Promotion of Women’s Rights
On August 20th, 2003, King Mohammed VI declared: "How can society achieve progress, while women who represent half the nation, see their rights violated and suffer as a result of injustice, violence and marginalization, notwithstanding the dignity and justice granted them by our glorious religion ?"
His Majesty has given the family a pivotal role in the effort to strive for a modern and democratic society while remaining fully committed to religious and cultural values. The Family Law (Act N°70-30) was unanimously endorsed and passed by Parliament. The King emphasized that the new Family Law is not intended to benefit women only, but the whole family. Its purpose is to establish equality and to protect the rights of children, while simultaneously preserving men’s roles and dignity.
The Status of Women in Morocco
- Implementation of the Principle of Equality
Aware that any effort toward social and economic development could never hope to attain its desired objective without the active and equal participation of women, Morocco has introduced profound reforms over the last several years aimed at integrating the principle of equal rights and obligations for men and women and promoting the full and active contribution of women at the highest levels [of government] in all domains, be they political, economic, social, or cultural.
In the political sphere:
35 women were elected to the Moroccan Parliament in the legislative elections of September 27, 2002, thereby increasing the participation of women in this legislative body to 10.8% as opposed to 0.6% after the 1997 elections. This progress is the result of the new quota system by which 30 seats in Parliament are automatically reserved for women.
It is also interesting to note that the present Cabinet includes 2 women as members. A woman also holds a post as Counselor to His Majesty King Mohammed VI.
In addition, in order properly to address questions of gender-equality and to meet the expectations of Moroccan women, a government agency was created in 1998 responsible for questions of the family and the condition of women.
Moreover, several initiatives have been undertaken in order to integrate [gender awareness] into the politics of development, notably :
In the juridical sphere
- The creation of a Moroccan Center for Information, Literature and Study of Women’s Issues
- The adoption of a national strategy in the struggle against domestic violence, developed in conjunction with the civil society
- The integration of [gender awareness] in the general budget of the State and in regional budgets
the most significant progress toward improving the status of Moroccan women remains the adoption of the new Family Code by the Parliament, January 26, 2004.
The project for this code, introduced before the Parliament by His Majesty King Mohammed VI at the opening of the fall session, October 10, 2003, is the fruit of arduous and consensual efforts on the part of a Consultative Commission composed of political personalities, professors and university researchers, theologians, and representatives of women’s organizations, in particular the Democratic Association of the Women of Morocco. (ADFM) and the Union for Feminine Action (UAF). Other juridical measures are now in effect, such as the abrogation of article 726 of the Civil Code, which required marital authorization before any economic undertaking, and of article 6 of the Commercial Code, which denied a woman the right to exercise any commercial activity without the approval of her husband.
Social and cultural associations
numerous and active in every domain of social life, continue to possess a veritable strength of negotiation and proposition. The results already on record are remarkable for the energetic response they have mobilized around the question of [women’s rights] and gender equality in Morocco. These results are an encouraging sign considering the positive actions undertaken in every domain (education/ [scolarisation], women’s rights, the struggle against violence based on gender and against sexual harassment, shared responsibility in decision making...). Today, these associations constitute a force to be reckoned with. They have had a considerable influence in promoting reforms that have revolutionized the economic and social landscape of Morocco. On account of their [direct contact with the communities in many of their actions], they have been involved in the elaboration of policies and reforms and play a role of intermediary between local populations and public powers, [whence the consolidation of their actions and institutional capacities.
The new Family Law eliminates language degrading to women, raises women’s status as full partners with men, and upholds equality between the two spouses. The main improvements introduced by the new Family Law are :
- List of The Major Improvements Introduced in the Family Law as Compared to the Current Provisions
- Men and women now share family responsibility with equal rights and obligations;
- Women who have reached the legal age of adulthood are now recognized as free and independent citizens, no longer under submission to the guardianship of a male member of the family;
- The minimum age for marriage is now set at 18 years for both men and women;
- Divorce laws now apply equally to men and women and can be exercised by either;
- Women and female children are entitled to inherit property the same as men and male children;
- Polygamy is virtually impossible ; wives-to-be may stipulate that the marriage is based on monogamy;
- Alimony payments are enforceable by the courts;
- Verbal repudiation by the husband is no longer valid, as divorce is now subject to a court ruling;
- Husband and wife now share property attained during marriage. While confirming the principle of separate estate, the new law makes it possible for the couple to agree, in a document other than the marriage contract, on how to manage and develop assets acquired during marriage.
Upholding The Principle of Equality Between Men and Women:
- Equality in terms of family responsibility : The family is now placed under the responsibility of the husband and the wife. (Under current legislation the family is the responsibility of the husband only)
- Equality with respect to the rights and obligations of both parties : (the stipulation that the wife should obey her husband is rescinded)
- Suppression of the situation submitting women to the guardianship of a male member of the family. (Women who have come of age are now entitled to guardianship and may exercise it freely and independently)
- Equality between men and women with respect to the minimum age for marriage, which is now set at 18 years for both. (Instead of 15 years for women and 18 for men under current legislation)
- Repudiation and divorce, defined as the dissolution of marriage, are a prerogative that can be exercised as much by the husband as by the wife, under judicial supervision, and in accordance with legal conditions set for each party. (Under current legislation, repudiation and divorce are left to the discretion of the husband only, and are often exercised in an arbitrary way)
- Adoption of the principle of divorce by mutual consent and under judicial supervision (new provision)
- To preserve the new family institution and ensure quality and fairness between husband and wife, the new text provides that the divorce claim introduced by the wife on the grounds of lack of financial support shall be dismissed if it is established that she has sufficient means to support herself and that her husband is impecunious. (New provision)
- Possibility for the grandchildren on the daughter’s side to inherit from their Grandfather, just like the grandchildren on the son’s side. (Dropping an obsolete tribal tradition favoring male heirs in the sharing of inherited land)
- The girl just like the boy shall have the possibility of freely choosing her custodian at the age of 15. (Suppression of the bias in favor of the boy, who can currently choose his custodian at the age of 12, whereas the girl must wait until she is 15).
Polygamy is allowed, Subject to the Judge’s Authorization and to Stringent Legal Conditions which make it virtually impossible
- The judge must make sure that there is no presumption of iniquity. He must be convinced of the husband’s ability to treat the second wife and her children on an equal footing with the first, and also ensure that they enjoy the same living conditions
- The woman now has the right to make her acceptance of marriage conditional upon a pledge by her husband-to-be to refrain from taking other wives
- If no such condition is set, the first wife must be informed that her husband is going to remarry, and the second wife must also be told that her husband-to-be is already married. Moreover, the first wife must also be told that her husband-to-be is already married. Moreover, the first wife has the possibility to ask for divorce because of harm suffered. (Under the current Family Law, the husband must inform his wife of his decision to marry a second wife, and also inform the latter that he is already married. The judge’s authorization is not required).
Concern for Fairness and Justice
- In keeping with the Royal instructions aimed at upholding the rule of law, the Family Law assigns a key rule to the judiciary. Thus, it now provides for the public prosecutor to be a party to every legal action involving the enforcement of Family Law stipulations. Provision must be made for emergency cases to be dealt with during week-ends and holidays. The creation of family courts and the establishment of a family mutual assistance fund will contribute to effective enforcement of the Family Law. (There are no such provisions under the current legislation)
- Protecting the wife against a husband’s abusing of the right to divorce : the new legislation protects the woman’s rights by making repudiation conditional upon the court’s prior authorization. It further enhances the chances for reconciliation, both through the family and the judge. It also requires that all monies owed to the wife and children be paid in full by the husband can be duly registered. Verbal repudiation by the husband is no longer valid, as divorce is now subject to a court ruling. (Under current legislation, repudiation is an exclusive and unrestricted right of the husband)
- Consolidating the woman’s rights to file for divorce because of the harm suffered (conjugal violence, unjustifiable absence, lack of financial support....) : divorce is pronounced by the judge, at the wife’s behest. Moreover, failure to fulfill any of the conditions stipulated in the marriage contract entitles the woman to ask for divorce. (It is currently very difficult for the wife to prove the harm suffered)
- Sharing, between husband and wife, of the property acquired during marriage : While confirming the principle of separate estate, the draft proposal makes it possible for the couple to agree, in a document other than the marriage contract, on how to manage and develop assets acquired during marriage. In case of disagreement, they shall refer to the judge, who shall use elements of evidence to assess each party’s contribution to the household capital acquired during marriage. (No such provision exists under current legislation)
- As a token of His Majesty the King’s special concern for Moroccans residing abroad, marriage procedures are to be simplified for them : the marriage contract is to be drawn up in the presence of two Muslim witnesses and in accordance with the procedures in force in the country of residence. It is then registered with the proper Moroccan consular of judicial authorities. (Under current legislation, Moroccans residing abroad must go by the procedures and conditions applicable to their fellow citizens in Morocco in order for the marriage contract to be valid. This results in countless disputes and litigations between husband and wife as well as with the authorities in the country concerned).
Enhancing the Protection of Children’s Rights
- Protecting children’s rights : Provisions in compliance with the international agreements on children’s rights ratified by Morocco, have been inserted (this is the first time such provision have been officially included in national legislation)
- Child custody : Taking into account the child’s interests, the draft further innovates by giving the woman the possibility to retain custody of her child, under certain conditions, even upon remarrying or moving out of the area where her husband lives. She may also regain custody if the reason (voluntary or otherwise) which caused her to lose this right disappears. (Under current legislation, the woman irrevocably loses child custody in the above conditions)
- Protecting the child’s right to acknowledgement of paternity in case the marriage has not been officially registered for reasons beyond control, by expanding the scope of the legal evidence to be submitted to the judge. (Currently, there is no provision for recognition of children born out of wedlock. The only accepted proof to establish paternity is the testimony of 12 witnesses, a complicated and archaic exercise)
- Establishing a 5-year limit for the settling of outstanding cases in regard to paternity (This is a new provision designed to put an end to the suffering endured by children in this situation)
- Child custody : Ensuring that the child receives suitable accommodation consistent with his or her living conditions prior to the parents’ divorce. This requirement is separate from the other alimony obligations (nafaqa). (Under current legislation, the alimony consists of a paltry lump sum and does not specify how much should be allocated to the child’s accommodation)
- Reflecting the keen desire of His Majesty the King, Amir Al-Muminin, (Commander of the Faithful) to protect the rights of Moroccan citizens of Jewish faith, the Family Law confirms the principle that they shall be governed by the provisions of the Hebraic Moroccan Family Law. (This provision is duly enshrined in the new Law)
- The new Family Law uses a modern form of working removing degrading or debasing terms for women. Thus, women become men’s partners in rights and obligations, in accordance with the firm determination of His Majesty the King to ensure that women are treated fairly to enhance the protection of children and to preserve the dignity of men.