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Its Now Or Never For Moroccos Feminists

Posted by thejerusalemreview

Morrocosfeminist movement re-adjusts its course amid calls for reform.

By: Lynnsay Maynard
In March 2014, the nonpartisan African public polling group Afrobarometer released a policy paper entitled
Support for African Womens Equality Rises: Education, Jobs and Political Participation Still Unequal
which grouped together data from 34 countries across the continent. Among various conclusions, the data
indicated that Moroccan women reported the highest level of inequality in the workplace and the second
highest level of inequality in dealings with police and local judicial systems among their Maghrebi
counterparts. When asked how the Moroccan government handled womens empowerment, views were
essentially split: 44 percent said fairly well, 44 percent said fairly poorly and 13 percent did not know.
That Morocco received such a grim assessment from its own citizens illustrates how the past decade of
reform has not drastically enhanced gender parity or quality of life for Moroccan women. In 2004, a
substantial overhaul of the Moroccan moudawana, or family code, marked a number of legislative
advancements for women such as a womans right to petition for divorce and shared spousal authority as
head of household; additionally, the legal age of marriage was raised from 15 to 18 and polygamy now
requires both spousal and judicial approval. After the 2011-2012 countrywide protests of the February 20th
movement, the Moroccan constitution underwent substantial reforms including Article 19, which states that
men and women have equal rights and protection under Moroccan and international law. Gender experts
and activists alike acknowledge that implementation of said legislative victories has and will continue to be
met with resistance due to unwavering and culturally cemented gender roles.
Much attention has been paid to how officials, employers and judges are reacting to new legal standards of
equality in Morocco, and rightly so; the past decade of legislative reform regarding gender parity in
Morocco sits in sharp contrast to other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries in post-Arab Spring
periods of transition, or lack thereof. As particular attention is paid to the nation, scholars and journalists
point to a driving and dynamic force behind the reforms: female activism.
As Moroccan women have increasingly become active participants in social and political activism,
particularly the February 20th movement, their methods have provoked discussion: Through increased
visibility of women in male-dominated public spaces and a more socially inclusive activist base, are
traditional Moroccan feminist practices and organizations being reshaped?
In a piece for the Boston University International Law Journal entitled Anatomy of an Uprising: Women,
Democracy and the Moroccan Feminist Spring, Karla McKanders, Associate Professor of Law at University

of Tennessee Knoxville, describes how organizations such as Democratic Association of Moroccan Women
pushed for reform during the February 20th movement, dubbing their efforts, the Feminist Spring. In
Anatomy of an Uprising, McKanders states: Women are taking the forefront and utilizing male-dominated
public spaces to demand that the de jure (of the law) rights espoused in the new constitution do not
become empty words. McKanders argues that women are visible at initial pushes for reform but later
concedes: However, when the institutionalization phase emerges, women are excluded from traditionally
patriarchal places.
Souad Talsi, founder of Al-Hasaniya Womens Centre in London, England, says Moroccan women have
been active demonstrators for decades, citing Moroccos struggle against French and Spanish protectorate
forces in the mid-20th century and the ongoing battle for gender equality as examples.
Moroccan women are fighters and have always played a strong part in the society they live in. The
difference is perhaps they were less visible to the naked eye then, than they are now, says Talsi, but adds
that after the struggle at hand subsides women are expected to go back to the sink.
According to Zakia Salime, who wrote an article entitled A New Feminism? Gender Dynamics in Moroccos
February 20th Movement for the Journal of International Womens Studies, the demonstrations of the
February 20th movement marked a deviation from the traditional pushes for reform employed by feminist
groups in years past, possibly ushering in a new feminism. Salime details how feminist organizations
worked through bureaucratic to bring about legislative changes such as the 2004 moudawana revisions.
However, as the February 20th movement comprised of male and female activists took to streets across the
country, the mission of feminist organizations fell short of the overall mission of the movement.
In A New Feminism, Salime states: The new feminism seems to be emerging from outside of the
traditional spaces of feminist organizations, and seems to be carried out by men and women as partners in
the struggle for social and economic justice. The question of gender equality is too narrow to encompass
the general goal of social justice that includes men and women.
Anna Theresa Day, an independent journalist who has written about upheavals in the Arab world for
publications such as The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post, says she has witnessed this mentality in
countries such as Egypt and Libya, as well as the United States.
Many feminist groups in the Arab world have faced the same challenges that feminist organizers faced in
the West. In several social justice movements in the US, women were told to save their struggle for later
and not to distract from the bigger issues, says Day. In Egypt, for example, feminists were criticized for
making this all about them when they demonstrated on International Womens Day and many of their
comrades-in-protest during the revolution told them they needed to focus on the broader struggle instead of
being selfish.
The February 20th movement had the potential to broaden the base of the successful, existing feminist
movement but arguably, it did not. The movement was composed of a variety of socioeconomic levels and
utilized widely public demonstrations, two substantial deviations from the perceived elitism of feminist
organizations and their systemic, behind closed doors approach to reform, in addition to focusing largely
on social justice instead of exclusively pushing for womens rights. In A New Feminism, Salime references
a Moroccan female activists who said the February 20th movement led to the emergence of a new
generation of womens leadership, while taking grassroots women, not the elites, to the streets.
As Moroccan women continue to push for implementation of existing legislation, particularly Article 19 of
the Moroccan constitution, many look to what future activism will look like and whether it will lead to
substantive reform. The sentiments of McKanders and Talsi indicate that women may be instrumental in
the initial stages of reform but eventually are forced out the public sphere and back into traditional gender
roles as wives and mothers. As Day articulates, the face of feminism, past and present, begins with
education for women.

Poverty and disenfranchisement are significant barriers to social mobilization in any social movement.
Womens lack of literacy skills and education makes them extremely vulnerable, both in terms of mobilizing
for systemic social change, but also in the most personal spheres of feminism in their own households.
Lynnsay Maynard is a freelance writer and public radio producer based in Morocco. She is the former
producer and host of two programs at MPBN, a statewide NPR affiliate network in United States, and has
been published numerous print and online publications. You can reach her on Twitter at:
Photo credit: Flickr Commons, user David Dennis
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May 5, 2014


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