On International Women's Day, the battle for equality continues for Maghreb's women

On International Women's Day, the battle for equality continues for Maghreb's women
Despite the limited progress achieved in the Maghreb, gender equality remains elusive under male-dominated official bodies and entrenched sexist norms.
4 min read
08 March, 2024
No country in the world has achieved gender equality. [Getty]

From Morocco to Libya, women continue to battle for equality and freedom, pushing against laws established decades ago under colonialist systems or emboldened by secular interpretations of Islam and outdated traditions and beliefs.

On Women's International Day, here are the main struggles and demands of women in the Maghreb region:

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Morocco: Child Marriage

In the North African kingdom, the primary focus of women's rights activists is on criminalising child marriage.

In 2004, Morocco reformed the family code, which governs areas of family law such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody. Considered progressive at the time, the reform raised the minimum age for marriage from 15 to 18. However, it included a provision allowing marriage for females under 18 with permission from a judge, which has led to tens of thousands of cases of child marriage annually. (In 2021, Morocco recorded 19,000 cases of underage marriage).

The issue gained increased attention following the September earthquake. The disaster, which struck Western Morocco with a magnitude of 6.8, claimed over 2,900 lives and left hundreds of orphaned minor girls vulnerable to a child marriage campaign launched by conservative men.


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Following the quake, several NGOs, including the Moroccan women's rights NGO Kif Mama Kif Baba and Politics4her, reiterated calls "to penalise anyone involved in child marriage."

A month later, the Moroccan king ordered a new family code reform that may put an end to child marriage, inequality in inheritance, and other gender-based injustices.

The main reform opponent is Abdellilah Benkirane, Morocco's former Prime Minister and head of the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), who has threatened to organise a million-person march to sabotage the reform.

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Algeria: Femicide

In 2023, Algeria recorded at least 37 cases of femicide, according to the Féminicides Algérie Association.

Algerian women's rights activists argue that these numbers represent only a fraction of the profoundly patriarchal social and legal system.

In 2015, the Algerian legislature enacted a law criminalising domestic violence. This law made assaulting a spouse punishable by up to 20 years in prison for injuries and a life sentence for injuries resulting in death (Article 266 bis). However, for various reasons, this law has thus far failed to protect women fully.

The 2015 law applies only to spouses and ex-spouses living in the same or separate residences but does not extend to relatives, unmarried couples, or other household members.

Furthermore, many victims of domestic violence hesitate to speak out due to the stigma surrounding divorce and the lack of financial support for victims.

Women's rights NGOs, such as Réseau Wassila, continue to advocate for increased funds for gender-based violence and stricter laws despite bureaucratic and financial challenges.

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Tunisia: Political Representation and Inheritance

Tunisia, often seen as a beacon of women's rights in the region since it abolished polygamy in 1956 and legalised abortion in 1973, is still far from being a feminist haven.

Tunisian women continue to fight for equal inheritance rights despite constitutional guarantees of 'equality between women and men' not addressing the issue of inheritance.

Under the former Islamist government and now the rule of the conservative Saied, Tunisian women continue to struggle for equality. However, the lack of political representation complicates their battle.

In 2022, President Kais Saied replaced the country's elections law, which guaranteed the representation of women in electoral lists, with an individual voting system. The new law lacks mechanisms to ensure gender parity.

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Libya: The Right to Travel

Two years ago, Tripoli annulled the framework agreement signed between the Dbeibah government and the United Nations to combat discrimination against women. The Libyan judiciary deemed this agreement "contrary to the provisions of Islamic law."

Since then, the situation of women's rights has deteriorated in the country, with the government imposing a ban on women travelling without a 'male guardian' (Mehram).

The ongoing political conflict has relegated the issue of Libyan women's rights to the background, garnering less attention as the North African nation sinks further into a never-ending political vendetta between several armed groups.

Despite the limited progress achieved in the Maghreb states in recent years, thanks to the efforts of women's rights activists, gender equality remains elusive under male-dominated official bodies and entrenched sexist social norms.

No country in the world has achieved gender equality, as women account for less than 7 per cent of the world's leaders and only 24 per cent of lawmakers. The obsession over women's bodies, rights, and freedoms extends beyond the Muslim world—it is a global issue.

Moroccan gender expert Karima Nadir sums it up: "The social contract between state and citizen did not extend to women. Women have been excluded and depicted as 'others' who are not equal to men in any sense. We need a new political and social system instead of trying to fix one that men have built to serve men."