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Women's Rights in Morocco
Driss Benmhend

The heated debate over improving women's rights in Morocco and revising the “Moudawana”, is back again in the media circuit. In March of 1999, former State Secretary for Family Affairs, Saïd Saidi, introduced a bill known as the “National Action Plan for Integrating Women in Development.” This modest bill was not intended to revolutionize women's rights, but, aimed to assert some basic rights for women against discrimination and abuse. However, opponents of the plan see that these changes as a diversion from our Islamic moral values. How is the abolishment of polygamy and raising the legal age for marriage from 14 to 18 going to threaten the attachment of our women to Islam? One may ask.

Emancipating our women is not against the Shariâ, and I believe that the articles of the “Moudawana” proposed for revision (that certain parties find scandalous), represent the bare minimum that could be done for our female citizens, who suffer severely from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and all kind of abuses and discrimination. The Moroccan legal system is unfair towards women and needs to be revised, and yet many religious leaders continue to oppose these reforms. I encountered first hand, some of the ignorant and prejudiced views held by some Muslim scholars (Oulema). Few years ago, following the bombing of the trade center in New York, a number of Oulema from different countries (including Morocco) toured some US university campuses and gave talks about the “true Islam.” The purpose of the tour was to educate the American public about the true teachings of Islam. At the University of Michigan, I attended a round table discussion between these Oulema and students. At a question regarding a woman's right to divorce her husband, the Alim from Egypt replied that women cannot have that right because of their unstable emotions and temperament. He added that a woman then would ask for a divorce if her husband refuses to buy her a dress or for some other insignificant reason. Like all of the other students, I was shocked to hear this kind of belittling and degrading remark against women. These are not the teachings of Islam as I know it. In spite of my disgust, I tried to keep an open mind, and later told the Alim privately, that this could happen if someone were married to a 13 year old girl. So, why not solve this problem by raising the legal age for marriage to 18 or 20 years. He laughed at my idea.

While most of the world is celebrating women's achievements and contributions to society, many theologians in the Muslim world are hiding behind their distorted interpretation of the Koran and Shariaâ, which reduces women to objects than men can use -through marriage- to satisfy their selfish needs. According to recent statistics, of 100 seven year old girls, 51 will enroll in school, and only 7 of these lucky 51 will finish high school. The rest will end up as maids working 16 to 20 hours a day in very abusive homes, or in sweatshops similar to Nazi concentration camps. We should recognize that there are many inequalities and barriers that are preventing Moroccan women from enjoying their basic human rights and assure their participation in the development of our beloved Morocco. As His Majesty wondered in one of his speeches, “How can we imagine setting up a civilized and prosperous community while women who represent half of it have their rights abused?''.

Driss Benmhend
McLean, Virginia
USA
March, 2001

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