Morocco: Family Code Gets Nudge, But Women Seek A Push
Fairouz Guiro, 19, still looks with wonder at her little girl, Marwar, all of 27 days old.
But Ms. Guiro has no idea how to find Marwar’s father. She was seduced by an older Moroccan man visiting Tangier on vacation from Spain, and he has since changed his cellphone number.
“My mother told me to be careful of men and not to trust them,” she said. “I didn’t listen.”
Ms. Guiro came to Tangier to work from a little town nine hours away and found a job at a company called Delphi. But her job is gone, and as a single mother, she has few rights here.
Her parents told her to give up Marwar for adoption, and so did her siblings. “I said ‘O.K., I would,’ but later I couldn’t,” she said. “I know it’s my right to take care of my daughter.”
Despite an important reform of Morocco’s family code in 2004, pressed upon a reluctant Parliament by the young king, Muhammad VI, sex outside marriage is not recognized in Morocco, any more than homosexuality is.
The new law, known as the Moudawana, provides no protection to women like Ms. Guiro or Latifa al-Amrani, 21, from Salé, near Rabat, who is about to become a single mother. She met a man, Ali, 24, who claimed he was a plainclothes policeman, and one day he took her supposedly to meet his aunt. It was an empty apartment, and they made love.
“He told me he wanted to marry me,” Ms. Amrani said. “But then he changed his phone and I couldn’t reach him anymore.” She filed a complaint with the police but has heard nothing from them. Her parents beat her, she said, so she ran away.
She, too, says she intends to keep her baby. One reason for her confidence is the work of a charitable organization here called 100%Mamans, created in 2006 by Claire Trichot, 33. With help from a Spanish nongovernmental organization and private donors, Ms. Trichot and a small staff provide food, shelter and education for expectant single mothers; take them to decent hospitals for the birth; and then help them to care for the babies and find jobs.
Most of the young women have been shunned by their families and abandoned by the fathers of their children, Ms. Trichot said. “It’s illegal to have sex outside marriage, so single mothers have no rights,” she said. The mosques ignore them; families sometimes throw them out; the police usually think even rape victims are lying; the hospitals often treat them badly.
“We want to make sure these women are treated fairly,” Ms. Trichot said, so they don’t abandon their babies. “Our goal is to reintegrate them into life.”
The Moudawana was much praised. It gave women equal legal rights to men in a marriage, including the right to ask for a divorce; raised the legal age for marriage to 18 from 15; and gave first wives the right to refuse should their husbands desire to marry a second wife. The law made divorce a legal procedure, eliminating the tradition of a husband divorcing a wife simply by handing her a letter.
Even five years later, the family code is deeply controversial in the country and among conservative religious figures, and many family judges are susceptible to corruption, according to groups promoting women’s education and legal rights, like the Women’s Development Association in Casablanca.
Touria Eloumri, its president, said that the “philosophy in the new law, based on equality, is the most important factor.” But, she added, “You can’t expect a quick change in mentality and habits in only five years.” More often than not, she said, “The biggest problem here is corruption among judges.”
There are often cases where a first wife’s consent to a second wife is forged, or another woman appears before the judge pretending to be a man’s wife, Ms. Eloumri said. There are long delays, and a system of family courts is only now being instituted.
Polygamy is still legal, subject to the agreement of the first wife, and adultery remains a crime. If a woman remarries before a child is 7, custody automatically reverts to her ex-husband, so some decide not to remarry. Many women want further changes.
But there has been “a real counter-reaction” to the law as it is, Ms. Eloumri said, particularly among the religious.
The king, who is also the “commander of the faithful,” pushed through the law by telling Parliament that there was nothing in it that violated Islam, and nothing in Islam that contradicted the law. But his advisers say that it will take a generation for Moroccan attitudes to change, and no one is yet contemplating further reform.
In a recent poll of Moroccans done by a Moroccan magazine, TelQuel, and the French daily Le Monde, 91 percent had favorable opinions of the king. But the same poll, which was banned by the government and never published here, showed that 49 percent of respondents said that the new Moudawana “gave too many rights to women,” while 30 percent said it gave “enough rights to women” and should not go further.
Zakia Tahiri, 46, a filmmaker, just made a social comedy called “Number One,” about a man who mistreats his wife and the women at the factory he manages — until his wife feeds him a potion that turns him into a kind of feminist. “Everyone blames everything on the Moudawana,” she said, laughing.
Islam “is a religion where everyone thinks he’s a specialist,” she said. “I wanted to show with my movie that each group does with the Moudawana what they want — the women, the men, the Islamists.”
Hinde Taarji, 52, is a writer and journalist, divorced, who recently adopted a son. “It’s evident the new law cannot be implemented the way it should for now,” she said. “But it’s a very important signal.” She described a female friend who ran a hotel and was separated for 15 years, but could not get a divorce and remarry because her husband refused. Under the new law, she finally divorced.
“Even with the best law in the world, the corruption of the justice system is still a very big problem here,” Ms. Taarji said. “But lots of things have changed in Morocco for the better.”
Still, the biggest problem for young women in Morocco is lack of education; there is little sex education, even at home, and almost 70 percent of the women who come to 100%Mamans are illiterate — compared with about 38 percent nationwide. “They leave home and go to the cities to work, and confront the freedom of that,” Ms. Trichot said. “Then they meet young men and they are not ready.”
18 August 2009