Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Women’s Movement in Morocco

    If the women.s movement is understood to consist of organizations concerned specifically with women.s interests, such a movement existed in Morocco long before independence. Then, its purpose was to deal with issues such as literacy, social assistance for women and children, etc. But if by this term we understand a current of opinion in favour of women.s liberation, we must turn to the middle- and upper-class women who were activists in the women.s sections of the political parties before and especially after national independence.
Within the scope of this study, the women.s movement refers to those women.s associations belonging to the .second generation., which developed in the mid-1980s. Our purpose is not to make a detailed study of all women.s associations, but rather to focus on a particular segment that uses a strategy and discourse aimed at a re-evaluation of women.s identity and their status in society. It happens that this category is one of the most dynamic in Morocco, which may be attributed to the skill of its members, acquired within the political parties from which many of its leaders came, although other very active associations provide valuable assistance to women in several fields.
    In fact, the contemporary women.s movement owes much to the women
who, for lack of better options, worked in philanthropic associations after having contributed actively to the independence movement. It owes even more to the .first generation. women who continued to work towards integration into the parties of the left in the 1960s and 1970s. The second generation of the women.s movement (from the 1980s onwards) is of particular significance because of its qualitative break with the demands,
at the organizational level, by choosing to work solely through women.s or independent structures, as distinct from the political parties and the trade unions;
with regard to claims and demands, which can be qualified as feminist because they no longer perceived the subordination of women as a function only of class relations but also in terms of gender relations; and
with regard to new working methods and alliances which contributed to a transformation of the Moroccan political landscape, whereby there has been an extraordinary opening-up of the structures of civil society and a greater willingness of traditional political parties to work with other groups.
practices and discourse characterizing the associations and parties of the left during the preceding period. The break occurred at several levels:
   The founders of the first generation (post-independence) women.s associations had to face a number of challenges. At some level they accepted certain values of the old colonial system, such as equality and modernity, in a political and ideological context hostile to Western values . and especially those concerning women and the family. They also questioned the authority and legitimacy of a male élite which, on the pretext of having fought for national liberation of the country, tended to speak on behalf of women and to impose on them a narrow plan for liberation.
   Another characteristic of the first generation of women.s associations was
that they gradually came to realize that gender equality and gender relations transcend class struggles. The left found in Marxist ideology a rationale that allowed them to put off claims for women.s equality by making them conditional on and subordinate to class liberation. In their desire for acceptance, women of the left long supported this .orthodoxy.. They also had to overcome the guilt associated with their departure from traditional norms of female behaviour.      To be educated, professionally active and financially independent are privileges that generate some ambivalence for women in Arab societies: not only is their loyalty to their family and children questioned, but their privileged status in a society where the overwhelming majority of women are illiterate and poor becomes a source of culpability. For many years a hierarchy of priorities and loyalties was maintained: inequalities linked to class were perceived as more unacceptable than those related to gender inequalities. For this reason, women of the left were told that .emphasizing one.s woes as a woman is indecent.. As articulated by one Egyptian feminist, .feminists had to choose between betrayal and betrayal. (cited in Kandiyoti, 1991).
    Having  been members for years of women.s sections created by the centre-left parties, the first generation of the women.s movement became increasingly aware of the scale of their marginalization within the .men.s clubs.. The experience prompted a large number of these women to become  
members of separate associations within which they could easily speak and be heard, and where their interests were taken into account. Despite their efforts to .disengage. themselves to some extent from the main political parties, the strategies adopted by the women.s movement in Morocco in the 1980s have been fundamentally influenced by the relationship of the and their desire to affirm their own political identity and their independence from these same groups.
movement with the centre-left political groups. Women.s associations remain divided between their desire not to cut the umbilical cord from their leftist roots, which, in their view, originate in the political parties
Many women.s associations are not yet free of the orthodox political culture that permeated politics in Morocco from the time of independence until the mid-1980s, and which characterized gender claims as a deviation by marginalized women.s groups from central political concerns. Women have been forced to rethink their place in these parties, which they had joined as a reaction to social injustice. Although they challenged the dogma that .women.s liberation is linked to class liberation., this did not lead to a re-examination of the views and policies of the parties to which they belonged. In most cases, political parties assumed that the new women.s associations would serve to convey their ideologies and motivate potential sympathizers
     Thus the women.s movement is divided between its desire not to displease the Koutla coalition or to isolate itself from it, and asserting the movement.s claims, which are disregarded by coalition members and in no way represent a priority concern on their political agenda. The fundamental challenge is therefore to be freed from the tutelage of the traditional political parties without becoming isolated. This assumes the ability of the women.s movement to extend its base to poor women, to present credible political alternatives, and to make as many varied alliances as possible.
    Overall, then, contemporary (or second generation) women.s associations can be differentiated into two broad types. The first group comprises those which see themselves as feminists, originating in most cases from the political parties, but with a more or less real margin of independence in relation to the latter. These include the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (Democratic Association of Moroccan Women), the Union pour l.Action Féminine (Union for Women.s Action), the Collectif 95 Maghreb Egalité (Association 95 Maghreb for Equality)12, and the Association Marocaine pour les Droits des Femmes (Moroccan Association for Women.s Rights). The second group is made up mainly of the women.s sections of political parties; these groups are perceived as instruments to reinforce the position of the relevant parties, especially with respect to educated women. This is the case for the Organisation de la Femme Istiqlalienne (Organization of Istiqlal Women) and the Association des Femmes Démocrates (Association of Democratic Women).
    In the first type of .feminist. associations, which have disassociated all issues on which public discussion is discouraged by the political class as a whole. The associations, which aim primarily at furthering women.s rights, find that their struggle is given little political support by the parties
themselves to some extent from the original political groups, priority is given to the most radical claims and actions relating to gender discrimination, such as inequality with regard to civil rights, violence against women, sexual harassment
   The second type of association, which has retained or claims organic links with the parties, gives priority to questions of women.s .immediate. or .practical. interests and to demands for the implementation of rights already established by legislation, and other policy initiatives, relating to issues such as female illiteracy, poverty, women and the family, or the political participation of women.
  The different types of associations also tend to adopt different discursive strategies. Whereas the .independent. associations place emphasis on gender equality as an inseparable condition of human rights and democracy, the second category gives greater attention to practical arguments and highlights the contribution that women can make to the national development process. Both types of associations offered educated women from the middle and upper social strata a greater opportunity to express themselves freely and provide a means for greater political visibility of their women members than the mainstream political parties (Marand-Fouquet, 1995). These new groups are competing with the institutionalized political parties, which are finding it more difficult than in the past to recruit women .
Rabéa Naciri