, organises marches in Rabat and Casablanca, calling for the principle of equality between men and women to be enshrined in the Constitution. In the weeks that follow demonstrations in several cities are violently dispersed by security forces. Many injuries are reported and one protester later subsequently dies. 1 Jul: Constitutional reforms are passed in a referendum. 14 Nov: An electoral law is adopted, establishing a quota for women's representation in parliament of 15%. 25 Nov: 45% of the electorate vote in parliamentary elections. The Justice and Development Party (JDP), Islamist, wins the most seats (107 out of 395). Women represent 15% in the new parliament. 2012 2 Jan: The King announces the formation of the new coalition government, composed of 30 Ministers including one woman.
Women’s participation in political life: opportunities and obstacles
Following the King's commitment to undertake political and legislative reforms, civil society organisations mobilised to push for women’s rights to be guaranteed in the reform process and for greater representation of women in political bodies. Over 30 associations formed a coalition, the Feminist Spring for Equality and Democracy, calling for the protection of women’s rights in the new Constitution and launched a campaign for one million signatures to support their demands.
Women have had the right to vote in Morocco since 1956. However, despite some positive recent steps, women’s participation in political life remains hampered by prevailing patriarchal attitudes and social constraints. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, which measures discrimination against women, Morocco ranks 129th out of 134 countries. Although many women hold posts in state administrative bodies, the justice system and the private sector, they are rarely represented in decision-making positions and continue to be significantly under-represented in political bodies.
In October 2011, following reform of the Constitution, two laws were adopted containing provisions on the participation of women in political bodies. Both texts represent timid and inadequate steps towards increasing women’s representation. Law N° 27-11 on the Chamber of Representatives (lower house of parliament) establishes a quota of 60 seats reserved for women out of a total of 395 seats, representing 15%. According to this law, 90 members of parliament are elected at the national level and the remaining 305 members are elected at the local level. The law requires that the lists of candidates presented by parties at the national level must be composed of 60 women and 30 men aged under 40 years (art. 23). However, there is no quota applying to lists presented at the local level. In parliamentary elections held in November 2011, there were a total of 4% women candidates. At the local level, out of 1,521 lists, only 57 had a woman at the top of the list. Law N° 29-11 “on political parties” provides that "all political parties work to achieve a proportion of one-third of women in their governing bodies” (art. 26). The law does not make such representation obligatory.
Representation in government
The former government, appointed in 2007, included 7 women ministers. The coalition government formed following the November 2011 elections, led by the JDP, contains only one woman minister out of 30 posts. Bassima Hakkaoui, Member of the JDP, was appointed Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development.
Chamber of Representatives (lower house):
Before 2011: Under the previous quota system adopted in 2002, 30 of the 325 seats in the Chamber of Representatives were reserved for women, representing 9.2%. Following elections in 2007, 10.8% of seats were held by women.
Since 2011: In 2011 elections, 60 women were elected in line with the quota, representing 15% of seats.
Assembly of Councillors (upper house)
Women hold 6 out of 270 seats, representing 2.2% (an increase from 3 seats in 2006).
Representation in the judiciary
In 2010, women represented 20% of all judicial posts: 21% of judges and 11.8% of prosecutors. In January 2012, the Moroccan association of women judges (established following the reform of the Constitution which removed restrictions on such associations) announced that it would submit a claim to the Supreme Court calling for increased representation of women in the judiciary and access to the highest positions, currently occupied exclusively by men.
Persistence of discriminatory laws
The last 10 years have seen a number of legal reforms aimed at reducing discrimination against women. In 2004 the mobilisation of women’s rights and human rights organisations led to the reform of the Family Code (Moudawana), resulting in the removal of many discriminatory provisions. A new Labour Code was adopted in 2003 containing provisions prohibiting sexual harassment and in 2007 the Nationality Code was reformed to grant women the right to transmit nationality to their children.
Reform of the Moudawana was a major step. It secured several important rights for women, including the right to self-guardianship, the right to travel freely, the right to divorce and the right to custody of children. It also placed new restrictions on polygamy, raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, and made sexual harassment punishable by law. However, many discriminatory provisions of this Code and other discriminatory laws remain in force, while implementation of the new Code remains limited. The CEDAW Committee has called for the urgent reform of discriminatory legislation.
Withdrawal of reservations to CEDAW
Morocco ratified CEDAW in 1993 but entered reservations to fundamental provisions: article 16 (equality in marriage and divorce) and article 9 (2) (transfer of nationality to children), on the basis that they were incompatible with Islamic Sharia. The government also entered declarations (which have no legal force under international law) to article 2 (adoption of laws and policies to eliminate discrimination) and article 15 (4) (freedom of movement and choice of residence), stating that these provisions would apply only to the extent that they are compatible with Sharia and the Moroccan Family Code. On 8 April 2011, the Moroccan government withdrew its reservations to the Convention. The declarations have not been removed.
The Constitution of 1996 provided that “All Moroccans are equal before the law” (former art. 5) but did not make any explicit reference to equality of the sexes, except in relation to political rights (former art. 8). During the constitutional reform process in 2011, women's rights organisations, including the Association démocratique des femmes du Maroc, submitted recommendations to the Commission in charge of reform. The majority of their proposals were integrated into the draft. The new Constitution, adopted by referendum on 1 July 2011, contains several provisions that increase protection of women's rights.
Article 19 enshrines the principle of equality between men and women in civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and provides that the State works to achieve parity between men and women (art.19). A body responsible for parity and fighting all forms of discrimination is to be established for this purpose. Article 30 explicitly enshrines the rights of men and women to vote and stand as candidates in elections and provides that laws will establish measures to promote equal access of men and women to elective office. Article 115 fixes the proportion of women to be represented in the High Judicial Council (art.115). Article 146 provides for legislation to promote increased participation of women within regional councils. The 2011 Constitution also states in its preamble that ratified international treaties have primacy over domestic laws. This was a recommendation of the CEDAW Committee in 2008.
The reform of the Constitution has thus resulted in significant progress in the legal protection of women's rights (see the ADFM press statement). However, many discriminatory provisions remain within national laws.
- Family Code (Moudawana)
Marriage: The 2004 reforms removed provisions requiring the wife’s obedience to her husband and the consent of the woman’s matrimonial guardian (wali) to marriage. The legal age for marriage is 18. However, a judge can authorise the marriage of minors (art. 20). It is estimated that 12.8% of Moroccan girls (aged between 15 and 19 years of age) are married.
Polygamy is authorized, provided that it is approved by a judge and that the first wife gives her consent (art. 40–46). This is justified in the preamble of the Moudawana by several arguments, including that the legal prohibition of polygamy would not reduce polygamy in practice.
Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslims. Muslim men are authorised to marry Christian or Jewish women (art. 39).
Divorce: The 2004 reforms granted women the right to ﬁle for divorce on the grounds of harmful behaviour by the husband, such as abandonment or failure to provide financial support. Physical abuse can constitute grounds for divorce, but the wife must be able provide witnesses to support her claims (art. 100). Either spouse can also initiate divorce based on irreconcilable differences, as well as divorce by mutual consent. A woman can also initiate no-fault divorce (khula), according to which she must renounce financial support and traditionally must return her dowry. Husbands can still initiate divorce through “repudiation,” but the practice is now subject to more judicial oversight, Divorced women are required to wait for a period of up to 4 months before remarrying.
Guardianship and custody of children: According to the Family Code, "The father is the legal guardian of the children" (art. 236) as long as a court has not decided otherwise. The mother only has the power to take urgent decisions and to ensure the interests of the children when the father is absent. In the case of divorce, the mother is the ﬁrst choice for custody of a child, followed by the father and then the maternal grandmother (art. 171). In a change from previous rules, the father no longer automatically assumes custody of children when mothers remarry or move away. However, a divorced woman with children over the age of 7 loses custody at her ex-husband’s request if she remarries. In such instances, the woman retains legal guardianship of her minor children only if their father is dead or incompetent. Both girls and boys are entitled to choose the mother or father as custodian when they reach the age of 15.
Inheritance: The 2004 reform allows the children of a man’s daughters as well as those of his sons to inherit from him (preamble). Previously, only the grandchildren on the son’s side were eligible for inheritance from their grandfather. However, in general, a man receives twice the part received by a woman. In addition, if there are no sons, daughters can inherit only after a list of other relatives (Family Code, Book VI).
- Legal capacity
The courts give a woman’s testimony half the weight of a man’s in family matters.
- Nationality Code
Since the reform of the Code in 2007, women have the right to transmit their nationality to their children (art. 6). However, this provision only applies to the children of a marriage between a Moroccan woman and a Muslim non-citizen who married in accordance with the Moudawana. Furthermore, women do not have the right to pass their nationality to their foreign husbands, although men can transmit their nationality to their non-Moroccan wives (art. 10).
- Criminal laws
Sexual assault and rape are both criminalized under the Penal Code, however despite recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee in 2008, there are no provisions in the Penal Code sanctioning marital rape. Article 475 provides that a man who rapes a minor can be escape punishment for rape if he marries the victim. There are no laws that speciﬁcally prohibit domestic violence.
ADFM, Bilan d’une année pas comme les autres : Le Maroc à la croisée des chemins, October 2011, www.adfm.ma/spip.php?article1657&lang=fr
ADFM, Women’s rights in the Constitution, June 2011, www.adfm.ma/spip.php?article1596&lang=en
FIDH, Maroc - Discours du Roi Mohammed VI : la FIDH appelle à la mise en œuvre effective des réformes annoncées, 16 March 2011, www.fidh.org/Discours-du-roi-Mohammed-VI-la
Sadiqi, F., Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Morocco, Freedom House, 2010, www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/Morocco.pdf
CEDAW Committee, Documents relating to the consideration of the report on Morocco, 2008, available at, www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/cedaws40.htm
ADFM et al., Alternative report submitted to the CEDAW Committee, 2008, available at www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/ADFMMorocco.pdf