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The following is a complete transcript from the HOPES ON THE HORIZON Morocco story:

Women, oh women. Women, oh African women. Women of Morocco.

NARR: While the people of Rwanda struggled to surmount their history, women in Morocco were fighting to revise the Moudawana, the centuries old family code that defined their social and economic status.

LEILA RHIWI – Feminist Activist
During the past 20 years of women’s struggle to reform the Code, they would always throw it in our faces that it is a sacred text and it cannot be changed.

NARR: In their fight for equality with men in marriage and society, Moroccan women challenged some of the most deeply held traditional and religious beliefs in their culture.

No good country, no good society, no world is good without women. Get up! Stand up, women!

NARR: Morocco’s constitution and secular laws granted women full equality. In practice, Islamic based family law – the centuries-old Moudawana – prevailed.

The elements of the Moudawana that are particularly oppressive to women are based on the first principle from which all the injustice comes. The woman is under the guardianship of her father and later on her husband. This prevents women from having legal independence or autonomy.

NARR: A woman, no matter how old, was under the guardianship of her father until her marriage, and then she fell under her husband’s authority. She had no say if he chose to take up to three other wives, or to unilaterally divorce any of them.

The Moudawana left women with little control over their own lives, or their children’s.

A girl who is pregnant and gives birth in a public institution is sentenced to six months in jail because she has had a child outside of marriage. And the baby is put in an orphanage.

NMR5: In October 1990, a coalition of professional middle class women, the Union for Feminine Action, or UAF, launched a campaign to gather a million signatures on a petition to reform the Moudawana.

Their goal was to raise awareness, especially among rural women, that widespread poverty, illiteracy, and even domestic violence stemmed from the Moudawana, made women second-class citizens.

LATIFA JBABDI – President, Union for Feminine Action
When an illiterate woman, a housewife, who had no awareness of the content of the Moudawana, came to our meetings with her neighbors in a shanty house, and when we explained the situation to her and she became convinced that it was her cause, then she was encouraged and she became an activist like us, because she started knocking on doors and getting more involved than we were.

NARR: But revising the Moudawana seemed all but impossible. It is partly derived from Sharia – ancient Islamic laws drawn from the Qu’ran, or Muslim Holy Book. The Qu’ran is believed by Muslims to be the literal word of God, and therefore unchangeable. This meant that only those elements of the Moudawana that were based on tradition and custom, and not on the Qu’ran, could be changed.

Further complicating matters was Morocco’s colonial history. After seven centuries under Islamic law, Morocco came under French rule and French secular law. Only the Moudawana, or family code, remained under the authority of the King, Morocco’s highest spiritual leader.

With independence in 1956, some wanted the Moudawana, like other laws, to be brought under secular law.

The penal code is secularized. We don’t cut off the hands of someone who steals. The only legislation that belongs to this religious sphere is the Code of Personal Status that governs the relations within the family.

NARR: Instead, Morocco’s king chose to maintain the separation between secular law and the Moudawana. In part this was in reaction to pressure from Islamist forces, lobbying for a complete restoration of Islamic law.

Our struggle for the future is to re-establish the principles of Islam in trade, in justice and in other areas, so that all society is governed by the same attitudes.

HAMED KHAMLICHI – Professor of Law
Topics relating to the personal status are particularly sensitive. We should remember what happened in Egypt when Anwar Sadat decided to amend the Moudawana in between two sessions of the Parliament in order to avoid conflict within Parliament.

NARR: The Egyptian leader, already under fire from Islamists for signing a peace treaty with Israel, paid with his life, for his proposed changes to the family law.

After Sadat died, these changes were abandoned. So the Moudawana or personal status issue is extremely sensitive in the Muslim world. It should be treated with great wisdom.

NARR: By the 1980s, Morocco was facing a financial crisis, and King Hassan II agreed to a program of structural adjustment. A series of economic and human-rights reforms followed. With Parliament discussing a new constitution, women renewed their fight for equality on two fronts: in government and in their petition to revise the Moudawana.

NOUFISSA SBAI – Women’s Development Advocate
There were many meetings and workshops on the rights of women in Islam. There was research on women’s rights in the verses of the Qu’ran. And there was a real concern to learn if it was possible to change the Moudawana as it is applied.

NARR: As the signature campaign grew, so did opposition from fundamentalists.

When Islamic law gives a woman half of what a man gets, those are her rights from “A to Z.”

Islamic law is based on the analysis and interpretation of text, not on literal readings.

The Qu’an says , “Allah directs you as regards your children’s inheritance, to the male a portion equal to that of 2 females.”

NARR: In 1992, Islamic fundamentalist leaders issued a Fatwah, or religious ruling against those involved in the drive to reform the Moudawana.

They went repeatedly to the most distant cities in Morocco, to many mosques, to incite violence against and the killing of all those who signed the campaign petition.

There was an eminent Islamic scholar who said, “In our religion, if somebody dares to counter the divine laws that we must interpret according to Sharia, they must be punished.” That is what they considered a Fatwah. They made big media coverage of this. But there was never a Fatwah.

NARR: As the dispute between the women and the Islamists escalated, an unexpected development took place. The Commander of the Faithful, King Hassan II, intervened in a national broadcast on August 20, 1992.

KING HASSAN II – (Archival)
The Moudawana is my responsibility. I am the only one with the authority to amend the Moudawana. Be very, very careful. Do not mix religion and politics.

NARR: The King also acknowledged that the women had grievances and asked them to meet with him.

When in 1992, the King made his statement and recognized the injustices against women in this country, it was a moment for all women, for me and for everyone who was fighting for women?s causes. It was a great victory.

KING HASSAN II – (Archival)
Today, we will start to amend articles of the Moudawana, to move from our current situation to a better one.

NARR: After meeting with the women, King Hassan brought some of their proposed reforms before the all-male council of Ulemas – the panel of jurists and scholars who rule on matters of Islamic law.

HAMED KHAMLICHI – Member, Council of Ulemas
There were dissenting opinions, but it was the majority point of view of the Commission members that was adopted.

NARR: Nearly a year later the King unveiled the reforms approved by the council of Ulemas. A man now needed his wife’s permission to take other wives, and a religious judge’s approval was required for divorce. A mother over 18 would receive custody of her children, if their father died.

As limited as the reforms were, they opened the door to change for the first time in centuries.

We made the Moudawana not so sacred. This Moudawana that was considered like the Qu’ran became more like secular law, more open to debate. We must open the door for creativity and scholarly research, research that is not foreign to Moroccan culture. So we started from our tradition, including values that are positive and egalitarian.

In the past, any man who wanted to marry another woman in addition to his wife, it was easy. Today, he is obliged to take the advice of his first wife and of the judge. Sometimes, that simply pushes the man to divorce his first wife. For us, divorce is a catastrophe. Everyone knows that. Satan is never so happy as when there is a divorce in the family. This is stipulated in our religion. So maybe we have been too carried away with pleasing the Westernized elite which is tied to the West and tied to money.

NARR: Despite opposition, the women continued to campaign for further reform of the Moudawana and improvement of their political status. In 1999 their pressure forced the government to adopt an unprecedented national Plan of Action to integrate women into the economy. High on the agenda was protecting women from violence and raising the low levels of female literacy.

What I really hope is that we encourage the schooling of girls, because schooling of girls would make women aware of their rights later. And when she is aware, eventually she will demand her rights and get them.

Women are essential to modernization and democracy. We cannot imagine any true development without women. It is the women’s movement that has opened space for civil society and for democratic society.

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