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Moroccan Women...Caught Between Two Worlds

As in many Islamic nations, Moroccan women are caught between two worlds, one based on traditional beliefs and practices and the other embracing modernization and the changes it creates. There are two distinct sides to the debate over the status of women in Morocco. Those in support of modernization are pressing for full emancipation of women, along Western lines. These advocates believe women should be given full rights and full command of their destiny in accordance with international human rights standards (text taken from Women At Heart of Debate). The other side of the debate revolves around a more traditional positioning. These advocates stress the importance of a revival of traditional Islamic teachings on the status of women. The debate is reflected in both the public and private spheres of Moroccan society.

Women in a Marrakech square selling cloth and clothing.

Photo credit: Miguel Cruz
In the private sphere of home and family, the debate over tradition vs. modernization is central. Family is at the core of Islamic society, the single most important aspect of life to many Moroccans. Therefore, most women view marriage as an essential element in their lives. However, the family structure revolves around the legal inferiority of women and mothers. The Mudawana(family law) is derived from the teachings of the Koran (holy book of Islam). Under these laws, women are afforded very little autonomy over themselves and their children.

Moroccan mother and daughter.

Photo credit: Images of Daily Life in Morocco by James Miller, Professor of Geography, Clemson University
While in many aspects, family practices are still tied to past traditions, change is on the rise. Responding to the growing voice of resistance among feminists and other advocates of women's rights, Morocco has introduced several amendments to the Mudawana. For example, the minimum age of marriage has been increased to 16 years of age. Further, men must now get permission from their former spouses if they wish to remarry. Divorce continues to be a point of contention, as wives are not able to obtain a divorce from their husbands under the current law. A husband, on the other hand, has the right to "repudiate" his wife (banish her from her children and the family home and prevent her from keeping any of the family's property). Both issues are central to the debate over the status of women in Morocco. Aside from amendments to the Mudawana, a change in attitude is being demonstrated among women, as many are choosing to marry later and exercising more freedom in choosing a husband, rather than having one arranged. Family and marriage is at the heart of the struggle for women's rights in Morocco.

Click image for larger view
Gouna'a for sale! This decorative cloth is an overgarment for Moroccan women.

Photo credit: Images of Daily Life in Morocco by James Miller, Professor of Geography, Clemson University
In the public sphere of education and work, the struggle continues between tradition and modernization. Illiteracy and education among women are areas in need of immense improvement. The illiteracy rate among women is 67% and only 1 out of 8 attends high school. However, measures are being taken to improve the situation. Premier Abderrahmane Youssoufi has recently launched a campaign to promote literacy among women and educate girls who are not in school. Among some of the recently establishing organizations include needlework workshops for widowed and divorced women, vocational centers and multi-purpose work cooperatives. Educating women on family planning, health and childcare is another improvement being made. Information on preventative and curative medicine is now broadcasted to women via radio station programs for women.

Policewoman: a title which symbolizes the changes taking place in Morocco

Amina Benhamza holds the position of policewoman. Amina lives and works in Casablanca. Aside from her work as a policewoman, she is also a 30 year old mother of two. In the past, a woman would not have been considered for such a role. However, times are changing, as are attitudes. More and more roles are opening up to women. For more information visit this site.

Modernization has also had an impact on the world of work, as it relates to gender issues. In the past, women in the workplace would not have been considered possible. Today, women are extended such professional positions as doctors, judges, company leaders, and pilots. The percentage of women in the workplace has increased from 8% in 1973 to 25% today. Maternity benefits and widow's pensions are also offered to women in the workplace. The campaign to protect women launched by Premier Youssoufi aims to increase the presence of women in the workforce, specifically in decision-making positions. Currently 95% of Morocco's business leaders are men.

The status of women in Morocco is difficult to identify. Traditional Islamic practices and laws view women as inferior and treat them in a similar manner. However, with modernization, the path of change is being created. In essence, Moroccan women are caught between the two worlds, old and new -- traditional and modern. Although it may take several decades for significant progress to be achieved, the campaign for change wages on. Every new reform or change in the social climate is a victory for the cause of Moroccan women and their plight to emerge from the struggle they face.


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