Prior to 1912, Morocco was considered “the model moderate Muslim country” and was extremely prosperous. Twentieth century Morocco, however, experienced a great deal of change due to political unrest resulting from the French and Spanish protectorates, along with a move by the Alaouite dynasty to achieve Moroccan independence. The French protectorate began in 1912 during a period of weakness within the dynasty and lasted until 1956 when Morocco gained its independence.
The French protectorate was established for France to further their economic interests in North Africa. King Mohammed V (1927-1961) actively opposed the French protectorate seeing that the French played a strategic game to ensure that Morocco remained “traditional” and untouched by modernity–they used the Amazigh language to divide and rule and further made French the language of trade (Leila Abouzeid). Remaining traditional was particularly problematic for Moroccan women, as the colonial administration severely limited education for women, relegating them to the realm of domestic labor and limiting them from learning the language of trade/French; this would have long-lasting consequences.
King Mohammed V was exiled by the French for actively opposing the French protectorate and King Hassan II (1961-1999) took control once Morocco had achieved independence. King Hassan II was known for his authoritarian rule and thus after independence Morocco went through what many call the “years of lead” (Dr. Saloua Zerhouni). During this time King Hassan launched a program for incremental democracy, appointing a Royal Commission. Problematically for women who were involved in anti-colonialist movements in the early 1950s, commission members were conservative religious scholars who wanted to further restrict women’s roles.
In 1957 the Moudawanah or Family Code was established as a private law created by the Royal Commission. This code was meant to define family relations with laws relating to marriage, inheritance, divorce, and child custody. In early drafts of the Moudawanah women were treated as second-class citizens, not being allowed to sign marriage contracts without a male family member present and not being allowed to divorce a husband (Dr. Souad Eddouada).
By the 1980s the U.N. was pushing for women’s rights across the globe and Morocco was forced under the media spotlight for limiting Moroccan women’s rights. At the time, feminists in Morocco, who had previously been fighting against colonial rule and were now fighting against patriarchal institutions, were declared “puppets of the West” for adhering to what was labeled a secularist and French model of feminism. By the 1990s enough women had joined forces in Morocco to form the Feminine Union of Action and start the “1 Million Campaign to Change Family Law.”
King Hassan II had no choice but to address the masses of women, and he did so as the “father of his daughters,” indicating that he saw women’s rights as an issue for all of Morocco to address. It was not until King Mohammed VI moved into his position as King in 1999 that real change for women began to occur. King Mohammed VI came to power in Morocco at a time of transition in which the Amazigh began reclaiming their cultural independence, Islamist extremists were making themselves known across North Africa (e.g., the Casablanca bombings in 2003), the Polisario continued its struggle for sovereignty in Western Sahara, and women rights organizations increased their forces to demand gender equality.
In response to women’s rights activists, specifically, King Mohammed VI pushed to reform the Moudawanah at the end of 2003. The new family code, codified in January 2004, allows women to divorce and increases the marriage age from 15 to 18 across the nation. Also, the Article 19 of the 2011 Constitution established equality between women and men, but only if it complies with the “permanent characteristics of the kingdom.” Unfortunately, this means little has been accomplished in relation to inheritance laws, sex outside of marriage (which is still illegal), violence against women and girls. In addition, because unemployment rates are so high and women (esp. rural) are at a particular disadvantage for gaining employment, some are forced to work in the sex industry to support their families or work as “mule ladies.” Further, women who have children out of wedlock are left with few resources to address child support and even citizenship documentation.
Sexuality in Silence
Many of the concerns that both women and men face in Morocco are related to the Moudawanah, some of which are outlined above. More so, however, is the shame (el hshouma) surrounding sex and sexuality. Because Morocco considered itself a moderate Islamist culture, there is an ambiguity surrounding appropriate behaviors, yet many of these behaviors are punishable by law. For instance, sex outside of marriage is illegal, although the behaviors occur due to the need for financial stability and lack of sex education. Because discussions of sex are shameful, youth receive very little in the way of sex education but are expected to marry early in order to move out of the home.
Those who do not abide by the laws are deemed “sick” and must be punished, at times by the hands of their own family and community members. Homosexuality in Morocco is against the law and thus LGBTQ individuals are further chastised for revealing their identities. Article 489 on “sexual deviance” of the 2011 Constitution allows for the punishment of homosexuality with jail sentences (6 months – 3 years) and fines (200 – 1000 dirhams). Article 483 on “public obscenity” of the 2011 Constitution allows for the punishment of any behavior deemed obscene. Take for example the two women arrested for wearing clothes that were too tight.
One of the biggest challenges that Morocco faces today is finding common ground between Islamic traditionalists and progressives. The laws outlined above were created in early Moroccan history with the understanding that the Qur’an promotes a patriarchal system with heterosexuality as its baseline. Several scholars (e.g., Amina Wadud, Scott Kugle, Irshad Manji) have preferred reformist interpretations of the Qur’an that take into consideration contemporary interpretations of passages and thus new modes of understanding both gender and sexuality. Newer resources have also been created to help Moroccan individuals “come out” as feminist and/or LGBTQ. Although these individuals still risk rejection, violence, and even death, the benefits of visibility are enough to inspire their stories.
Cross-cultural Stories Activity
This activity will allow each student the opportunity to analyze how religion, culture, and tradition influence their notions of love and sex. Using the Moroccan story as an example of cultural, religious, and traditional influence, students will imagine the cultural, religious, and traditional influences of love and sex in the U.S. Students will likely have different analyses as some may have more familial or religious influence than others. For this activity each student should:
- Type a 3-4 page (double-spaced, 1″ margins) analysis of the cultural, religious, and traditional influences of their own notions of love and sex
- Explain their own thoughts, beliefs, values surrounding love and sex
- Analyze the influence of culture, religion, family, etc. on their own notions of love and sex
- Compare and contrast (one similarity and one difference) love and sex in the U.S. and love and sex in Morocco
- Describe how stories of love and sex (i.e., “coming out” or coming to) can be utilized to empower people and communities
- Imagine a scenario in which love and sex look different from how you currently perceive them. Write a short-story (2-3 pages, double-spaced, 1″ margins) describing this “alternate reality.” Alternatively, write a sci-fi/fantasy story about love and/or sex. Analyze the merit of imagining love and sex as non-normative according to contemporary understandings of each.