Eric: Women in Morocco

July 24, 2010

Back from the desert, I was sore and tired. Getting up the next morning was almost as hard as climbing that hill back in the desert. Determined not to skip, I still went to my two classes, and found out that there was this lecture on women in Morocco. I was semi-interested, and thought I should at least go to one lecture offered by ALIF (I missed the one on Berber culture a few weeks ago). It turned out that the lecture was mandatory for students on the U of M program, even though nobody knew about it.

The guest lecturer is a linguist who has been doing research on languages and genders in Morocco. She started off by stating that like any other culture, women are a heterogeneous group in Morocco. They differ significantly depending on their geographical origin, class, job, language skills, level of education, and social status. These factors interact with each other and make women in Morocco unique, according to her. She then went on to talk about how every society is a patriarchy, but significant differences exist between the Western world and Morocco. In the Western countries, there is generally an image, maybe created by some multi-national company, that women adopt to, while in Morocco, women are more concerned with space, which is different for the two genders. Home is a private space in Morocco and is generally where women socialize and have power, while outside of home in the public space, men are more dominant. The limit of these spaces has been changing in recent years.

Changing the subject to women’s right, the lecturer mentioned that the way women seek more rights is different. In Western societies, women confront men to fight for more rights, while in Morocco, women believe that they belong to a “collective-self” or family, and it is important to sustain the harmony within a family. In terms of how women react to gain authority/power, there are two main categories.

1. Uneducated women have a lot of power in the private space. They are the “keepers” of rituals, which include marriage, birth, and other ceremonies, and they pass on traditions orally. Women in villages also could be the center of a community through carpet-weaving.

2. Educated women are a totally different story. Back in 1946, an organization known as the “Sisters of Purity” was founded in Fez by 7 women, all of whom have fathers and brothers in the nationalist movement. The organization had three goals: to abolish polygamy, to give women more public exposure, and to give women more respect in the family. Smart women these sisters were, they didn’t attack Islam as the source of women’s suffering. They only sought to gain legal rights. After the independence of the Kingdom of Morocco, the first family law was written in 1957-58, which angered many educated women, as it was pretty much everything opposite of what the sisters were fighting for. By the end of the 1970s, the Iranian Revolution encouraged the rise of Political Islam (or the Fundamentalists), which meant different things for different people. For the women, it was a chance. As the fundamentalists opposed any kind of reformation, the women fighting for rights were able to connect and incorporate the younger generation. Through stating that “the family law is the same problem for both generations,” the older generation avoided a clash with the younger generation.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the situation of women was improved at a very fast pace, as the monarchy, which viewed the fundamentalists as threats, allied with women in the fight for rights. First reform of the family law happened in 1993. A new constitution was written in 1996, while 4 women were appointed to the cabinet as ministers in 1997. King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999 and was keen on improving women’s rights. On Women’s Day in the year 2000, there was a march in Rabat, and another in Casablanca. One supported reform, while the other was against it. In 2003, there was a terrorist attack in Casablanca, which was a slap in the face for everyone. This only sped up the process of reform, and the new family law went in effect the same year, giving women more rights than they ever had. The lecture ended with a discussion on the current problems facing women’s rights movement.

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