The Case of Rape in Morocco

               “There is no great force for change, for peace, for justice and democracy, for inclusive economic growth than a world of empowered women.” (Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka). To this day, there is no country that has reached gender equality. Women have been fighting for their rights for centuries because of the constant abuses made against them. Nowadays, women still suffer and are not equally represented as men are. When we refer to “women,” we mean individuals who are female. However, knowing that an individual is female does not give us much information about gender (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015). As for the concept “gender,” it deals with “the notions femininity and masculinity, which are not fixed and vary across time, place, and culture. Other social categories, such as age, class, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, race, and religion, shape the construction of gender as well. As a construct, gender is also used politically; that is, it refers to power relations between women and men. The result is unequal gender relationships: the cultural attributes and behaviors associated with masculinity are valued, while the cultural attributes and behaviors associated with femininity are not; worse, they are devalued (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015).

 

WOMEN IN PEACEBUILDING

         It is firmly believed that including more women in social, political, and economic dimensions is a path towards gender equality and therefore peace. There will be no peace without equality between the sexes. In this new world order, intrastate wars that play out in failed states recur for at least three reasons. One of them is the absence of women and gender from the conflict analysis and implementation of peacebuilding interventions into those conflicts (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015). As a matter of fact, implementing gender mainstream policies as well as deploying more women in peacekeeping missions, will improve gender equality (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). It is even argued that the failure to solve conflicts and build sustainable peace is due in part to the absence of women from peacebuilding processes (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015). That has to take into account all domestic barriers to the implementation of these policies because each country has different goals to achieve (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). Gender mainstreaming is understood to be the “process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels…to achieve gender equality.” (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). Another definition would be “a gender equality strategy which seeks to assess the impact of policies on men and women at all stages of design, implementation, and evaluation is not a new concept, the adoption of mainstreaming has continued unabated, often with limited evaluation of the substantive impact on gender relations on the ground” (Barrow, A. 2008).

         There is an urgent need to incorporate gender considerations in UN policies and operations, and the resolutions that constitute the UN’s efforts to mainstream gender as many women around the world are still victims of sexual abuses and exploitation (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). The UN defines sexual exploitation as “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.” As for sexual abuse, it is defined as “actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.” (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). According to the Failed States Index 2014, which ranked 178 countries on twelve indicators of state stress, sixty countries worldwide nearly a third of the members of the United Nations qualify as “failed states”. Over half of the failed states are in Africa (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015). Among these countries, is the Kingdom of Morocco.

 

MOROCCO: CONTEXT & WOMEN’S SITUATION 

           Morocco or The Kingdom of Morocco is in North Africa, more precisely in the Maghreb region. It is a constitutional monarchy and its ruler is King Mohammed VI. The parliament is elected and the King holds executive and legislative powers. As for executive power, the government exercises it; the legislative is in both the government and chambers of parliament (the Assembly of Representatives and the Assembly of Councillors). Morocco’s predominant religion is Islam, and the official languages are Arabic and Berber. After the Arab Spring turmoil, in early 2011, King Mohammed VI has responded to the 20 February Movement and the spread of pro-democracy protests in the region by implementing a new constitution; passed by popular referendum in July 2011. The constitution extended the powers to the parliament and the prime minister, but ultimate authority remains in the hands of the monarch. In 2011, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the Islamist party, won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections for the first time. It became then the party to lead the Moroccan Government. In 2016, the PJD won again the largest number. 

         The socio-economic reality of Morocco shows that half of the population is not sufficiently valued. Since 2004, the date of the reform of the Moudawana (Family Code), women’s rights did not improve, and the lack of feminist movements is perpetuating inequalities. Despite the 2011 Constitution which introduced gender equality, it is shown that the integration of women is declining. For example, the female labor force participation rate went from 17.6% in 2004 to 14.7% in 2014 and the unemployment rate decreased from 25.5% to 28.3% in a decade. More significantly, women are coming out of the labor market massively as they are now allowed to study and work. However, the female labor force participation rate has stagnated around 27% since 2000. By 2016, it has fallen to 26.3%. Some of them explain the low level of these rates by the crisis or by the length of their studies, which lengthen and postpone their arrival in the labor market, but even when they work, women remain confined to unpleasant tasks and are still too few in high responsibilities. According to an edifying report by the Moroccan Ministry of Justice in 2015, among the 211 positions of responsibility in the courts, only 11 were women, therefore representing only 5.21%.

              Regression is most noticeable in social practices and the dominant mentality that has taken hold of society, a phenomenon that has been increasing since 2011. In the Arab Spring’s aftermath, the regression became more and more visible with the appearance and the increasing trivialization of misogynistic acts on the beaches or sexist acts in some cities. Despite the denials of its previous leader, who disclaimed any attempt at “Islamization” or “ideologization of society”, the trend has undoubtedly accelerated since the PJD party took over the government. It must be said that since 2011, the growing triumph of the party in the last elections has literally paralyzed progress. It is as if since the promulgation of the Moudawana in 2004, all the political actors have dropped their arms and that nothing can be done to make the equality of men and women become a reality.

              Three years after its entry into force, the implementation of the Constitution was marked by gradual evaporation of constitutional promises. Today, we are in a paradoxical situation, as if the new Constitution had never been adopted. The drafting of this new Constitution should not be seen as an objective in itself but rather a means of making things happen. This observation affects almost all areas. For example the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel does not exceed 63% in 2014 (compared to 74% for countries with comparable levels of development), as for the maternal mortality rate, it is one of the highest in the MENA region. This is proof of the legitimacy of the violence and the persistence of gender-based stereotypes in Morocco. Moreover, women remain the most affected by illiteracy, 41% of women against 22% for men; and rural women even more with 55% of women against 31% for men. Still, this is not the worse case.

       The International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA), is produced by Promundo and UN Women. It is a multi-country study run in the MENA region, covering Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and Palestine. The report investigating gender inequality and domestic violence in these countries is not in favor of women. Moroccan women’s associations will be shocked by the revealing of the extremely violent reality Moroccan women are part of: “A majority of men interviewed in the four countries support mostly inequitable views when it comes to women’s roles,” reads the report. The report shows that “most men in the Arab region, even the younger generations, hold rigid views about the place of women in society and assert their right to control their wives’ decisions, whether it concerns their career, their clothes or even their sex lives.”  

         In Morocco, women are not feeling safe and free. Despite women’s associations’ efforts to fight for women’s rights, the survey has shown important economic, social, and political inequalities between men and women. The report states “high rates of men’s use of violence against women” as well as: “more than half of men reported having been emotionally abusive toward their wives, and 15% reported having used physical violence against them.” It gets worse with: “more than 60 % of men and almost half of women believe that wives should tolerate violence to keep the family together.” While Morocco is supposedly in a time of change, “where laws outstrip practices and men and women find themselves on shifting ground”, the survey mentions that “men are largely in favor of legislation promoting women’s political, economic, and social rights.” Still, “this stance on gender equality in public policy is at odds with their attitudes and practices in private life, which tend toward more conservative views of women’s rights and roles.” 

 

STUDY CASE: AMINA FILALI

                 Until 2012, Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code allowed the rapist of a minor woman to marry his victim. Indeed, rapists were offered by judges to marry their victims, instead of serving the prison sentence that could have been up to five years and thus, exempting them from all sanctions. This law stipulated that any man who has abducted or seduced a minor girl may be acquitted if he marries her with the consent of her legal guardian. Amina Filali, a 16-year-old girl living in the town of Laarache (Northern Morocco) could not live through it. To avoid the “hchouma”, which means dishonor in Moroccan Arabic, the victim’s family and the rapist’s family have agreed on marriage. The girl was then subject to severe brutalization from her husband and his family. The high school girl who was forced to marry a member of her family who raped her when she was not yet 15-year-old, ended her life after ingesting a large dose of rat poison. Amina decided to do so at her family home because she was desperate. The mistreatment she had suffered from her husband and the rejection from her own family pushed her into taking her own life. She could not find any support from her own family or from the authorities. 

             The announcement of Amina’s suicide ignited social media platforms and caused many feminist associations to react, which have been mobilizing for years to abolish this article without success. A few days before Amina’s suicide, in a statement published on 8th of March (International Women’s Day), the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI) reacted to this situation stating that the Moroccan judiciary, its magistrates, as well as legislators, see the woman victim of rape as a “social anomaly” that should be “redeemed” by marriage. The preservation of social hypocrisy is therefore more important in the eyes of legislators than the crime itself. According to this movement, the state is more or less “accomplice of rapists” because it legalizes their crime. This story is unfortunately not an isolated case in Morocco. Rape victims live with their rapist to escape the stigma of society, and so, are forced to marry their perpetrators.

              This event was the starting point of a two years fight against a patriarchal society where women suffer for simply being what they are. In fact, a movement of young Moroccan activists started accusing the state of complicity with the perpetrators of rape committed against women. Several hundred people started gathering in Rabat to form a human chain to denounce all forms of violence against women. They were here to denounce physical, verbal and moral violence as well as harassment against women, among them several activists from a coalition of twenty-two women’s rights groups. This gathering began in front of Parliament and ended near the Ministry of Justice, it was one followed by many others. 

               On January 22, 2014, the Committee on Justice for Legislation and Human Rights in Parliament unanimously voted for an amendment to Article 475 on the deletion of subparagraph 2. Today, it is official. No rapist can now be exempted from punishment and will face two to five years in prison. The drama of Amina Filali has not only revolted into the Moroccan community but also international public opinion. Once mobilized, public opinion demanded reform of Article 475, a demand that the parliament finally concretized. Today, we can finally say that Amina Filali can rest in peace. Since 2012, we have had to wait and it was thanks to the struggle of NGOs and the mobilization of certain parliamentary groups that we were able to succeed, but especially thanks to the strong involvement of feminist groups. While the deputies voted to abolish this article, the citizen movement Avaaz, supported by several Moroccan associations for the defense of women’s rights, mobilized before Parliament. As a matter of fact, 1.1 million people around the world had signed the petition launched by Avaaz, urging to immediately reform Article 475 and adopt comprehensive legislation to combat violence against women.

               After Amina’s case, deputies have voted to ensure that no more rapists can escape justice by marrying their minor victims, which is a positive step. Nevertheless, it is far from being sufficient, as the government must adopt comprehensive legislation to combat violence against women in general. Women are still victims of violence and especially rape. In August 2017, nearly 300 people demonstrated in Casablanca to denounce a collective sexual assault of a young woman in the economic metropolis of Morocco, a case that deeply shocked public opinion. Posted right after the act on social media platforms, a video showed a group of teenagers violently shoving a young woman in tears on a bus in broad daylight, trying to undress her and touching her intimate parts. The six aggressors, all of them minors, were arrested. When the media interrogated men from their neighborhood, they ironically replied that the abusers “were still young, not knowing what they were doing”, and therefore “do not deserve to be punished for this act”. There is still huge progress to be made not only towards the legislation, yet also regarding the mentality that puts men on a higher pedestal.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

               Many laws in Morocco as well as around the world need to be reformed because they contain provisions that allow women to be discriminated against and fail to protect them from violence. The time is right for such reforms. The amendment to the rape law is not just a victory for Morocco but for women throughout the region. A legacy of the Arab Spring and globalization is that we are sharing experiences and learning how to make our voices heard at the highest level. This success will encourage women in other countries to fight for change. The ministry of women, family, and solidarity worked on a law that penalizes harassment against women. It is a prompt initiative that needs more involvement. Indeed, the fact that a young woman provoked other women’s indignation, which enabled leading to progress and changes, is the first big step in Moroccan history for women. For the first time in Moroccan history women were able to raise their voices as independent and modern. As women are more interacting in social and political life, gender equality is starting to be promoted. However, women are still very absent from the political scene. This is the first victory, the battle now continues.

              Through the analysis of the various projects that took place in the country (development of civil society, ratification of international conventions, suppression of Article 475), Morocco has witnessed some changes. Still, all of these changes have no value without significantly changing the judicial system, and that of implementing gender equity, in practice and not just theory. Women’s struggle for equality became a natural part of a movement and of a context where there is a necessity to affirm the question of equality, at the center of constructing a more democratic and modern state. The case of Amina Filali has shown that women could be heard and make their rights become a reality. Even though it was a long fight, it is a path to a more equal society where women are able and encouraged to request what is their due. That is why it is crucial, if not primordial to integrate women in the peace process, especially when it comes to injustices related to them. Morocco abolished this patriarchal Article in 2014. Not long after, other countries followed the steps.

                Indeed, in November 2016, the Turkish government finally decided to withdraw the bill allowing to cancel the conviction of a person for the rape of a minor if the aggressor marries his victim. This arrangement is still practiced in several countries. But similar laws have existed and continue to exist elsewhere in the world, such as in Malaysia, or Indonesia, where it is not uncommon to propose or even force victims of rape to marry the perpetrator of the crime, to avoid the latter being prosecuted and to wash away the shame and dishonor that befalls the victim’s family. As women’s rights groups have pointed out, victims in these countries are held responsible for their fate and are despised by their parents who fear that they will never find a spouse. In a report published in 2015, the Equality Now Association listed the cases of five countries that had amended laws that exempted a rapist from offering marriage with their victim since 2000: Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru, and Uruguay. This year, Jordan and Tunisia abolished the law as well. Following this, Lebanon abolished it in August 2017 (UN Women, 2017).

               These improvements were made possible mainly thanks to the work of women all around the world as well as the UN Women, NGOs, associations, feminist groups, and so on so forth. However, the absence of women in reaching gender equality makes it difficult for other women to report incidents of sexual violence or exploitation perpetrated against them (Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. 2011). We live in a society where the cultural value system is organized around male privilege, which does not serve us well and has to stop being a male-dominated and centered system (Sandole, D. and Staroste, I. 2015). The failure to reach gender equality relies on the lack of women involved in peacebuilding processes, especially in fragile states. Women suffer from three distinct types of violence all around the world, and it is more amplified in conflict areas or third world countries. Direct violence includes acts of physical force and aggression, cultural and structural violence are exercised by social systems and institutions whose actions impact upon the civil rights and liberties of marginalized groups whether they are based on gender, religious, ethnic or racial ties (Barrow, A. 2008). The case of rape in Morocco is a perfect example to illustrate all three forms of violence combined. Above all, females are more qualified in solving these issues as they have great knowledge of their own society and are more likely to socialize with local women (Barrow, A. 2008). Adding to this, no one will understand a woman better than another one. That is why men have to stop making legislation about our own bodies. The world we live in is patriarchal because even though countries have all signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which came into force in 1981, violence against women is reaching its peak lately.

                Many solutions are reachable in order to face this ever-lasting issue. These would rely on education, regulations’ reinforcement, and mainly gender mainstreaming as a way to reach peacebuilding. Peacebuilding includes gender-aware and women-empowering political, social, economic, and human rights (Barrow, A. 2008). Thus, it applies perfectly to the definition of feminism: “the political, economic and social equality of the sexes”. An issue at stake is that society is misinformed on what feminism really stands for, and many tend to believe that it is female supremacy. That is why educating individuals about what gender equality is, what feminism means, and how women empowerment could be beneficial to our society, would clearly be a path to success. Also, rather than tackling the reform of religion would it not be preferable to allow the emergence of a humanist reflection capable of building an intellectual and moral structure adapted to the evolution of modernity. The most sustainable solution would also be to implement gender mainstreaming in both private and public spheres. There is no peace without women because women are the way to peace.


 

Works Cited

  • Barrow, A. (2008) Paying Lip Services? The Application of Gender Mainstreaming Policies in a Peace and Security Context. University of Manchester, UK. pp. 1-37.

 

  • Crawford, K. and Macdonald, J. (2011) Establishing a Marketplace of Women in Peacekeeping: An analysis of gender mainstreaming and its viability in United Nations peacekeeping operations. American Political Science Association. Washington, USA. pp. 1-23.

 

  • Sandole, D. and Stroste, I. (2015) Making the Case for Systematic, Gender-Based Analysis in Sustainable Peace Building. Conflict Resolution Quarterly. George Mason University, pp. 119-147.

 

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