As a curious undergraduate student in the fall of 2004 I undertook a sociology project focused on the Moudawana (Moroccan family code), without knowing that in just a short time I would find myself personally engaged in the issue-as the wife of a Moroccan citizen. Of course, this was all before I had even met my now spouse, and at a time when everyone (in the United States at least) was all to eager to write-off any forward thinking policies in the Islamic world. Then, as now, I do firmly believe that the implementation of this policy is a step forward for the women of Morocco. However simply changing the laws does not mean that they will be enforced, nor does it mean that women will reap the benefits from the change. The cultural residue of the past continues to hold women back at home and in professional life.
There are two major areas in which I believe Morocco needs to focus attention. These areas go hand in hand with the Moudawana reform and would drastically increase the standard of living for women in Morocco. The hurdles are financial stability and the cultural acceptance of abuse; while more and more women are continuing with secondary and university education, many may find themselves passed over for job opportunities in favor of men. Morocco’s high unemployment rate helps to foster this pattern as many feel that if there are not enough jobs for men, then why should a woman be hired? For married women who are able to secure a job, often the burdens of running a home are not lessened. In conjunction with working a full-time job, many still shoulder 100% of the household burden. If children are in the picture, childcare must also be secured either with a family member, nanny or a private facility. It’s an exhausting prospect to simply read about – it’s no surprise that women would choose not to work outside the home.
For women who choose to work solely in the home, the risk of financial insecurity is real. While not all women who work in the home have problems with finances, for those who find themselves in abusive situations the risk is multiplied. From speaking with many Moroccan women in less than optimal home situations, facing emotional or physical abuse (or both) the feeling is that they have no choice but to stay and make the best of the situation. If they do manage to leave they face repudiation by their family, their ex-husbands family as well as other community members. They fear the loss of their children to the father. They fear the shame of their families. They fear the prospect of living the rest of their lives alone. And most of all they fear having no where else to turn. Few have money of their own accessible to help them make it through the transition. In a culture that places a high value on honor, the act of divorce is often seen as a tarnish of honor.
The same sentiment that encourages women to stay in an abusive relationship is what contributes to the abuse itself. The notion of “what happens in the house is between the husband and wife,” is far too common. I have had family members tell me that if a woman were being abused and called the police the officer would laugh and hang up the phone. For a woman who has no means of financial independence, children to care for, and an abusive husband there is little recourse except to accept the abuse and try to survive.
While some of these issues, particularly the deeply ingrained cultural issues, may work themselves out with time, in the short run Morocco should be working to encourage and support financial independence for women. If they are able to care for themselves and their children the playing field in the marriage will become more even. No longer does she need to stay in the marriage simply due to economics, but will be able to make the choice that is the best for her. The Moudawana was created to improve the lives and increase the rights of women. In order to support this, Morocco must strive to bring about a complete reform that makes everyday life as important as the major milestones (birth, marriage, divorce, and death) that the Moudawana encompasses.