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                Women Movements in Morocco

Further than 80% of the rural women in rural areas of Morocco are illiterate.   Frequently they are inactive players in the execution of rules and do not participate even in the most basic decisions at the family level. Therefore, Moroccan women movements nowadays have launched a number of programs to improve women's participation in the project of development. As a result, Women Moroccan movements have came a long way throughout the years and came over almost all the obstacles to have their place in the Moroccan society. 


1.The glorious feminine past of Morocco:

Some women, who played a significant role in the society of their time, marked Morocco’s history. The best example is Fatima Al Fihria, whom founded the oldest University of all time AlKarawayin in the imperial city of Fez; in the 11th century.

Youssef Ben Tashafine's wife, Zineb Al-Nafzaouia, is another example of women whom played a major role in society of her time, as thanks to her the largest Murabbitine Empire, which spread from Andalusia to Senegal, was founded. She was both a good diplomat and advisor to her husband. Khnata bent Bekkar, Moulay Ismael wife, ruled Morocco for twenty-five years after the death of her husband Moulay Ismael. At that time she managed to direct Morocco out of the crisis that lasted thirty year long.

In addition, Moroccan women played also an important role during the French colonialism period. They were the first ones to demonstrate against France colonial power through the whole country, and especially in the Rif beside the nationalist hero Abdelkarim Al khatabi. The famous example of Moroccan women, whom struggled for Morocco’s independence, is Malika AlFassi.  Malika AlFassi, who was the only woman of the Istiqlal Party, signed the “independence manifisto”in the 11th of January1944.


2-The Moroccan Women movements before and after the independence:

   A) The Moroccan Women movements before independence:

Women movement’s started in Morocco during the 1940’s.  In particular, when Malika al-Fassi signed the independence manifesto in the 11th of January1944. 

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Moreover, Lala Aicha, the sister of Hassan II (the father of MohamedVI), was the first woman to be seen in public with her face uncovered.  Lala Aicha was the best example of the liberization of Moroccan Women.

Concerning Moroccan women organizations, Akhawat al-Safa (sisters of purity) was the first women’s association, which appeared in the 1940s’.  Followed by, the beginning of women’s split in either Istiqlal Party or Communist Party other Moroccan Women Associations emerged.

Throughout the Moroccan struggle for independence: wives, mothers, and sisters of nationalists transported weapons and documents hidden in clothes and food. Moreover, They transmitted messages and delivered money. 

Generally, male activists led Women’s movements at that time, and they gave more importance to the needs of nationalism than to the social prospective.  Princess Lala Aicha was at head of different charitable associations and represented Moroccan women in several events.

 B) After independence:

Morocco took its independence in March 1956.  And in 1961 UPFM (Union Progresiste des Femmes Marocaines) was launched, born out in the Pro-government  UMT (Union Marocaine du travail).  Laurie A. Brand in the book Women the State, and Political Liberalization:” The UPFM’s creation was intended to convince the authorities of the need to overhaul labor and other legislation’s treatment of women.  In 1961 a number of UPFM sections were constituted across the country.  The union held some twenty regional congresses and created a national bureau as well as regional ones.  Thereafter, however, its activity declined, the victim of repression by management, the lack of upper level female cadres, and a variety of political battles. 

In the 8 of January 1969, king Hassan II asked for selection of women well known for their capability and their honest individual to create a women’s union.

Consequently, on the 6th of May 1969, a number of 300 women joined together in the Moroccan capital, Rabat for the constitutive conference of Union Nationale des Femmes Marocaines (UNFM).  The princess Lala Aicha was the honorary president, and the current president is Lala Fatima, the wife of Hassan II cousin ‘Ali’.  King Hassan II made clear in his talk of 1969 that, it was the moment to move away from effortless acts of charity and to discuss community problems.

UNFM was known as an Utilité publique and launched the famous women journal, Aicha.   The term of Utilité publique is essential in understanding the change of public community. Therefore, any association may apply for its own nomination. As soon as designation is given, the request association is then permitted to embark in fundraising; it is additionally thereby excused from particular types of taxes and custom duties and is more able to publish its activities.  According to its origins UNFM is known by the support and ability to command of Royal women.       

A variety of causes joined together in the 1980s to create, by the end of the eighties, a flow of women’s movements and associations.  In the political showground, there was the carry-over of political parties, unions, and organizations nearly with a re-evaluation by rival political parties of their agendas in the situation of the wider socioeconomic transformations that had participated in prompting the liberalization. Therefore, the political parties started to express a new concern in secondary social issues, which are linked to family, women, and human rights.  At that time of the eighties, some women movements started to struggle defending women’s rights. The rising concern in women’s condition internationally played a major role, as stated the “declaration of the UN Decade of Women (1975-1985)”.     

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3-Women movements and politics:

Throughout the 1970s, except the Moroccan Students Federation, the single women’s associations self-governing of the whole state were the ones of Morocco’s political parties. However, at that time these organizations were not in a good situation, because of the political repression of that stage.  The first political party in Morocco to have a section concerning women issues was the Istqlal Party, even though it did not have an independent association till 1987.  The Istiqlal Party has had the most important number   of women leaders ever since the independence period.  In addition, the Istqlal Party introduced a number of women representatives in the regional elections in1976, 1983,1992.

The USFP (Union Socialistes des Forces Populaires) founded a women’s branch   in 1975. The former leader of USFP Abdullah Ibrahim argued in 1973 that women’s fight for emancipation was totally not against men but a common struggle carried out by both sexes, as there are no differences between males and females.  The other opposition socialist party the PPS asked also for equality between the woman and man without given importance to the gender issue.  In 1985, women within the party of PPS created their own association ADFM (the Association Démocratiques des Femmes Marocaines), which still shares many key cadres with the PPS.  In 1989, the number of women organization increased to 29 associations, 16of that were created just after 1980s. Former female members of the UNEM (Moroccan student’s Union) formed the AMDH and created a women’s board within it. In 1983, the activities of AMDH were stopped, however women choose to carry on their effort in the manner of social and educational clubs in youth foundations in Sale, Rabat, and the big city of Casablanca.     In February 1987, a new organization appeared, it was the PI (Organization de la Femme Istiqlalienne, OFI). It organized a chain of conferences concerning the following subjects: the “democratic experience”, “illiteracy”, and “the Arab Maghreb”. At the meantime other no-political associations were formed.

In 1993, two women with a long political career, both representing the opposing political parties   won the elections. The two women were Amina Lamrini, a member of PPS from Rabat and Badiaa Sqalli, a member of the USFP from Casablanca. In the 1997elections,

Regarding the last elections of 1997, three women won the election, two women in the lower house and only one in the upper house.  And according to the data given by Inter-Parliamentary Union, concerning Morocco’s women representation in the parliament; Morocco is in the rank 118 among 179 countries worldwide.

The past ten years in Morocco has been a moment of big political change. The late King Hassan II took the major steps towards democracy with constitutional reform in 1996 that brought with a new concept to the Moroccan politics, which is the concept of “Alternance”.  Allowing additional legitimacy to the elections, the King designated as Prime Minister previous opposition leader “Abderrahmane Youssoufi”, Secretary General of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the party that took the majority of seats. The succession of the young and reform-minded King Mohammed VI to the throne in July 1999 is an origin of hope for larger political involvement and democratic development.
 From July to November 2000, National Democratic Institute carried out a chain of programs to aid women in public speaking, preparing and presenting a political message, and cooperating with the press.
In November 2001, in corporation with the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) and the Seattle-based Center for Women and Democracy, the Institute organized the primary three campaign schools for Moroccan women who desire to manage for Parliament in Morocco’s future national elections. The process school dealt with such themes as working inside the political party, using a campaign of communication, seeking out voters, getting in touch with the media, and using email and the internet. The Institute intends to arrange two successive campaign schools for possible women members in May and July 2002.


5-Women association and the Modawana:

“There are, of course, some gaps and an inadequate application of the Mudawwana, there is discrimination and there is justice. But let's repair all this outside the political arena so that we do not fall into some trends that have never existed and will never be allowed in this country. Let's take care of all this as soon as possible.”

Excerpts from the speech delivered by Late Hassan II on the occasion of the
39th anniversary of the revolution of the king and the people

(August    20,1992)



 Vis-à-vis the Moroccan constitution, all Moroccans have the same political rights without giving importance into the gender issue but this equality between the two sexes does not include certain matters.  Laurie A. Brand wrote:"All of Morocco’s post-independence constitutions have stressed the principal of equality between men and women.  Article 5 says, “All Moroccans are equal before the law”, while article8 adds that men and women equally their political and civil rights. Article 12 states that the sexes are equal in exercise of public employment and in the conditions required.  However, that equality does not include certain other areas, many of whish are critical to women and demonstrates the tremendous gap between the text of the law and the reality of Moroccan life.  "

The first Moroccan women objection against the constitution or in anther word the mudawanah was concerning the issue of minority.  For example, the woman cannot marry without a Wali, for the constitution she is always a minor till she got married. This minor status is so apparent in the labor code as well as in other legislations.  The woman given most interest in the mudawana is a wealthy woman who does not need to work outside of her house and whose financial and social status is guaranteed by her family members.  However, the poor woman is marginalized by this society and has no right. Therefore, there are various constituents in the mudawanah that Moroccan Women movements wish to change or at least to modify. The hot discussion over improving women's situation in Morocco and modifying the “Moudawana”, was back again in the Moroccan media. In March of 1999, the previous State Secretary for Family Affairs, Saïd Saidi, introduced a proposal renowned as the “National Action Plan for Integrating Women in Development.” This modest proposed law was not planned to revolutionize women's rights, but designed to assert some fundamental constitutional rights for women against discrimination and abuse. However, rivals of the plan especially Islamists see that these modifications as a diversion from our Islamic ethical values. Said Saadi said in an interview for Femme du Maroc magazine:”Liberalizing 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).”

The personal status code of women in Morocco plays a major role both in the political and social life of Morocco.   . Recently, a national committee on the participation of women in political life and a national council for the revision of the Moroccan family law (moudawwana, have been formed; their objective is to bring the condition of women closer to the ideals of the United Nations).


 6- Moroccan Women movements and the Authorities (Parliament):

At the eve of the 8th March 1992, the UFA began a petition action designed to change the mudawanah. UAF had tried a similar campaign in 1987, in which it introduced an ineffective initiative to put a stop to an independent   denial by the husband by giving the divorce responsibility to the judge and not to the husband.  Therefore, the UFA sent a letter specifying the important lines of the program the 5th of March 1992 to the head of the parliament, to the parliamentary members and the political parties, yet the AUF did not receive any answer.   On the 7th of March1992, UFA organized a press debate, and declared its proposal, printing its demands the next day in the UFA’s review 8Mars.     The reply of the opposition political parties to the petition campaign was very offensive from women’s potentials.   The parties’ attitudes towards the UFA petition arose from various reasons: the consideration of the concern for the kutlah coordination as the next elections approached. , the lack of interest in women’s problems, and the dilemmas of inter party conflict.  As a consequence, the Moroccan government another time rejected the process of changing the personal code status. Changing the mudawanah would have been not possible outer of the procedure of an open political system and a society of 69% of female and 43.4% of males are illiterates according to the CIA recent statistics concerning the case of Morocco (Central Intelligence Agency) in USA.  Another aspect is that the 1million signature campaign showed how women in the Moroccan are marginalized and badly treated.

In March of 1999, the previous State Secretary for Family Affairs and one of well famous Moroccan feminist, Saïd Saidi, presented a plan known as the “National Action Plan for Integrating Women in Development.” This proposed law designed to assert some fundamental constitutional rights for women against discrimination and abuse. Therefore, two demonstrations one for the plan in Rabat and the other demonstration of Casablanca was against the plan.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim fundamentalists and representatives of women's groups took to the streets of both Rabat and Casablanca on Sunday the 8th of March 1999, holding opposing rallies over a government plan to give women more rights.

Representative of political parties said that the Casablanca march drew some 200,000 people, but observers said more than double that number attended the rally, which was supported by Al Adl Wa lhssan movement of Abdesslam Yassine.   In the capital city of Rabat, between 200,000 and 300,000 people representing women's groups, human rights movements and political parties marched in support of the plan.


Morocco has been known internationally through Moroccan Women.  Whenever you go around the globe and you mention the following names: Nawal Almutawakil, Nezha Bedwane, Fatima Mernissi, Samira Bensaid; and others, people will relate these names directly to Morocco.  However, the Moroccan women situation is still bad; and women’s rights are still neglected by the Moroccan government even though the Moroccan Women Movements demonstrate each year in the 8th of March, the situation remains the same as usual. The doctor Rahma Bourkia, a Moroccan sociologist while asked about the Moroccan women in the news paper Al Ayam said: “ the Moroccan Woman suffer merely front of the law that neglect her right, and gives a bad picture about her”.

Concerning the International women’s day; Nezha Chekrouni said in an interview in the newspaper Al Ithihad Al Ichtiraki:"the 8th March has become a date, when we sum up the real situation of the Moroccan women during the whole year. We indicate the obstacles and specify the paybacks. "

In my point of view, the Moroccan women movements should not concentrate just in the issue of Mudawanah, because changing laws it is not the real solution. The real solution is about controlling the implication of rules in the Moroccan courts and civilizing the society at first.   And this can happen only by eliminating illiteracy; putting an end to corruption and discrimination.





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-"Le Matin du Sahara et du Maghreb newspaper", Friday8thMarch 2002. N: 11.396.Morocco2002

-"Al ayam newspaper", From Friday8th March to 14th March2002, N: 27.Morocco2002.

-"As-Sahara al-Maghrebea newspaper", Friday8th of March2002. N: 4796.Morocco2002.

-"al-Itihad al –chtiraki newspaper", Friday 8th of March2002. N: 6784.Morocco2002.

-"Femmes du Maroc Magazine", March2002.N :75.Morocco2002.