While Morocco may not have experienced a change in regime, as did Tunisia and Egypt, the country nonetheless experienced waves of popular protests. Moreover, like in Tunisia and Egypt, women constituted a major presence in the uprisings that began on February 20, 2011.
To examine women’s role in the Moroccan Spring, I conducted interviews with Nidal Salam Hamdache, an activist in the February 20 Movement, a revolutionary movement that emerged out of the Arab Spring, and Anissa Bouanane, a board member for the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) in Casablanca.
Nidal Salam Hamdache (1985 - )
Nidal Salam Hamdache is a founding member of the February 20 Movement that emerged out of the Arab Revolutions. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, a group of young people, including Hamdache, began a discussion forum on Facebook addressing the political and socio-economic conditions of contemporary Morocco. Participants in the discussions expressed their dissatisfaction with the corruption of State elites, the patronage of officials, the violations of human rights and individual liberties they witnessed regularly, and the unequal access to education, healthcare, and employment in Morocco. The February 20 Movement began with the circulation of a video through social media networking sites calling on citizens to protest in the cities of the Kingdom on February 20, 2011.
Women and the February 20 Movement. Because of her position as coordinator for the Moroccan Association of Human Rights Youth Commission (AMDH), Hamdache played an important role in the mobilization of young people. Over 50% of the demonstrators were women.
For this reason, during the protests, demonstrators addressed women and men equally: “You, the daughters of the people,” they chanted, “you, the sons of the people...” The victims of violence and intimidation, women paid heavily for their right to protest. Hamdache experienced her first confrontation with officers of the Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST) on May 10, 2011. Hamdache was responsible for tracing the itinerary of the next protest march to enable the demonstrators to circle Temara’s secret detention centre. Hamdache failed to complete her task after being arrested for three hours. Similarly, on June 30, 2011 an assault on Hamdache prevented her from participating in that day’s demonstration. Hamdache’s attackers followed her to the hospital and assaulted her for a second time in the Emergency Room.
Absence of feminist claims and demands for women
Women participated in the February 20 Movement in leadership roles and therefore contributed to developing the Movement’s specific demands. Along with their male counterparts, women demanded for the dissolution of the government, the separation of judicial, executive, and legislative powers, constitutional changes aimed at securing the rights and liberties of citizens, the release of political prisoners, the closure of secret detention centers, the prosecution of individuals responsible for acts of torture and the prosecution of government elites who acquired wealth through corruption and by squandering the economic and financial resources of the country. In other words, women made no feminist claims or demands specific to women.
According to Hamdache, women believe that the advent of democracy will secure the maintenance of women’s human rights.
Constitutional reforms and their impact on women. As a result of the Movement, King Mohammed VI announced several constitutional reforms on June 17, 2011. Hamdache argues that the reforms fail to represent real gains in rights for women and for citizens in general.
First, the members of the Commission for the Revision of the Constitution were selected by the King rather than democratically elected by the people. Second, the new Islamist government of Abdelillah Ben Kirane has failed to produce any gains in economic and social rights. Third, women in government have experienced major setbacks: only one woman, Bassima Hakkaoui, Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, holds a governmental position at this time. When asked about the decline of women in government, Ben Kirane blamed women’s perceived incompetence. Such backwards discourse, coupled with an increasingly present religious discourse, leads Hamdache to regrettably foresee major setbacks in women’s rights in the near future.
Nonetheless, the February 20 Movement resulted in important changes in the Moroccan political landscape. The Movement united Moroccans of all ages and from all towns and villages for a common purpose. The Movement also spread a culture of protest in the streets. Moroccans realized that democracy could be successfully exercised in the streets rather than in Parliament or through elections. In the end, so-called democratic institutions proved to be nothing more than empty shells. True democracy is still to come as the people realize that rights are not given, but must be forcibly taken.
Anissa Bouanane is a board member for the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) in Casablanca. The ADFM is a feminist organization created in 1985 to promote the rights and strategic interests of women. The ADFM’s members believe that women, regardless of all other forms of identification, share a common condition as a result of the social differentiation of the genders (ADFM, 1985).
Women’s demands during the constitutional revisions. After the King announced his intention to reform the Constitution on March 9, 2011, the “Feminist Spring for Democracy and Equality Coalition,” a coalition composed of thousands of organizations, including the ADFM, seeking improvements in human rights and women’s rights, presented a list of demands to the Advisory Commission for the Revision of the Constitution. They demanded that the Constitution acknowledge the responsibility of the State in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, and asked for gender parity—a 50% quota for women—in all areas including the decision-making process.
The Coalition demanded further that the Constitution recognize the indivisibility of rights so women may fully enjoy their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Finally, the Coalition asked that the Constitution enshrine the primacy of international law over national law.
The impact of the constitutional reforms on women. The constitutional reforms of June 2011 resulted in significant gains for women.
First, the Constitution recognizes the citizenship of women. Second, article 19 of the Constitution stipulates that “men and women enjoy equally their civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and liberties.” In other words, women and men hold the same rights. The provision announces further the creation of “la Haute Instance sur la Parité et l’Égalité”, or the “Authority for parity and for the struggle against all forms of discrimination”, whose missions are to make observations and recommendations, and to assure the implementation of these recommendations. The Authority has yet to become functional.
Despite certain legal gains, setbacks in social and political practices have become apparent. For instance, during the 2011 legislative elections, only 69 of 389 elected parliamentarians were women. While only 30 women were elected in the previous election, the ADFM had hoped that at least one third of the seats would be awarded to women this time around. For several years now, the ADFM has worked as part of the “Mouvement pour le 1/3 des sieges élus ...vers la parité,” a movement consisting of a thousand organizations seeking to award 1/3 of the decision-making power to women, with the objective of achieving parity in the future. Disappointed with the results of the election, the ADFM, along with other women’s groups, organized a sit-in in front of Parliament during its opening session.
At the governmental level, a net decline has ensued: the past government boasted seven women while the present government has only one. Further, this latter represents the Islamist Party of Justice and Development and therefore fails to represent the rights and strategic interests of women. When Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, the Minister remained silent while civil society, including the ADFM, demanded the repeal of article 475 of the penal code stipulating that a rapist may choose to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim.
Finally, in the present-day, there has yet to be any socio-economic improvements for women in particular, and for citizens in general. However, the government has already proceeded with the closure of shisha bars and cafés. Organizational movements, including the ADFM, continue to follow vigilantly the unfolding of events.
January 30, 2013