Caitlin Dearing Scott
February 21, 2018
After over a year of debate and five years since its drafting, the Moroccan Parliament finally passed a new law last week to combat violence against women. The new law – the result of much discussion between political parties and civil society – criminalizes “acts considered forms of harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment” of women in the country and imposes tougher penalties on perpetrators of such acts.
Moroccan Minister of Family, Solidarity, Equality and Social Development Bassima Al-Hikawai praised the law for defining all kinds of violence that can be practiced against women and “offering preventive measures, a system of gender-sensitive content that emphasizes the status of violence against women on account of their sex, and even aggravating the punishment in this case.” Civil society likewise welcomed the adoption of the law, though for some women’s rights organizations, the law didn’t go far enough, particularly in its failure to address marital rape.
Nevertheless, for many Moroccan women, the law couldn’t come soon enough. Violence against women is widespread in the country, with more than 40% of women aged 18-64 experiencing violence at least once according to a survey by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning. Although this number has remained steady in spite of other legal advances for women in Morocco, women’s responses have begun to change. In the past year, Moroccan women have become more vocal about the need to create safe spaces for women in public places, particularly following a number of high-profile harassment and assault cases. The new law, which was spurred on by this public pressure, tackles this issue legally for the first time. When combined with innovative, society-driven measures, like this app hoping to solve the country’s sexual harassment issue by proposing places that are safe spaces for women, the expectation is that there will be some real changes in the daily experiences of women in the country. And ultimately the hope is that legal measures will spur societal changes in the Kingdom, where cultural conservatism remains a real obstacle to equality.
In other women’s rights news, last month Morocco authorized women to become public notary officials – known as adouls. The decision, endorsed by King Mohammed VI through a royal decree, is significant because adouls have religious authority in addition to legal authority, often performing duties such as documenting marriages on behalf of the government in accordance with Islamic law. Women will also now be able to manage inheritance cases, administer real estate transactions, and document witness testimony required for trials.
As these latest examples show, progress on women’s rights is following the common pattern of reform in Morocco – slow and steady evolutionary change that couples top-down legal advances with bottom-up pushes for societal change more broadly. Implementation remains an issue, as does occasional backsliding – as the recent high-profile cases of abuse highlight all too well. And while the gaps in existing laws and flaws in implementation should certainly be pointed out so that they can ultimately be addressed, the reform process is worthy of support and praise. By working within the system – and challenging it when necessary – women have made real advances toward equality in Morocco in the last two decades. Here’s to more success in the coming years.