By Gal Kramarski
Amongst processes of democratization, traditions and the Islamic sharia, stands the debate around women’s personal-status-law in Morocco, Mudawana. Enacted in 1958, after gaining independence from France, Moudawana expressed Morocco’s unique identity, culture, and connection to the Islamic and Arabic heritage. Moudawana was the first official codex to set particular family legislation in Morocco; beforehand, Morocco’s citizens followed local laws, traditions, and the colonialist rules. The year 2004, marked a new era in changing women’s role in Morocco, with the initiation of the family-code-law, Moudawanat Al-Osra, replacing the 1958 Moudawana. However, this change had not yet reached all populations.
Following a set of meetings with women from rural villages in the High Atlas Mountains, as a part of High Atlas Foundation’s empowerment workshops, we discovered there is minimal awareness to Moudawana in these areas. Though nowadays, a specific law exists, most rural communities keep following local traditions, which became throughout time, the actual « formal » law. Accordingly, women’s role in both their domestic environment and communities remains marginal, as many of them indicated. Recognizing the great potential embodied in Moudawana, as a tool to change women’s role both locally and nationally, can contribute significantly to development work in that field. In a wider perspective, it might also evoke great change in other Muslim countries, as the law is based on the Islamic sharia, which is highly respected among Muslims.
General background, 1958-1993
Written by a royal commission of ulama, using both the banner of Islam, as a religious framework, and the king’s support, being amir al-mu’minin, as a national-civil framework, the Moudawana was enacted in 1958. Moudawana was based on the Islamic sharia, and the Maliki School, which are both highly respected in the Moroccan society. Though enacted under the shade of modernization and independence, with King Muhammad V’s support in women’s rights, Moudawana’s first version was in fact, one of the most stringent women’s law in the Islamic world.
According to the 1958 version, women could not get married without the permission of a wali, (male guardian), had to ask their husband’s permission to visit their families, or use money independently. The law allowed polygamy. Only men could decide to divorce, and did not have to inform their wives or ask for their permission. Men were the only legal guardians for their children; if a man died, the custody of the children went to his family, and not to the mother.
Although shaped in this form, reflecting patriarchal conceptions under the cover of the Islamic sharia, even the actual existence of a law gave much hope to Moroccan women, to continue their struggle. The first three attempts to change the law had failed, (1961, 1965, 1981), however, this only motivated young educated women to continue their struggle.
The 1960s-1990s, were characterized by modernization, social change, and urbanization. These processes went hand by hand with growing literacy rates, and a general trend of increase in female primary education, and a global growing interest in women’s role in development. Local organizations used the rights-based approach framing, in order to gain moral and financial international support. As a result, many organizations were established in Morocco, particularly from the late 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s. They supported, (not only financially), women’s local movements, educational programs, associations, and the civil struggle towards reforming Moudawana. There was then a disturbing contradiction between the legal framework that kept oppressing women, and reality, in which women in the cities, became more and more educated, active and socially involved.
The year 1993, marked the first major change. Under King Hassan II’s regime, many women, (mostly educated women from the cities, and from left-wing political parties), started protesting for changing Moudawana. This led to the first reform in Moudawana, in September 1993. The reform included, the necessity to receive a bride’s verbal consent to marriage, and abolishing the right of the father to compel his daughter to marry. Polygamy from then was subjected to a judge’s permission. Children’s guardianship changed to be shared custody, in favor of the mother. Though there were calls saying these reforms are just a rubber stamp, nevertheless they were considered as an important step forward, for women’s struggle for their rights.
New era, 1993-2004
In 1999, King Mohammed VI inherited his father’s throne; this marked the beginning of a new era in Moroccan women’s struggle for their rights. King Mohammed VI’s innovative approach, emphasized protecting human rights as consistent with Islam. This allowed the Casablanca and Rabat rallies in March 2000; for the first time, the struggle towards changing Moudawana was shifted wide to the streets. Following that, in March 2003, the royal committee announced that instead of altering Moudawana they recommend replacing it with a new law. After long-lasting discussions, in January 2004, the new family code law, Family Moudawana, was ratified by the two houses of the parliament.
The Family Moudawana (2004), consists of 400 legislation (called articles), divided into six main sectors, with the aim of protecting women and their children’s rights. The new law constitutes a major landmark in the Moroccan women’s struggle as it follows the principle of equality between men and women, in both family, community and Moroccan society. The new law changed the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18, for both men and women. A woman can now obtain a divorce, if she proves it as the last solution, as mentioned in the Quran. Daughters can inherit property like sons. Polygamy is subject to stringent legal conditions, allowing women to refuse their husbands to take a second wife. The new Moudawana led to the greater presence of women in different leading positions in Morocco.
However, since 2004, there were also voices protesting against the new version, claiming, « Women now have too many rights »; a sentence that many women’s movements faced through their struggles, globally. Since 2004, the implementation of Moudawana faces barriers in terms of both raising awareness and enforcing the new law, mainly in rural areas. As a part of our empowerment workshops that aim to provide rural women tools to raise their voices, we discovered that there are places that are hardly influenced by any law.
Did the change reach all populations? What can we do?
Almost 100 percent of the women we asked, shared they were not aware of the law. The main difficulties they raised were either knowledge-related or physical. As many women are illiterate, many cannot read the law; if they are able to read it, some cannot understand the language (literature Arabic). Either of them has the legal knowledge to interpret it, and they do not have access to a lawyer. Some laws obligate to appear in front of a judge; for many, this is impossible, financially or physically, (in terms of access to transportation for example). Their communities clearly separate between religious orders, and local traditions, which are the ones to be commonly respected. For instance, in the case of a divorce, both Moudawana and Quran allow divorce as the last solution, however, the traditional law, refers to divorce as a taboo.
We can strongly indicate that the great change of 2004’s Moudawana did not reach all populations. Using this knowledge, we wish to assist rural women, by creating bridges between their needs, and optional solutions. The High Atlas Foundation’s Moudawana project, follows the ‘Imagine’ self-discover empowerment workshop; through them, we aim at both reaching individuals and to encompass social change.
In the future, HAF’s project intends to bring together female law students and women from different rural villages, to learn together how to use Moudawana to change women’s role at all levels. Students assist by consulting rural women. Together, they share knowledge with the final goal of creating active social agents, in both populations to improve women’s status also in remote areas that were left behind until today. Being based on Islamic laws, we hope Moudawana will evoke change in women’s role not only in rural Morocco, rather in many other Muslim countries as well.
Gal Kramarski is a M.A student in ‘Glocal’, International Community Development, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is currently an Intern at the High Atlas Foundation, working in the field of women’s empowerment