Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
February 23, 2018
This week Morocco’s parliament adopted a new law to combat violence against women, by a vote of 122 to 55. Initially drafted in 2013, this law “criminalizes acts considered forms of harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment of women,” according to Minister of Family Affairs, Women and Solidarity, Bassima Hakkaoui.
While this may seem like an abrupt leap forward for women’s rights in Morocco, as someone who has followed the actions of King Mohammed VI since his enthronement I can say that it is an expected progression of his firm belief that his country cannot advance without empowering and protecting women. King Mohammed set the tone for his views on women’s rights when he asked in a 1999 speech, “How can we talk about the progress and development of society when women who constitute half of this society are being denied their rights? Our true religion, Islam, has granted them rights that are not respected. They are equal to men.”
In examining the actions and speeches of King Mohammed over the past 19 years, three groups stand out as clear priorities of the King: women, the handicapped, and the poor. Although he took up all of these issues early in his reign, women’s rights remain among the most impactful and progressive of his early accomplishments.
By 2004, King Mohammed launched the most wide-reaching reforms since Moroccan independence by revising the Moudawana or family code along the and following principles:
- Women and men would be equal in the family, with neither more legally responsible than the other.
- If divorced, they would share joint custody of children.
- Men and women were allowed to enter into marriage at their own free will, without permission from parents or family. Women would be allowed to divorce.
- Polygamy would be restricted, giving a wife the right to agree to her husband’s new marriage.
- The minimum age for women to marry would be 18.
And although it would take some time to pass the Parliament, King Mohammed’s remained committed to its passage, and shrewdly focused on the fact that this law was made in accordance with Muslim law, thus mollifying last ditch attempts by Islamist parliamentarians to defeat it.
Women would go on to be allocated a mandatory minimum number of seats in Parliament and become key ministers, governors, and other public officials, as well as leaders of a robust and active civil society.
In 2006, the King and Moroccan government announced a radical plan to train women as “mourchidats,” or community counselors, to educate Moroccans, especially in rural and marginalized urban areas about the true nature of Islam as a moderate and tolerant religion. This progressive act, which has drawn global attention and praise has been particularly effective in combating radicalization among the youth. This was one of the first times in the Arab world that women would take on such an important role with regard to the Islamic religion.
This past January, Morocco amended an existing law to allow women to become public notary officials, an occupation traditionally held by men. The move authorizes women across the country to perform a number of duties in accordance with Islamic law, including managing inheritance and documenting marriages. Another step in the right direction.
With the new law to prevent violence to women, Morocco continues to build its bona fides as the most progressive in the Middle East-North African region when it comes to women’s rights. It is clear to most observers from the King’s priorities and actions the past two decades with regard to women, the marginalized, and disenfranchised that he envisions their role as full citizens of the country. He is clearly showing vital regional leadership in navigating between a traditionally conservative population and his liberal, visionary views on where Morocco is headed in today’s modern world.