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Moroccan women protest to overhaul 'archaic' family code

Moroccan women protest to overhaul 'archaic' family and penal codes
3 min read
13 March, 2023
Nineteen years after its last reform, Moroccan women say now is the time to overthrow what was once called ' the most progressive family code in the MENA region.'
"We are here to call for overhauling the Moudawana (family code) that deepens inequalities in our society," a Moroccan activist said. [Getty]

Hundreds of Moroccan women took to the streets Sunday, calling for changing 'outdated' family and penal codes that strip women from equality in inheritance and criminalise abortion.

Under the banner 'For them, and for those who will come after us,' eight Moroccan feminist associations led a rally in Casablanca to pressure the government to work faster towards securing gender equality.

"We are here to call for overhauling the Moudawana (family code) that deepens inequalities in our society," Sarah Benmoussa, a Moroccan activist and founder of the 7achak feminist organisation, told The New Arab.

In 2003, Moroccan king Mohammed VI ordered an update to the Moudawana, the Moroccan family code that governs areas of family law such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. 

Issued a year later, the 2004 code guaranteed more rights to Moroccan women, driving conservatives and Islamists to the streets in protest.

However, nineteen years after its last reform, Moroccan women say it's time to overhaul what was once called 'the most progressive family code in the MENA region.'

Moroccan family code gives "legal guardianship" only to the father, even if the mother was in charge of the kids' custody.

The code also legalises the rule of Taasib in inheritance. Taasib, a text inspired by Islamic fiqh, decrees that "female orphans who do not have a brother must share the inheritance with the male relative closest to the deceased … even if they are unknown and [has] never been part of the family."

Moroccan women's rights activists also advocate for full gender equality in inheritance and a ban on child marriage and monogamy.

The debate on inheritance first emerged in Morocco after the signing of the 2011 constitution.

Rocked by the 2011 protests wave, the palace had urged reform of the Moroccan constitution, declaring, for the first time, that women are equal to men in article 19 of the 2011 constitution.

The constitutional text inspired hope among women's rights defenders for soon-to-be-issued equal inheritance rights in the North Kingdom.

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However, Islamists who controlled the majority in parliament for ten years (2011-2021) fought against lawmakers who dared to advocate reforming the sharia-inspired law.

Outspoken homophobe and a defender of child marriage, Abdellilah Benkirane, Morocco's prime minister at the time, watered down all the initiatives aimed to open a debate about inheritance.

Eyes now have turned towards Morocco's new justice minister Abdellatif Ouahbi, a self-proclaimed progressive politician, who is set to present a new draft of the penal code to the parliament in the upcoming days.

In the last years, Moroccan women's rights organisations, namely Moroccan outlaws, have been strongly pushing for the decriminalisation of consensual relationships outside wedlock and the legalisation of safe abortion.

The current Moroccan penal code punishes with "imprisonment of one month to one year all persons of different sexes who have a sexual relationship without being united by the bonds of marriage."

Meanwhile, women who intentionally cause or have attempted to cause an abortion could be sentenced from six months to two years in jail.