Morocco’s Struggle for Gender Equality

mapIn 2004, after a terrorist bombing in Casablanca turned many against Islamist extremists, King Mohammed VI of Morocco forced changes on his country, calling for gender equality. These laws reinterpreted many of the rules defined by the Quran’s family code, making a huge splash in a country governed by the Islamic religion. Most of the inhabitants of Morocco identify themselves as Muslim, so to rewrite parts of the Quran that guided many people in their lives was unusual and not popular at first, even among women. The King made three major changes to the family code to benefit women. Theoretically, the changes provide women with more control in terms of their marriages, including minimum marriage age, polygamy, and divorce. Still, it might take a full generation for the changes to be fully absorbed and accepted by Moroccan culture because of a number of complicated social dynamics.

Morocco’s Islamic law rules women’s lives in ways that most Westerners consider extreme, from the moment they are born to what they are allowed to wear to how they are judged in court concerning sex crimes performed against them. King Mohammed moving the marriage age initiated the first step of gender equality in Morocco. The minimum marriage age for woman in Morocco moved up three years from fifteen to eighteen, hopefully ensuring young women the opportunity to grow up before marrying. Unfortunately, many of the judges do not enforce the new laws to protect girls, and even now, judges grant permission to hold weddings involving underage girls. A survey in 2010 published by the World Bank stated that of the 99% of petitions requesting that men could marry underage girls, 92% of them received judicial permission for the men to do so. However, in 2011, the government signed into effect a constitutional amendment to crack down on gender inequality and made the enforcement of the equality laws a priority in the country. While the amendment has slightly improved the situation in the country, many of the courts still ignore constitutional law and continue to give permission for illegal activities.

The second change to marriage law addressed the issue of polygamy and making marriages more equal for women in terms of decision-making and support. This law didn’t outlaw polygamy; however, the decree sets standards that the future husband must present to a judge before he may legally marry another wife. Before marrying another woman, the husband must meet a financial criterion that proves he has the means to bring another wife in and support her just as much as his previous wives. Finally, the court requires the presentation of the first wife in court where she will state whether or not she accepts her husband taking another wife into their family.

The next step allowed women the right to judge when they want to leave their marriage. Giving women the ability to initiate mutual divorce or divorce over irreconcilable differences gave women another step towards equality to men that made a huge difference. This law discontinued the idea that only men could initiate divorce, enabling women to leave abusive marriages by themselves. Placing women on the same plane as men in terms of divorce gives men more reason to treat their wives as equals because if the wife finds her marriage unsuitable to her rights, this resolution allows her to exit the marriage herself.

Still, many women in Morocco believe they deserve more rights from their country. On April 13th, 2014, around 800 primarily female protesters entered the capitol city to demand a change to the constitution to guarantee gender equality for the women in Morocco. The protest led to the parliament building, where women held signs calling for women’s equality to become a right, not a privilege, and called for public and private violence against women to become a crime in Morocco. In 2011, a study found that 63% of women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four suffered abuse from their husbands in the past year. As long as the man marries the woman he abuses, these actions are legal in the eyes of Moroccan law. Just this year, the kingdom finally repealed the law that stated that as long as the man married his victim afterwards, he could legally rape her. Unfortunately, the court system treats many of these cases as though these changes have not occurred. Consequently, the men committing these atrocious acts receive no punishment.

Before these laws changed, women in Morocco lacked most rights that women in many other countries couldn’t imagine living without. No women worked outside of the home, and families forced young girls into loveless, abusive marriages that they had no way of escaping from. The option to petition a judge for permission for underage marriage existed before these changes, and girls thirteen years old and younger married men 3 or 4 times their age in some cases. In 2013, the BMC International Health and Human Rights group discovered that many girls wouldn’t leave their marriage even if they could, simply because society had taught them to not question what their husbands did in the marriages. At the very beginning of the institution of these laws, the citizens, even the women, opposed them, because the laws violated some of what the Quran told Muslims. Eventually, courts enforced more of the laws, and younger generations now call for the enforcement of them, leading to protests and marches. Hopefully, with time, Morocco will become a kingdom that supports and protects its females in the same way as males.