By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 3/8/2005 | 2:53 pm
Women in Morocco and their counterparts in the rest of the world celebrate today the International Women's day. March 8 in Morocco is very significant, because it commemorates the first year of the adoption of the new Family Code on January 23, 2004 by the House of Advisors.
The new Family Code, which promotes equality between men and women, is considered an important legal asset in human rights. This reform, in harmony with the teachings of Islam, was seen as “revolutionary” and was largely welcomed in Morocco and worldwide. The law was also seen as a model in the Arab World.
Specialized jurisdictions have been set up in Moroccan courts to implement the new Code.
Justice Minister, Mohamed Bouzoubaa, said that “the government is keen to meet all the necessary conditions for a successful implementation of the Family Code, and make sure the law meets the aspirations of all Moroccans.”
Aïcha Lakhmas, a lawyer and a president of the NGO “Union of Women Employees”, said that the Family Code, generally known as “Mudawana” brought essential and fundamental changes in comparison with the former code, known as the “Code of Personal Status”.
“The Family Code brought fundamental changes, especially at the judicial level. It guarantees both the rights of married and divorced women. It's needless to mention the rights of children and the mother's child custody,” said Lakhmas.
The Family Code sparked controversy in the past six years. This led to a massive protest in 2000 against any change in the Mudawana. In response to the intense public debate on women's rights, and the failure of the special committee in charged of looking into the controversial aspects of the reforms, King Mohammed VI stepped in, setting up a Royal Commission, made up of Islamic scholars and women's representatives. After several consultations, the monarch announced the new reforms when addressing the parliament on October 10, 2003.
The King said he wanted to prevent society from splitting apart over this issue. He stated that the aim of these reforms was to draw up a modern family law consistent with the spirit of Islam. “I cannot make licit what God has forbidden, nor forbid what he has made lawful,” the King said.
The new reform placed families under the joint responsibility of both spouses. The family law is not considered as legislation devised for women only, but rather as a code for the family: father, mother, and children. The Code aims to free women from the injustices they endure, in addition to protecting children's rights and safeguarding men's dignity. Women now have the right to ask for divorce; the legal age of marriage for girls is raised from 15 to 18; polygamy is not outlawed but is made practically impossible; and child custody in the case of separation is given as a priority to the mother.
The Family Code was the Millennium revolution of both the King and the people. The sovereign had made it clear that a society cannot move forward when half of its members is lagging behind and denied the most basic rights guaranteed by Islam and the Koran.
Several efforts have been made by the Moroccan society to preserve the rights of women at all levels. Today, 33% of Moroccan women are active, 22% are supporting their families and an increasingly high number of them have access to top positions.
While the Moroccan government includes only two women and the parliament three women, political parties have agreed that 30 women will sit in the coming legislature. However, despite this impressive headway, there is still the need for a considerable educational effort, particularly in girls' schooling.
Aïcha Lakhmas sees these reforms as pioneering and fundamental. However, she said that there are still some problems preventing the effective implementation of the Code. Lakhmas thinks setting up suitable facilities for the administration of family justice in all courts of the Kingdom, and ensuring that court staffs are trained, at all levels, and qualified to shoulder their future responsibilities is a basic necessity. “Efforts must also be made to reach deadlines laid down in the current civil procedure act to expedite family matters,” said Lakhmas.
The lawyer also demands that the government should provide the court with the necessary infrastructure as well as human and financial resources.
What do Moroccans think about the new Code?
Morocco Times discussed with several people about the new family code. Some claim it is for the benefit of women; others think it is against the culture and traditions of the country.
Sanae, 25, student: I am so glad we have the new family code. There thousands of cases of women on hold in the court regarding divorce and child custody. Now, with the new code, men will think three to four times when he thinks of violating a woman's right. I feel secure with the new law. At least, I will not waste time in court if I ask for divorce or the right of my future kids.
Amine, 27, a banker: I am so happy that women in Morocco have at last their guaranteed rights. I am a man, but I am telling that men sometimes become abusive. The new code will prevent them from harming the dignity of women.
Maria, 26, a dentist: The new code is a good step towards securing the right of women, and it is an asset in human rights in Morocco. However, I would like to say that the law will be ineffective if the mentality did not change. Men should change their behaviour and attitude towards women; they should learn how to respect women, not because the law said it.
Meryem Bennani, 34, mother of two kids: I am for improving women's situation. However, the idea should not contradict with our culture and traditions. I don't agree with the fact that a girl has the right to choose her own husband with the consent of her guardianship. We, in Moroccan society, refused to marry our daughters to men who didn't have their parents' approval. So, how come we accept our daughters' marriage without our consent?
Mohamed Amine, 30, single: I am afraid to marry a Moroccan woman now. She will use the rights the new Family Code granted her against me.