Conditions of Women
Gender inequality is a highly contentious and visible issue in Morocco. King Mohammed VI, has shown a commitment to women’s rights by proposing a wide variety of legal and social reforms. An estimated 100,000 people marched in Rabat in support of the government’s proposed reforms in March 2000, while a counter-demonstration led by Islamists in Casablanca drew 200,000 to 500,000. As the new monarch began to liberalize Moroccan politics, women’s rights became a flashpoint for the growing Islamist opposition. King Mohammad VI announced on July 30, 2005 that Moroccan women will be able to transmit their nationality to children born of non-Moroccan fathers. The king affirmed Morocco's commitment to the principle of gender equality, children's rights and to preserve family cohesion. The king's decision puts an end to the suffering of thousands of Moroccan women married to non-Moroccans. Many Moroccan non-governmental organizations welcomed the king's amendment of the citizenship law.
Structural adjustment policies during the 1980s and 1990s led to substantial cutbacks in the nation’s health care system. Since 1994, the government has responded by increasing budget allocations to meet growing needs. Government-provided services for women include family planning, pre-natal, and post-natal care. Approximately 42% of pregnant women receive pre-natal care nationally, but only 20% do in rural areas. About half of married women use contraceptives, but only 39% do in rural areas. The Moroccan government has set a target of 65% contraceptive use by 2005. The nation’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 3.0 in 1998. Numerous international assistance programs in Morocco work to provide health care for women, but these programs lack coordination or attention towards developing a comprehensive system.
Women tend to be less educated than men. Female adult illiteracy is 64%, compared to 38% for males. In rural areas, female illiteracy may be as high as 90%. Primary school enrollment is 86% for boys and 67% for girls. According to the World Bank, economic status is as much of a determinant of who will receive an education as gender is in Morocco. The USAID, in coordination with the Moroccan government, has initiated a rural education plan to increase enrollment and schooling in the nation.
Women comprised 35% of the Moroccan workforce in 2000. Many women work in the agriculture and service sectors, though a significant portion work in professional jobs. One-third of doctors and one-quarter of university professors in Morocco are women. Women typically have a higher rate of unemployment than men, particularly in rural areas. It is estimated that over 100,000 women and girls from rural areas are employed as housemaids in urban areas. According to Amnesty International-Morocco, these housemaids work extremely long hours for low pay and frequently suffer physical abuse by their employers.
Law of Personal Status
Substantial advancements in the legal status of women came with the adoption of a new Family Law (moudawana) on October 10th, 2003. The new law came as the result of a committee created by King Muhammad VI to study revisions to the older Family Law of 1957. The reforms included in the new law are extensive. Women are now allowed to be considered their own guardians, and therefore are not legally bound by the decisions of their male relatives with regard to marriage, education and employment, though they may yield this right if they so choose. The legal age for marriage was raised to 18. Polygamy came under new restrictions that are generally prohibitive. The first wife must give her consent; the second wife must be notified of the existence of the first wife. A judge must give consent for all cases of polygamy, basing his consent on proof of equal status being granted by the husband to each wife and their children. The new law also makes polygamy grounds for divorce on the part of the wife, and allows for the creation of a marriage contract excluding the possibility of future polygamous marriages. The new law gives women equal rights to divorce her husband; verbal repudiation is not to be considered legally binding. No divorce can be final until the assets of the couple are equitably distributed and any debts owed to the wife and children have been paid. Custody of children following divorce is now balanced in favor of the mother, and grandchildren are now included in the inheritance of their maternal grandparents.
Prior to the September 2002 legislative elections, King Muhammad VI reserved 30 seats from the 325-seat House of Representatives exclusively for women. Each of the major political parties provided female candidates, and as of 2002, there are now 34 women in the legislature, making Morocco the only Arab nation to have women composing 10% of its parliament. In his explanation of the decision the King remarked that since women make up 50% of the population, they ought to have a similar representation in the legislature. Mohammad VI has appointed three women to senior positions since his coronation, including a royal adviser. He also appointed on November 7, 2002 a new cabinet of 37 ministers, 3 of who are women.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Morocco ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993 with reservations for conflicts with Islamic law. The government submitted progress reports on the convention to the United Nations in 1994, in 1997, and in 2000. In each report, Morocco demonstrated progress towards reforming the legal code and improving the status of women.
In the last two decades, several women’s groups emerged in Morocco and began to push for gender equity. These groups have been regarded sympathetically by the monarchy and have been integral to recent reform efforts. In 1998, the government invited women’s groups to help write the National Action Plan for Women’s Integration into Sustainable Development—the basis for empowering women in Morocco. The king has stated that he believes empowering women is vital to solving poverty and unemployment in the nation.
Despite the active support of the King, gender reform in Morocco has witnessed substantial resistance from more religiously conservative sectors of society, including the banned Islamist party, Al-Adl-wa-l-Ihsan. The two most influential organizations working to improve women's rights are the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) and the Union for Women's Action (UAF).