Moroccan Feminism: Emancipation with the Koran?

Analysis, posted 02.16.2011, from Morocco, in:

By Wolf-Dieter Vogel 

Fouzia Assouli leaves no room for doubt: "We want to change the conditions on which male dominance is based." A secular Moroccan feminist, she has been fighting this battle for many years. As the head of the LDDF women's league, Assouli is in charge of numerous projects that provide aid and support for women and girls. Examples include the Tilila women's house or the women's refuge "Centre d'Ecoute" in the heart of Casablanca. 

She has also spent many years fighting for legal equality between men and women. This is why 2004 was a very important year for Assouli, the year in which King Mohammed VI reformed the Moudawana, the Moroccan family code.

"A good deal has changed since then," Assouli confirms, speaking cautiously of progress. Before the reform, women had to obey their husbands; now men and women are equal before the law. Men can no longer repudiate their wives, and women can now file for divorce of their own accord. 

It is no longer Islamic clerics but state family judges who deal with separations. The monarch also raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 and ruled that men are no longer allowed four wives – with some exceptions. 

These rulings gave Morocco some of the most progressive family laws in the Arab world. "The idea of gender justice found its way into legal practice. That has created new norms," says Assouli. In her eyes, however, the greatest practical success of the Moudawana is the new divorce law.

"Most women don't know their rights"

Assouli's colleague Khadja Tikerouine, who works in the Centre d'Ecoute, points out the limitations of the new legislation. "It is still difficult for women to file for divorce because of their economic situation and attitudes in society," she says. Only very few women come to the refuge, and many are unaware of their options, particularly in rural areas. "Most women don't know their rights." 

About 56 per cent of Moroccan women are illiterate, while in some regions only one in ten women has ever attended school. "How is a girl who can't read and write supposed to know she's not allowed to be married under the age of 18?" asks Assouli. 

Studies conducted by her organisation confirm that the concrete successes of the Moudawana have in fact been modest to date. Girls are still being married off because they are pregnant. Around ten per cent of married women are under 18; some are forced into marriage at the age of 13, says Assouli. 

"Exceptions are still made for polygamy and the marriage of minors, which creates a huge grey area," she explains. The number of applications for marriage to minors even rose from 30,000 to 42,000 between 2006 and 2009, and the law allows judges a lot of room for manoeuvre. Conservative judges in corresponding settings can still rule in the interest of the traditional man's world. 

Sharia-oriented reform

The Islamist politician Bassima Haqqaoui considers this critique "propaganda" and a "false debate" that has been imported from abroad. "The problem does not arise in that form in Moroccan society," is her unequivocal comment. If a woman is sexually mature, she says, it is better to allow marriage than to tolerate an illegal relationship. 

Haqqaoui, a social psychologist, has held a seat in parliament for the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) for eight years and was a front-runner candidate at the last election. The PJD, the second-largest parliamentary party in Morocco, also supported the Moudawana. Haqqaoui explains why the party approved the law, pointing out that the reform remained within the bounds of the Koran and focused on the family rather than women themselves...

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Wolf-Dieter Vogel

© 2011

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/