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O Fim duma Viagem

Our Daughters Will Never be Free

MOROCCO | Friday, 4 July 2014 | Views [303]

 On Tuesday, someone from a women's human rights NGO based in Morocco came to talk to us. She was originally American, though she'd lived in Morocco for the past 20 years. (“I came over a lot like you guys, for a study abroad. And essentially I never left.”) For the past 13 years she's been working for an international NGO called “MRA,” which is the Darija word for woman. It ostensibly stands for “Mobilization for Rights Associates.”

 MRA predominately focuses on “capacity building,” though she's not that fond of the term. They're mainly focused on training, providing resources, and helping the local NGOs learn by doing.

 She began by talking about the Family Code. The Family Code covers engagement, marriage, divorce, custody, financial relationships, inheritance, and other things related to the family, and it is the only law in Morocco that is tied to religious precepts. The final article says that for any issues not resolved in the previous 399 articles, one should consult the Koran.

 The thought of using a holy book to decide modern day laws frightens me a little. From my experience, they tend to contain a mixture of super-specific, very up to personal interpretation, and not really relevant anymore instructions. Not terribly surprisingly, different judges have different ideas about what constitutes “extraordinary circumstances” required to allow a second marriage or a girl under 18 to get married.

 The first Family Code was written in 1957/1958 by Mohammed V. In the ensuing decades, it became obvious that a couple of changes needed to be made. Some, but not enough, reforms were made in 1993. In 1999-2000, a few more reforms were made, but much more debate took place. Finally, Mohammed VI called on his kingly authority as a spiritual leader to take over the Family Code. He created a committee which looked over it and decided what needed to be changed, then handed it back to the king who presented it to parliament, which was a rather shocking, as this (religious) law was passed through parliament and not by royal decree. It was debated some more in parliament, then passed in 2004.

 Some of the reforms to the Family Code included: raising the age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18 (though in some parts of the country, up to 90% of the people who petition to have their daughters marry earlier succeed) restrict polygamy, make a wali (legal representative of the woman for marriage) optional, make it easier (really, possible) for a woman to get divorced, and no longer have obedience to the husband be a legal requirement.

 She then moved on to discuss the Criminal Code. This was not a religious law, in fact, it was based mainly on the French criminal code around 1962, when it was first drafted. It has its own set of issues. Predominately, all sex outside of marriage is still technically considered illegal.

 This has two main consequences for women. The first is pregnancy. Besides the potential that the unwed mother could be thrown in jail, a child who is not born into a legal marriage gets nothing from his father. No last name, (which leads to real problems in terms of getting IDs and records) no form of child support (if the baby is a girl and the parents were married, then the man would need to provide for the daughter until she gets married. Sons only until they get a job or start higher education or something) or inheritance.

 The reforms to the Family Code did do one more thing for bastard children. It changed the definition of legitimacy to be “conceived during marriage or engagement” and not “conceived during legal marriage.” This will hopefully compensate for the bizarre notions of how long it took between conception and birth, which ranged anywhere from 3 months to 5 years. Now, if two people are dating and one gets pregnant, they can get married and claim they were engaged when the child was conceived. It's still dependent on the father being willing to stick around, though.

 Sex being illegal adds another complication to rape charges. Rape is only proven by there being physical injury. By trying to bring a rape charge, you're admitting that you had sex, and there's a decent chance you won't be able to prove that it was involuntary on your part.

 Similar issues exists with regard to domestic violence. Although the penalties are harsh (assault has a 10 year prison sentence, assault on spouse has double that) it hardly ever gets that far. To begin with, most domestic violence happens in the house. And, in an effort to restrict the previously-unhampered police power, police are not allowed to enter a private home unless there's an imminent chance of death. If you call to report your husband beating you, they will ask if there's blood, and if there's not, they'll hang up. 

If you do report spousal abuse, then for it to get to court they'll ask for a medical certificate that shows you have 20+ days of incapacitate. As with rape, many people will not be that badly injured, but that doesn't mean it's not a serious problem.

 We ended on a lighter note by discussing some of the projects that MRA was working on, and what kind of issues they typically face. The good news is that they're pretty minor. They usually meet with the women to try and convince them why they need a forum to discuss problems, and then with the men to convince them why the women needed this. In one village they had men who strongly objected, but for the most part the male reaction was more of a “can we join too?” A couple of times they do have mixed groups, but for the most part MRA just gives them the pamphlets they've created and tell them to have fun.

 The best idea we heard was when a partner NGO went to a beauty school and made sure everyone there was as educated in legal rights as they were in how to create different hair styles. “You go to a hammam, or a beauty parlor, and the woman will be shouting back and forth about rights. The woman doing your hair might say 'well, I heard that a man can get divorced if..' and then the woman doing nails will shout back 'no no no. It's this.' And this way there's now one at least one person who will be well-versed in those rights.”

 It was a nice presentation, even if she didn't have a powerpoint. (She had one prepared, but it wasn't working. She only spent around 10 minutes trying to get it working and not 35, so it was a significant improvement over Senegal.) Even if it did run late, so we went straight from the presentation to poli sci without a chance to even stretch. At least her presentation was in English, otherwise I don't think I could have focused on poli sci.

Tags: ngo, women

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