By Mohamed Touzani
TRT Afrika, Rabat, Morocco
The Moroccan government has just launched a painstaking process to revise the Family Code, or Moudawana, in a society deeply divided between those campaigning to maintain the status quo and those calling for far-reaching reforms.
Last September, King Mohammed VI held out hope for those calling for greater gender equality by setting up a commission to consult with women's associations, ulemas (theologians), intellectuals and government departments to develop a reform agenda for the Family Code in line with the profound economic, social and political changes that have taken place in Morocco over the last 20 years.
The commission's brief is to submit its report to King Mohammed VI within six months.
In his capacity as Amir Al Mouminine (Leader of the Faithful), the sovereign will rule on the proposed reforms before submitting these to the government, and then to Parliament for adoption.
"Our ambition is to continue building an advanced and dignified Morocco. It is, therefore, essential that all Moroccans, men and women alike, play an active part in the development dynamic," the King told Parliament in 2022, justifying the need to introduce this law.
A few years after his enthronement in 1999, the King had initiated a courageous reform of the Family Code, which was then hailed by the international community as a pioneering experiment in the region.
According to the Haut-commissariat au Plan (HCP), the literacy rate for women in Morocco, who accounted for 50.3% of the population in 2020, rose to 53.9% in 2019 from 39.6% in 2004. School enrolment reached 90.5% of girls aged 15-17 in urban areas and 39.2% in rural areas in 2020.
At the national level, life expectancy at birth for women rose from 75.6 years in 2010 to 78.3 years in 2020. In urban and rural areas, it was 76.9 and 71.4 years respectively.
Other significant data include the maternal mortality rate dropping from 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 72.6 deaths in 2018 (111.1 in rural areas and 44.6 in urban areas).
But while the proposed code represented a big leap at the time, certain limitations of the exercise have prevented the process of women advancement, as provided for in the Moroccan Constitution passed in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The HCP points out that women's participation in the labour market in 2020 was still low, with an activity rate of 19.9% compared with 70.4% for men. The agricultural sector remained the leading employer of women (44.8%).
Clamour for change
A year after his address to Parliament, the King recently asked the head of government to speed up the pace of this project, which is of great importance for equality between men and women in terms of rights and obligations, while setting the parameters for this reform.
"In my capacity as Amir Al-Mouminine (...), I cannot authorise what God has prohibited, nor prohibit what the 'Most High' has authorised, particularly on points governed by formal Quranic texts," the sovereign said.
"In this respect, we are committed to ensuring that this reform drive is carried out in perfect harmony with the ultimate aims of Islamic law (Sharia) and the specific characteristics of Moroccan society."
The current Family Code sets the legal age of marriage at 18, albeit with derogations under Article 20 that many say "pave the way for abuses".
As for polygamy, legislation provides for dissuasive measures like the obligation to have the authorisation of the first wife for a man to marry again, or the husband needing to provide objective justification of the existence of resources to support two families.
The husband must also guarantee his ability to pay alimony and provide housing for both wives equally.
Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), led by former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, opposes the proposed ban on polygamy and the concept of equal inheritance.
A month after the launch of the process to revise the Family Code, opinions remain divided on several of the proposed reforms.
Thankfully, a consensus seems to be emerging on the need to put a stop to underage marriage.
While the number of marriage authorisations has fallen slightly over the last 10 years, the number of applications has risen astonishingly to over 27,000, according to the latest data.
Morocco's minister of justice, Abdellatif Ouahbi, has called for "an end to this problem once and for all".