Nouzha Alaoui, Member of the Moroccan Parliament
Just back from Morocco last night, the purpose of the trip was to do advocacy training with women activists from North Africa and to connect them with their counterparts in Morocco.  I can't say much more about the other participants because it is politically sensitive but wanted to share some high points from the Moroccan women's movement work.  I had done some work in Morocco in 2007 and knew some of the important progress they had made but gained a much better understanding of the dynamics of their campaign to bring about changes to the Moroccan Family Code or "Moudawana" that deeply impacts women's rights in the country.  It is not often that we see so much change so quickly so I thought I would share some of what I thought were keys to their success.

A little background...the previous code did little to protect women's rights in the country and basically left them vulnerable to the whims if their husbands with few legal protections pertaining to their property, marriage, or inheritance rights.  While some Moroccan women had been working on these issues for years, 1998 proved to be a pivotal  for the movement for two reasons.  In that year, more liberal opposition parties won the Parliament and the Prime Minister's seat.  Equally important the young reform minded King Mohammed VI came to power.  Those political changes created an atmosphere where real reform was possible and a new code was constructed by the former opposition.  On March 12, 2000 over 100,000 women and supporters rallied in Rabat in favor of a new Moudawana that better protected women's rights.  But there was extreme resistance from some more conservative social forces and a considerably larger rally was held in opposition to the changes a few weeks later in Casa Blanca.  The proposal was dropped.

In response, King Mohammed VI, organized a council made up of diverse voices including religious clerics, academics, women's rights activists and lawyers to write a new family code that would attract more broadbased support.  Some of the changes included:

Co-Responsibility:  Which dictated that both a wife and husband would have equal responsibility and rights pertaining to joint property.

Marital Tutelage: Both the man and woman have the legal right to refuse marriage regardless of what male members of their family (father's) might arrange.

Age of Marriage:  The legal age of marriage was changed from 15 to 18.

Polygamy:  A woman had the right to demand in a prenuptial agreement that a man could not marry other wives.

Initiation of Divorce:  Both the man and the woman had the right to initiate divorce proceedings...previously only the man could.

The women's rights leaders we met with (like Nouzha Alaoui, now a parliamentarian pictured above) were smart in a number of ways in my view.  Here are a few key decisions they made that I think really made their campaign strong.

While many of the women had alliances to various political parties, they left these alliances in the background.   This decision kept their attention and deepest loyalties to their issues so they were not undermined by partisan politics or eclipsed by other party priorities.

Their communications strategy was to base the changes they were seeking in the Family Code in the framework of a more progressive and equalitarian reading of Muslim teachings.

And lastly, they sought alliances with more conservative and traditional women's rights groups and came to agreement on many issues.  This deflated the opposition and made for a powerful collaboration between untraditional forces that was very powerful.

  Of course they also organized like crazy.  Women now hold over 3,000 seats in local government and 32 in the Parliament...there is one new local female mayor.  Many of the groups we met with are continuing their work, with a special focus on domestic violence issues, a problem in all countries but very common in Morocco.  The hard work the women's groups conducted in the years prior to 1998 laid the ground work for the transformation so when the new King came to power and opposition parties took control they were ready to take advantage of the opportunity.  Food for thought for women working in other Islamic countries who aren't fortunate to have a pretty groovy King like Mohammed VI...not that I think Kings are a good idea, but if you have to ha




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