Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gender in Morocco

Last month, I spent a few days in Rabat doing planning for the year with Peace Corps Morocco's Gender and Development Committee (also known as GAD – as Peace Corps loves their acronyms!). At the end of our training in November, my group elected me to represent them in GAD, something I was really excited about as gender issues (particularly for women) are in a state of change in Morocco and it's really exciting to learn more about it and to help provide resources for other volunteers. 

The GAD group works to support all Peace Corps Morocco volunteers (about 250 throughout the country right now) in  understanding and appreciating gender roles in Morocco, and provides resources and initiatives geared towards gender and development – from pairing with nonprofits, to creating women's empowerment camps, to developing small one-off programs. I am working on developing a website to house all of GAD's resources and to provide a space for volunteers to better collaborate together and share best practices. More on GAD in a future post, but today I wanted to talk a little about women's rights in Morocco and to provide some historical context based on what I have learned so far. I have been fortunate to meet with both a professor and a PhD student from the Center for Studies and Research on Women at the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fes, and a lot of the below historical background and cultural insights come from them. 

I'll be talking a lot more about gender roles from my own experiences in future posts, but to start I thought it might be helpful to have a bit of context on the history and culture. A lot of people know about Morocco's recent constitutional changes, but perhaps might not know some of the steps leading up to it and the challenges still facing women. Bullet-pointed to make your history lesson as painless as possible :)
  • 1996: Changes in Morocco's constitution grant women equal civil and political rights related to freedom of movement, opinion, and association, as well as access to public office, employment, and education. 
  • 2002: 35 women are permitted access to Morocco's Chamber of Representatives, and the percentage raises from less than 1 percent to 10.8 percent.
  • 2003: Morocco's new family code is adopted (called the Mudawana, based on a school of Islamic Law) and emphasizes equality in relation to the family – Both women and men share joint responsibility in the rights of marriage, property relations, divorce, repudiation, child custody, and inheritance law provisions.  You can read an overview of the Mudawana provisions here.
  • 2004: The Nationality Code is developed, in accordance with the Mudawana Family Code (see 2003). Women who are married to foreign Muslim men now have the right to pass on Moroccan nationality to their children. (In case you are curious like I was about the use of the word “Muslim” in there – I asked and learned that men have the right to marry non-Muslim women, but women cannot marry a non-Muslim man, from Morocco or from another country). 
  • 2009: Responding to a minimal decrease in gender-based violence in the 5 years following the Mudawana (and protests from women's rights groups), Morocco begins to create special information centers for women on domestic violence, along with judicial assistance to women who are victims of violence, and special training for lawyers in women's rights. 
  • 2011: Starting with the February 20 movement and ending with a draft passing on July 1, the new constitution is intended to provide men and women with equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.

So these are all clearly strong advances, but there are a number of challenges that Morocco continues to face on implementation:
  • Illiteracy rates are very high (35-40% for women), which is preventing many women from full knowledge of their change in rights.
  • Poverty is a big problem when it comes to legal fees and the means to get around.
  • Cultural norms inhibit implementation: Discriminatory gender practices, the archetypal man in Moroccan culture in a commanding role, and limited social mobility for women.

With all of this happening, it's an incredibly interesting time to be living in Morocco. The gender-related issues that I and other volunteers face are very deeply tied to cultural norms here, so my role with GAD is to help volunteers to acknowledge these cultural norms and challenges and to develop strategies in the classroom and in their communities to engage in open dialogue and empower both men and women to think about their roles and relationships. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with all of you to help you better understand the role of gender in Moroccan culture – so more to come!

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