Happy International Women’s Day! I’d actually never heard of it before I joined Peace Corps, but after being encouraged to use it as an opportunity to discuss women’s rights with people in my community, I recognize it as a valuable time to applaud the accomplishments and evaluate the rights of women worldwide (not that we need a Day to do that!). Ever since we heard we’d be going to Morocco, we’ve heard a lot of concerns from family and friends about the treatment of women here, and I’d like to take the opportunity this International Women’s Day to talk a little bit about what I’ve learned while living here.
In the past ten years, Morocco’s laws regarding women have gone through a lot of changes. This article from a couple years ago describes 2004’s sweeping updates to the family code (Moudawana), including raising the age of marriage from 15 to 18 and giving women the right to divorce and to have custody of their children. This article also talks about the recent overturning of Morocco’s extremely controversial “rape law” that gave a rapist the option of avoiding jail by marrying his victim. As the articles state, there are still legal barriers for women that are yet to be crossed, such as the inheritance laws which favor any male relatives over closer female relatives, but it is still exciting to see these changes happening.
However, the fact that these changes are just now happening says a lot about the general cultural opinion of women’s rights. There are plenty of people fighting daily for women’s rights but at the same time there are many others pushing back against change, either because they don’t believe in it or because they don’t see the benefit. This really great article is an illustration of that struggle. It’s about a man working to educate parents in rural villages about the importance of keeping their daughters in school so that they can determine their own futures. Underage marriage is just one of many illegal practices carried on through the strength of its cultural roots – I won’t attempt to go into any others at this point.
In my daily life in Azilal, I see a lot of women following the traditional values, but also many who do not, and I think it’s an interesting illustration of the transition period that Morocco is currently in (more physical issues such as domestic violence and harassment I don’t hear a lot about, so I don’t feel comfortable discussing them, although I’m sure they happen here). Some women do get married young here – the first wedding I went to was for an 18-year-old – but on the other hand, I know a bunch of unmarried women my age and older in Azilal. The majority of women that I see here do follow the traditional role of wife, mother and homemaker – they dress conservatively, often in traditional dress, they wear headscarves, and their job is to take care of the house and family. However I also often see women, whether they are married or not, walking home from day jobs in modern dress or even business dress. Some wear headscarves, some don’t. Many girls go to university after finishing high school, instead of taking the traditional route of marriage, and many of the girls that I talk to who are still in high school plan on being doctors, engineers, teachers, etc. as well as having a family.
While women’s rights in Morocco are not at the same level as women’s rights in the U.S., things are changing. Many women have opportunities even in smaller cities like Azilal. It seems to me that there’s a tendency in the U.S. to see all countries in this region as terrible places where women cannot do anything (admittedly, I also used to fall into that trap). I can’t speak for any other country, but I’m hoping with this post to help bring Morocco out from under that umbrella and shed a little light on what it’s actually like here. I can’t deny that there are still problems with the way women are treated in Morocco, but I’m glad to know many Moroccans who are working hard to end these problems.