Cablegate: Morocco: Women's Rights Advancing, but Not Enough

Published: Thu 20 Dec 2007 12:32 PM
DE RUEHRB #1869/01 3541232
R 201232Z DEC 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. 06 RABAT 2189
B. RABAT 1095
1. Summary: Women's rights have advanced in Morocco since
the passage of the revised Moudawana (family code) in 2004,
but challenges remain. The Government of Morocco (GOM) is
providing medical and legal assistance for domestic violence
victims. The Nationality Code has been changed to allow
women to transmit citizenship to their children. Women hold
a record number of seats in the government, and a
ground-breaking program is training women as religious
leaders. The GOM has integrated women's issues into its
budgeting and planning process, but NGO representatives
complain of a lack of coordination between ministries. There
is broad awareness within the judiciary about the reforms,
but the laws are still not firmly rooted and gains could be
lost as a result of a social backlash. Judges and clerks
require further training and technical assistance to achieve
a uniform application of the laws. The next significant
reform issue may involve inheritance law. A number of civil
society interlocutors are pleading for more support from the
USG. End Summary.
2. In the fall of 2007, TDY DRL officer and PolFsn met with a
variety of representatives from civil society and the GOM to
gauge progress and challenges in the field of women's rights
and in the implementation of the Moudawana (Family Code)
since its passage in February 2004. Moroccan civil society
contacts described a variety of specific success and
continuing areas of concern.
Points of Progress
I. A National Strategy for Gender Equality
3. On May 19, 2006, the GOM adopted a national strategy for
equality, integrating a gender-based approach in all
development policies and programs. Gender sensitive
budgeting was included for the first time in the 2006
national government budget. This requires all Ministries to
analyze budgets from the perspective of their impact on women
and men, boys and girls. At the local level, the GOM
produced manuals and training courses to enhance local
authorities' and communities' ability to factor gender issues
into their planning and budgeting processes.
II. Nationality Code Reform
4. In January 2007, the Moroccan Government reformed the
1958 Nationality Code, giving women the right to pass
Moroccan nationality to their children. Previously,
nationality was transmitted only through the father. This
new bill was the result of intensive collaboration between
the NGO Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM),
several women's and human rights organizations, and the GOM.
The change allows children of Moroccan mothers and
non-Moroccan fathers to access the full range of educational
and social benefits available to Moroccan citizens. It also
has implications for international custodial disputes
involving bi-national couples. Moroccan citizenship can
still only be transferred to a child if both parents are
Muslim and if their marriage is recognized by Moroccan law.
A child born in Morocco has no claim on citizenship without
citizen parents, even if the parents themselves were born
III. Women in Religion
5. In February 2006, in a move unprecedented in the Muslim
world, the GOM trained 50 Mourshidat (spiritual guides) as
part of a campaign launched by King Mohammed VI to undermine
religious extremism by strengthening and promoting Islam's
message of moderation. Since its inception, the program has
graduated three groups of 50 trainees. Each Mourshida is
assigned to one of the more than 33,000 mosques in the
country. While they do not lead prayers, a task still
reserved exclusively for men, the Mourshidat give basic
religious instruction in mosques and provide clerical support
in prisons, hospitals, and schools. Women also now sit on
the High Council of Ulemas (the supreme religious authority)
chaired by the King, and on local religious councils.
RABAT 00001869 002 OF 004
Women in Politics
6. The September 2007 Parliamentary elections resulted in
the selection of 34 women out of a total of 325 parliamentary
seats ) a decline by one from the previous term. Thirty of
the 34 new female representatives were elected from a
national list reserved for women candidates. Moreover, Prime
Minister Abbas El Fassi's new government includes a record
seven women in key positions compared with two in the
previous government. Women now occupy other key political
roles for the first time as well, the Mayor of Essaouira,
Asma Chaabi, and Governor of a district in Casablanca, Fouzia
Imanssar, for example. Nevertheless, it is important to note
that women's representation in political parties' decision
making structures continues to remain low. In August,
however, the Democratic Society Party became the first party
to be headed by a woman, Zhor Chekkafi. In the private
sector women are better represented in senior management
levels than in the past.
The GOM is Listening, Supporting and Counting
7. At the Ministry for Social Development, Families and
Solidarity (MSFS), the Chief of the Women's Division, Najah
Rhardisse, explained to us that the MSFS signed a partnership
agreement with the Ministries of Health (MOH), Justice (MOJ)
and Interior (MOI) to help implement the National Strategy
for Gender Equity and Equality. They are working with
communities and civil society to create partnerships and to
establish "listening centers," where women can obtain legal
advice, counseling, and other assistance.
8. The MSFS set up a hot line, linked to the network of
listening centers, in November 2005 for victims of domestic
violence to call in order to receive immediate support. The
MOJ is offering legal assistance to the centers while the MOH
provides medical assistance. The Ministry of Interior
circulated a notice to the Gendarmerie about the hotline and
police stations have been instructed to gather monthly
statistics and information on violence against women. Police
have received sensitivity training on the proper way to treat
domestic violence cases.
9. In an effort to improve the quality and accuracy of
statistics on violence against women, the MSFS recently
signed a partnership agreement with the Office of the High
Commissioner for Planning (the government agency in charge of
tracking and publishing statistical data) to develop an
institutional information system on gender-based violence in
10. Moudawana reform demonstrated how a religious law could
be adapted to modern, secular, international standards. A
degree of social and bureaucratic inertia, however, still
hinders progress.
I. U.S. Has Lost its Leading Role
11. Program director for international women's NGO Global
Rights, Stephanie Bordat, said that in 2004, the USG was the
undisputed leader in the field of Moroccan women's rights in
terms of innovation and overall funding. "Now, people are
asking where you (the USG) have gone," she commented while
urging the USG to increase and re-invigorate its women's
rights programs in Morocco. She stressed the need for donors
to continue working with local grassroots NGOs to provide
them with training on how to monitor and document progress or
slippage on Moudawana implementation in the courts and
broader judicial system.
12. Bordat stated that there was as great a need now for USG
funding as there was in 2004. "Passing the law was the easy
part, ensuring that it is enforced and accepted will take
years." She fretted that international donors believe that
Morocco has crossed a threshold and no longer needs financial
and technical support in the area of women's rights. "The
gains are not yet strong enough to weather a political,
cultural or religious backlash; we need the U.S. government
to stay engaged."
II. A Need for Coordinated Long-Term Funding Among Donors
RABAT 00001869 003 OF 004
13. President of the NGO Women Lawyers in Action, Nadia
Oulehri stressed to us the need for foreign donors to support
activities and projects through coordinated long term
strategies, rather than through short-term "budget cycle"
funding. "I attended much training," she said, "but we
really need a coordinated strategy in order to have a lasting
14. Nouzha Ameziane, a member of Union Action Feminine
(UAF), complained to us that short-term funding makes
sustainability difficult. Ameziane added that logistical
expenses are usually not covered by funders, which forces
many NGOs to pursue purely advocacy based programs since they
require less money. She recognized the value of advocacy,
but argued that there is also a need for more costly,
project-based initiatives to analyze the Moudawana's impact
and develop future strategies. UAF president and lawyer,
Nezha Alaoui, explained that residents of rural, semi-urban,
and Berber speaking areas still lack awareness about the new
Moudawana. Illiteracy remains a significant obstacle to
legal education and reform, and requires a significant
investment of funds and skills to be overcome. A USG-funded
program to teach women to read using the Moudawana has been
effective, but is limited in scale.
III. Poor Ministerial Coordination
15. Oulehri also explained that despite rhetoric, there is a
lack of coordination between government ministries on women's
issues. The general women's portfolio is housed in the
Ministry of Social Development, Families and Solidarity, yet
Oulehri argued, "The specific problems that women face need
more attention and call out for a separate ministry devoted
to women's affairs."
IV. Judiciary Still Needs Support
16. Implementation remains a key concern because it largely
depends on the judiciary's ability and willingness to put the
Moudawana into practice. Due to its controversial nature,
the law was written in such a way as to provide broad
interpretive latitude to individual judges, not all of whom
agree with its intent. Corruption among working-level clerks
in the courts, and a lack of knowledge about the code's
provisions among many lawyers also constitute obstacles.
Bordat, of Global Rights, explained that there is no
continuing education for lawyers, especially regarding the
Moudawana, and that this "forgotten population" badly needs
V. Women's Shelters have no Legal Cover
17. The Ministry of Social Development, Families and
Solidarity's Women's Division Chief Rhardisse argued for the
creation of more government sponsored battered women's
shelters. Morocco only has three shelters; one each in
Rabat, Oujda and Fez. She would like to work with the
Ministry of Justice to establish more. There is currently no
clear legal protection for shelters or their staffs. Unless
the existing law is changed, a spouse can enter any shelter,
remove his or her partner, and legally bring charges against
the staff for kidnapping or interference in marital life.
Rhardisse explained, "Setting up shelters throughout the
country will help extend our hand and offer support to women
throughout Morocco." The Violence against Women Act,
currently pending in the Parliament, augments protections and
provisions for women, and addresses the shelter issue in a
comprehensive fashion. Rhardisse was confident that it would
be passed in 2008.
18. Nadia Oulehri explained that in Morocco, current
inheritance laws favor male family members and heirs.
Inheritance laws are applied unevenly in different regions,
and judgments are often affected by local cultural practices.
For example, in the Souss region, when a woman becomes a
widow, she is considered her husband's equal partner. In the
anti-Atlas area of Errachidia, however, a woman's inheritance
is not hers to dispose of, but is held in trust by a male
relative. Oulehri stressed the need to continue working on
public awareness on the inheritance issue, and suggested
creating a network of women's lawyers' groups to focus on the
issue. Union Action Feminine, however, believes the time is
not yet right to lobby for additional rights, and instead
advises continued work on consolidating existing gains.
RABAT 00001869 004 OF 004
19. In recent years, Morocco has made significant
institutional advancements in the area of women's rights.
However, in order to see these changes implemented to the
fullest extent, continued engagement and support is needed
from the international community. The new laws are just a
step in a long effort, one that will require cultural as well
as institutional changes. Post suggests that the USG may
want to consider additional assistance to the law
enforcement, judicial and legal sectors to improve their
capacity to address women's issues. End Comment.
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media