Caitlin Dearing Scott
March 8, 2017
International Women’s Day – observed every March 8 – is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of women and the successes of the fight for gender equality while reflecting on the challenges that remain. In Morocco, the last year certainly brought some progress worth mentioning, as well as some reminders about the need for continued advancement.
Most notably, the percentage of women in Parliament increased from 17% to 21% after the 2016 legislative elections. Women now hold 81 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives (Lower House) – 71 of them thanks to a quota system introduced in 2011 that encourages women’s representation. The other 10 were elected through the general election process, and though that number is still small, the fact that political parties are putting more women on the top of their lists augurs well for future progress.
And last year’s newly nominated Ambassador class made the country a leader in the Arab and Muslim world for the representation of women in diplomacy: 13 of the 65 new Ambassadors named were women, “a strong signal that reflects the importance of Moroccan women in diplomacy,” as noted by the Maghreb Arab Presse. Among them are Morocco’s Ambassadors to the United States (the country’s first female Ambassador to Washington), Tunisia, Panama, Angola, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Macedonia, Colombia and Ecuador, Hungary, Norway and Iceland, Denmark and Lithuania, Chile, and Sweden and Latvia.
This progress is not limited to the political realm – women continue to excel in Morocco’s boardrooms, too. According to a newly released ranking from Jeune Afrique, 13 businesswomen from Morocco ranked among the top 50 most influential businesswomen in francophone Africa, with eight of them placing in the top 10.
Despite the presence of high-profile women business leaders, Morocco nevertheless continues to face challenges with women in the workforce. A recent International Monetary Fund study on the implications of gender equality for growth found that the country is missing out on significant growth because of the limited role of women in the labor force. With women’s participation at just 25% — a rate that has declined over the past decade due to falling participation for women over 25 — Morocco lags behind other countries at a similar income level. And this is happening in spite of significant improvements in closing the gender gaps in education and literacy. While the report praises Morocco’s efforts to boost women’s participation in the economy through measures such as gender budgeting and a progressive maternity leave policy, it calls for more to be done to integrate women in order to improve the country’s growth. Policy recommendations include lifting legal restrictions on inheritance, investing in public childcare facilities to make it easier for women to work outside the home, and removing gender-discriminatory tax practices.
Other challenges, such as gaps between existing legislation and implementation and continued cultural conservativism also remain; there has been little progress on those issues over the past year because they require a more long-term approach. The latest debate is over the need for improved legislation on domestic violence. Women’s groups and the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) have advocated for sweeping changes in both law and practice to address this issue. As a result, there is a draft law before the upper chamber of Parliament that increases penalties for existing criminal offenses and provides guidelines for protecting victims of violence. But many in the advocacy community believe that it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the needs of Moroccan women, as it does not criminalize marital rape or provide guidelines to police, judges, and lawyers in prosecuting offenders. And though the law was put forth in March and adopted by the lower chamber in July, there has been little movement on it since, highlighting challenges in both the content and the legal process.
This reality of successes achieved and obstacles remaining is all the more reason to join women in Morocco – and the rest of the world – in celebrating today and committing to the achievement of full gender equality.
For more on the topic, please see our issue brief.