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Amending Morocco's family law: The aspirations of women’s movements amidst the patriarchy

Amending Morocco's family law: The aspirations of women’s movements amidst the patriarchy

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Politics Women’s Rights Marginalized Groups

Monday 9 October 202303:19 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

تعديل قانون الأسرة في المغرب.. ما هي تطلعات الحركات النسائية أمام "اختبار الذكورية"؟

Ever since the issuance of the royal decree on September 26th, which called for a reevaluation of Morocco's Family Law, known as the "Moudawana", the Moroccan public has been engaged in ongoing discussions regarding the potential amendments to this law.

Debate has intensified over the contents of the new Moudawana, which will not be released until next year. The most significant proposed changes will be presented to the king within a timeframe of no more than six months, concluding by the end of February 2024.

Opinions and rumors have flared within circles critical of the announcement, with some characterizing these changes as "demeaning to the status of men and potentially disruptive to Moroccan families", even though they do not know the content of the legal modifications, saying they are apprehensive that the new Moudawana might prioritize women's rights at the expense of men.

Some have even gone as far as urging young people to abstain from marriage and have circulated incorrect and misleading amendments, encouraging resistance against what they perceive as deceit and falsehood.

Conversely, women's rights activists, along with some segments of Moroccan society, have welcomed the royal decree, hailing it as a long-awaited and bold step forward.

Women's rights activists have faced attacks from conservative, patriarchal, and male-dominated factions, with calls for the banishment of these feminist organizations, especially due to their demands to revise the Family Law.

The practical responsibility for overseeing the Moudawana reform has been assigned, as outlined in a letter addressed to the Moroccan Prime Minister, to the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Judicial Council, and the Public Prosecution Office. Additionally, the reform process includes the participation of the Supreme Council of Islamic Scholars (an official religious institution), the National Human Rights Council (an official body), and the government authority responsible for solidarity, social integration, and family affairs. It also encourages engagement with civil society organizations, researchers, and experts.

Equality in inheritance

Samira Mouhia, the president of the Moroccan Women's Rights Association Federation, believes that the women's rights movement has been long awaiting such anticipated changes, as outlined in the royal decree. She hopes that these changes will be implemented to safeguard women's dignity, uphold the rights of all family members, and liberate women from male guardianship. She also wishes for the new Moudawana to align with the Moroccan constitution and international agreements ratified by the country.

She argues that it is crucial to display "courage and boldness in implementing these positions, emphasizing the need to involve the women's rights movement, which has spent years advocating for a comprehensive review of the Family Law. They have provided clear visions and memoranda that advocate for rights and citizenship for women."

In the midst of societal dynamics and tension, women are seeking greater rights and fairness within the family to ensure equality between themselves and men

Among the areas that require attention within the Family Law, Samira Mouhia emphasizes that Morocco's inheritance system is rooted in religious and gender-based discrimination. This inheritance system impedes women's access to wealth and land ownership. In rural areas, the number of women who own arable land barely exceeds 1%, and in urban areas, women's property ownership of real estate scarcely surpasses 7%. She links this injustice and discrimination to the unequal distribution of inheritance, particularly as women have become contributors to family wealth.

She calls for the activation of principles of fairness and equality in inheritance between men and women, while respecting the principle and right of individuals to manage their finances. This includes the necessity of abolishing the religious rule "no bequest to an heir" and recognizing that differences in religion should not obstruct inheritance, especially in cases of mixed marriages.

Abolishing the outdated "jurisprudential" dictionary

The Moroccan feminist movement eagerly anticipates the elimination of "sadāq" (mahr, or dower) as a prerequisite for marriage. They hope it remains a symbolic gesture, tethered to customs and traditions rather than being shackled by financial obligations that perpetuate women's subjugation.

They also champion the concept of shared financial responsibility between spouses, taking into account the invaluable contributions and work of housewives, which should be recognized as a significant financial contribution and an essential element in the accumulation of family wealth and alimony.

The feminist movement advocates for a reformation of several archaic concepts entrenched in the current Family Law, inspired by old jurisprudence. These antiquated terms include "mut'a" (temporary marriage), the word "nikah" (marriage), "wata'" (consummation of marriage), "li'ān" (an oath which gives a husband the possibility of accusing his wife of adultery without legal proof and without his becoming liable to the punishment prescribed for this), and "nushūz" (a wife's alleged disobedience). They propose substituting these terms with more equitable language that doesn't objectify or marginalize women.

Freedom to marry a non-Muslim

The feminist movement eagerly awaits the amendments that would grant women the right to marry non-Muslims on equal footing with men. The prevailing law currently prohibits Moroccan women from marrying non-Muslims, deeming it a hindrance to marriage.

They argue that Morocco's evolving social fabric now hosts a diverse immigrant population, some of whom marry Moroccan women. This legal challenge forces Moroccan women in such unions to superficially convert to Islam, merely as a formality to circumvent legal obstacles.

The feminist movement welcomes the call for the reform of Moroccan Family Law. What, then, are their primary expectations from these forthcoming changes?

The feminist movement believes that property sharing between spouses and the joint management of acquired assets during marriage should be automatically enshrined in marriage contracts. They emphasize that homemakers make substantial contributions to the accumulation of wealth during the marriage, including child-rearing and household management.

 The right of maternal custody and guardianship

On the other hand, Bouchra Abduh, the director of the Challenge for Equality and Citizenship Association, views the royal decree as a pivotal moment for introducing a new Family Law that caters to the contemporary needs of Moroccan women. It should redress all imbalances and drawbacks revealed during the previous 18 years of its application.

Bouchra Abduh underscores the need to strike a balance between spouses regarding guardianship over children. This can be achieved by expunging all provisions that strip women of their legal guardianship rights over their minor children, relegating them to a secondary status or placing them under the guardianship of another party.

Moreover, it should stipulate the mother's right to equal legal representation over her children alongside the father, recognizing both as equals in legal guardianship over their children.

Preventing child marriages

The Moroccan women's movement eagerly awaits revisions to the Family Code under the supervision of the overseeing committee. Their primary objective is to abolish child marriages by removing the provision allowing judges to approve unions of underage boys and girls, and to categorize marriages involving individuals under the legal age (18 years old) as temporary impediments to marriage.

These demands have persisted for two decades, with women's organizations submitting memoranda urging consideration of social and economic changes in the country

The existing law granted exclusive authority to judges to officiate marriages involving minors aged between 15 and 18, thereby creating a legal loophole often exploited in rural areas and popular circles to marry underage girls while circumventing the law. In 2020, for instance, courts issued 13,000 marriage permits after receiving 20,000 applications. Women's organizations emphasize the critical need to avoid this scenario during the new legal amendments.

Proving lineage through science

Furthermore, the women's movement calls for the utilization of genetic expertise as a means of proving parentage, with lineage to be established as soon as it is confirmed, thereby triggering all the legal implications of legitimate parentage.

The women's movement also urges the removal of the terms "child custody fees" and "breastfeeding fees," which are regarded as stark manifestations of a patriarchal mindset that reduces women's contributions within their families to mere paid labor.

The women's movement also calls for the removal of the term "temporary marriage alimony," as it creates linguistic confusion, given its association in the collective consciousness with compensation for temporary sexual pleasure, alluding to a payment made to a man during the marriage period.

Prohibition of polygamy and the rights of divorced women

Additionally, the women's movement advocates for a complete ban on polygamy, the retention of marital agreements, discord, and abandonment as legitimate grounds for divorce, and the granting of the right to marry to mothers who are primary caregivers. They also emphasize the need for a review of alimony entitlements in the event of marital dissolution.

Various women's organizations in Morocco concur on the necessity of amending specific provisions of the Family Code that are detrimental to women, placing them in socially precarious situations, both within the institution of marriage and post-divorce.

These demands have persisted for nearly two decades, with women's organizations submitting petitions based on their own perspectives. They call for consideration of the social and economic transformations that Moroccan society has undergone, as well as the changes in the status of women within the community, where they have become active participants in various vital fields.

However, these practical and realistic aspirations remain subject to political and ideological debates. Many question whether the vigorous discussions following the announcement will remain confined to social media platforms, marked by polarization between conservative and secular factions, or if they will manifest as street protests, as was the case in 2000 concerning the "National Plan for Women's Integration into Development" and the "Personal Status Code." These issues divided society, prompting Islamic political movements to organize large-scale protests in Casablanca, demanding the preservation of religious elements in Moroccan family law.

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