Women’s Rights & CEDAW in Morocco

By Nadia Elboubkri

Morocco World News

Washington DC, August 11, 2013

The phrase, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” first coined by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1995, has since been the overarching theme of the international collective of women scholars, leaders, and government officials working to advance women’s rights and gender equality across the globe.  Though steps have been made towards that end, beginning in 1979 with the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by the United Nations with the goal of changing the global agenda concerning women to focus on political, social, and economic equality across the board, full equality remains elusive almost everywhere in the world. However, In light of recent mass protests, changes in government, and ongoing human rights issues in the MENA region, particularly as they relate to women, additional challenges have arisen for women’s rights activists worldwide.  A major issue of contention is that the policies and initiatives of the past may not necessarily apply to the challenges that women face in the present, or in the future. With a new generation of women’s rights activists and leaders emerging into the international scene, the main topic of discussion in the global discourse on women’s rights has become: what is the vision for the future?

CEDAW provided a solid base for the future generation of activists to leverage their cause and propel themselves forward, but there are a significant amount of obstacles and barriers that CEDAW does not have the capacity to overcome. Therefore, we need innovation in activism, education, and international law.  Though CEDAW has motivated major changes to the work force, education, health care, as well as marriage and inheritance in countries like Morocco and Tunisia, we see reluctant reforms or regressive reforms in other countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. There is a lingering gap between perception and practice in implementing progressive reform due to lack of facilitation or monitoring on the part of state actors in some cases, or weak follow-up and minimal human or financial resources in other cases.  However, there is hope for the future of women in the MENA region with the emergence of a new generation of leaders, thinkers, and civil society actors, working with cooperation from the international community to educate women on the rights that are available to them so that they will demand them for themselves, rather than waiting for legal frameworks or societal norms to catch up with international standards as defined in CEDAW.

Obtaining women’s rights and gender equality is a multi-dimensional, inclusive process that will not happen overnight. Change is both deliberate and unconscious -deliberate in the sense that reform must be implemented and reinforced by authorities such as the state and its institutions, and unconscious in the sense that overtime, education and awareness will change new practices into established norms.  In Morocco, for instance, we have seen a gradual, yet thriving reform process where women started as marginal non-state actors and today have become fundamental actors in the Moroccan public forum.

Since the ratification of CEDAW in 1993, Morocco has gradually made women’s rights a crucial element in political, social, and economic activity. In 2004, King Mohammed VI introduced groundbreaking reform to the Family Code, giving women unprecedented rights within the family, greater protection within marriage and divorce, and criminalizing public and domestic violence.  Later, in 2008, King Mohammed VI publically banned discrimination against women and officially lifted all of Morocco’s previous reservations on CEDAW, stating, “Our country has become an international actor of which the progress and daring initiatives in this matter are readily recognized.”

This process was accelerated in 2011 when the mass protest February 20th Movement brought about the adoption of a new constitution in Morocco. This was a key moment for women to assert themselves into the debate on civil liberties, human rights, and equality.  A marginal success for the Moroccan women’s movement, the new constitution reformed three major areas with the objective of increasing women’s status in Morocco, and one major area with regard to the primacy of international law, including on women’s rights:

• Contrary to the initial constitution, which framed equality only within the context of political rights for women, the 2011 Constitution frames equality within the comprehensive definition of human rights, namely political, social, civil, economic, environmental, and cultural rights.

• The new Constitution clearly states that all forms of discrimination are prohibited, including, explicitly, gender-based discrimination as well as discrimination based on religion, creed, disability, age, and political beliefs.

• Article 19 of the new Constitution requires the state to establish an authority to make equality a reality and ensure the elimination of discrimination.

• The 2011 Constitution further defines the supremacy of international human rights conventions over national law in addressing matters of human rights in Morocco.

Though the past few years have reinforced King Mohammed VI’s label of Morocco’s “first feminist king”, there are potential impediments to future reform from current government officials.  The only shadow to the unprecedented number of women elected to parliament (67 out of 395 seats due to an increased quota system) is that the sole female minister in the cabinet is not fully supportive of Morocco’s new reforms.  Minister Bassima Hakkaoui is vocally in disagreement with the new increase in the quota system that enables women to hold office and has voiced reservations about CEDAW’s article 16 (which grants parity to men and women in the family code), claiming it is in contention with Islam and Islamic law.

In Morocco, and across the MENA region, we are constantly reminded that achieving equality is a marathon, not a race, and that the efforts made by human rights activists, scholars, civil society, and the government are positive steps in the direction of achieving the ultimate goal of universality.  The gains that women have made in Morocco have set a standard for future reform not only for the future of Morocco, but its neighbors in North Africa and the Middle East.  Hopefully in the years to come, the spirit of cooperation between women, the government, and society will continue to encourage honest negotiation and democratic compromise on the path to reform.

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