Ambivalence is mere euphemism when one describes Moroccan women’s rights. It turned from matrimonial societies (I am using the plural quite deliberately) where women were relatively free–and even in charge of quite important tasks–to a country where the submissive figure becomes the ultimate goal every Moroccan woman should achieve (as a normative statement accepted by the society itself). There has been a lot of rumbling in the meantime, and I wouldn’t go as far as the Kahina period to state my point, but there we are.
I am actually trying to prove that Moroccan women had a unique chance to emancipate themselves after 1956, because of the revolutionary-flavoured changes that Moroccan society was longing for. I am not conjecturing or exaggerating, nor idealizing the ‘golden age’ of feminist struggle for liberty and equality. As far as I am concerned, women’s rights in Morocco are closely tied to the global human rights situation in Morocco. It isn’t obvious nor naturally correlated, as various examples can prove it.
Even though Royal Princess Aisha couldn’t reasonably be considered as a representative individual of the Moroccan feminine subpopulation, her emancipation is an astounding example of how Moroccan society was about to change in the post-independence years, indeed: “Militant Feminist Lalla Aisha of Morocco made her first public speech in the cause of female emancipation at the age of 17. She urged the veiled and backward women of her land ‘to participate ardently and usefully in the life of the nation.’ The speech automatically earned her the leadership of the Moroccan feminist movement for she was a princess, the daughter of King Mohammed V.” It was essential (for the monarchy and the Nationalist movement alike) to mobilize all of the Moroccan people (including their female half) to oust the French protectorate. Although Allal Fassi and Mehdi Benbarka didn’t share the same views on the Women issue, they both called for a renewal of the Moroccan society.
Anyway, 1956 brought independence, and with it a gigantic misunderstanding that sealed the present situation in Morocco, women and politics alike.
To put it simply, the misunderstanding was above all about distribution of power: the monarchy wanted to recover its supremacy (and to its delightful surprise, found itself geared with powers it didn’t even dream of before 1912) while the national movement wanted in its broad gathering, a bigger share of power, and more balanced institutions prerogatives.
The second misunderstanding was about women’s rights: the conservative wing (old-guard Istiqlal and, to some extent, the monarchy itself) did want women to be emancipated, but only to move from the pre-Islamic, superstitious state (not always submissive, one should point out) to a brand new age, where women have the place Islam devoted to them (traditional salafists like A. Fassi advocated this) i.e. at home, as a mother and a housewife.
Moroccan women, on the other hand, fielded a quite heterogeneous range of aspiration, too heterogeneous perhaps, to enumerate and even more difficult to merge in broad categories.
Let’s roll back to the women’s rights issue: The popular myth following which women were always happy to be housewives and child-bearers is/was set up by some people with a precise political agenda to follow, and not the ‘natural’ way to go.
Strangely enough, one could find an almost-perfect parallel with the slow political Islamization of Moroccan society an the degradation of women’s rights. While the early decades following independence were relatively liberal for women, from the late 70’s all the way down to the present days, the general set of values most Moroccans hail as theirs brought the Moroccan society to conservatism (and indeed, a reaction) that might reminds of a darker age.
I cannot help but link the whole social structure to its economic roots, so my main working hypothesis is that gender equilibrium radically changed when women were allowed (by law that is) to attend schools and quite naturally –albeit with adamant conservative opposition- to get in the job market.
Their direct contribution to the economic factory makes them more visible and subsequently, allow them to voice their hopes and claims (there are of course, other ways to explain the changes in the Moroccan women issues, but I shall devote the following lines to discuss this specific topic).
From 1956 to the mid 1970’s, Women in Morocco were indeed enjoying a broader liberty than what the piece of legislation passed on as the Moudouwana allowed for. There was a considerable thrust (as well as a certain political will within the royal palace) for change and removal of old-fashioned institutions, especially for the youthful Moroccans.
In facts, the early Moudouwana version was quite liberal (with respect to the constraints that represented traditional Islamic scholars). Never mind the legislative corpus though. Education was in facts, a pretext for a whole generation to free themselves from the patriarchal leadership; an educated young woman usually found herself compelled to work (with some delight, one can reasonably assume). It did start with the left-leaning government under A. Ibrahim, when the core structures of the Education ministry were laid on.
Anyway, his government, through the various reforms they undertook (and were unfortunately prevented from reaching maturity), opened the doors to a generation of young women the opportunity to go to school and get out of the housewife-scheme.
‘Liberty through jobs, jobs through education’ could indeed be a motto Beauvoir would gladly shield and voice.
Even though only a (relatively) small minority of young girls and women was allowed to go to schools (the huge majority of which were located in urban areas), the impact of education was effectively tremendous. One has only to look at the demographic shape of the civil service to understand how crucial education and outside work were for advancing women’s rights.
According to Dinia Mouddani, 31% of Moroccan civil servants are women (2002), while they represented 13.28% in 1970. A modest growth indeed with respect to the chronological framework, though one has to point out that in broad terms, the civil service has more women than any other productive sector (save for the domestic sector). There were many papers on why women are more successful (to some extent) in the public sector, but that is not the point.
It shows that Moroccan women advanced their cause by working outside, thus effectively contributing (though I am not minimizing the vital tasks housewives and part-time working women perform) to the national factory.
The 1970’s and 1980’s where a major shift in the global trend the Moroccan society was following: various studies and projections predicted a steady yet stable trend of secularization, due to economic and social changes: financial independence granted social freedom as well as an authoritative say in the household decisions (I must confess my lack of knowledge and, I couldn’t find any substantial paper related to the subject).
The situation was indeed going well, partly because of the good economic growth Morocco enjoyed during the 60’s all the way up to the mid-70’s (it is worth reminding that the average real growth of GDP was around 9%, in real terms over the period)
Alongside were a cultural and a social thrust for change (the radical left for instance, brought hope among the Moroccan students). Then, not out of the blue, a political project combined with dire economic conjecture brought an agonizing end to the aspiring women rights.
I believe 1979 was the turning tide for the women rights in Morocco. Indeed, it did saw the foundation of the AMDH, but also the beginning of a formidable gambling in Morocco (and elsewhere in the MENA region, to that matter) where vested interests had been drawing patiently the Moroccan society into a state of conservatism. I am not saying that the Moroccan common man was naturally liberal or progressive, it’s just that a general trend of secularism and socially tolerant was drawn up from within the Moroccan society, and then quietly put down by some political lobbies.
Moroccan women make up for 30% of the workforce (the same proportion holds for the economy as well as the civil service) but do contribute for more than half of the GDP (household production included).
Even though the likely trend is a further insertion in labor market, the general conservatism Moroccans seem to show is more due to the tightening economic conditions (an average growth of 3-4% in real terms over the last decade) than to any sign of genuine social intolerance.
The changes in the Moudouwana are meaningless with respect to the general mood of the Moroccan society. Yes, it did advance the women’s cause, but it failed (in broad terms) to address the one issue it was meant for: to change mentalities. According to the now-famously censored TelQuel-Le Monde poll, 64% of the selected sample assessed negatively the outcomes of the new Moudouwana. On the other hand, a leading NGO women rights noticed a 10% increase in the derogatory marriages in 2008 (while they where supposed to be exceptions)… These figures show a restrain (well, not quite so, but it looks like it) in viciously conservative and actual reactionary frustrations the Moroccan society shows. Not that everyone is committed to or ideologically convinced of a ‘Marocistan’, but the economic structure doesn’t help either.
All in all, my point is: a balanced economic growth might lead to a patient shift in the way women’s roles are perceived within the society and confirm the natural right for women to be recognized and treated as equals to their male counterparts.
How do we achieve a balanced growth? Well, that’s the challenge, isn’t?