Sunday, March 13, 2011

Women’s Status as a Political Issue in Morocco

of contestation among different groups or .publics. (in Fraser.s terminology). In order to understand the contemporary debate on the status of women, it must be placed in the context of tensions that were already evident well before national independence. With the development of the independence movement, certain members of the urban bourgeoisie who had studied abroad (mainly in Egypt and Europe), and who had been influenced by the reformist current of the Middle East and the West, began to denounce the seclusion of women and their lack of education. This reformist élite attempted to show that Islam could accept certain Western values, such as democracy and the emancipation of women. The Koran was sometimes described as the pioneer in this subject and it was argued that, if read correctly, its tenets would rival the principles of Western modernity. This view was rejected by traditional and conservative circles as a threat to Islamic identity, symbolized by and centred on women and the family.
     The status of women has always been a .political. issue in the sense that it has been the subject of discussion and debate
Despite the ideological differences between the two views, they both came to rely on Islam and religious arguments to establish legitimacy. This can be explained in part as a reaction to colonization and the need to create and reinforce nationalist sentiment to stand up to the occupying power. In fact, support from the religious sphere was absolutely essential for this. It is important to emphasize that in both cases the question of the role of women was ideologically very controversial: the education of women symbolized an important political issue for the progressive aspirations of an élite, and simultaneously the aspirations to religious .authenticity. of the politically marginalized traditionalist circles. In view of the challenges presented by the progressive Western values of the Spanish and French occupation, the arguments for modernization were distinguished from the values and models of the colonizers by taking up the discourse and ideology of the reformist   such as the workplace, associations, trade unions, art, writing, media, etc. has allowed them to acquire new knowledge and experience, and offers a stepping stone for more active engagement in both formal and informal politics.
One of the most characteristic realities of Morocco today is the fact that women, who were still secluded four or five decades ago, have entered the public sphere. The strategy used to achieve this transition was that of performance on a professional and familial level. Women endowed with significant social resources, such as education and professional careers, performed several roles simultaneously.18 Whereas men often identify themselves with a single social role, Moroccan women have used multiple strategies to offset the precariousness of their status and positions. In other words, in order to prove themselves, women have fought on several fronts at once, attempting to firmly establish a number of rights which they perceive as uncertain, such as the right to work. The presence of women in the public sphere
Many women have thus seized the opportunity structure of the post-independence years to advance their interests. They have not contented themselves to operate solely within the framework of rights granted to them. Education has not only permitted them to .improve. their functions as wives and mothers; it has also become a means for entering other spheres and for overcoming male resistance, allowing women to challenge their inferior status in the family and in the public sphere. Indeed, from this group of educated career women have emerged the rare women leaders of formal political institutions of the state and political parties, as well as the founders and leaders of the women.s movement. In other words, it is a new élite that competes with the traditional male political élite.
This remarkable presence of women in the public sphere does not signify that this space has been taken over by women, or that interaction between the two genders is accepted and supported by men. Men and women co-exist in a sort of schizophrenic relationship. The implicit rules and the explicit restrictions governing the relationship fluctuate according to place and time. The degree of tolerance of women in the public sphere varies according to a set of social rules and constraints established by men. It is on the basis of these rules that political actors continue to legitimize the exclusion of women.movements of the Middle East, which celebrated women.s decisive social role as wives and mothers.13
 Access to education was recommended on the grounds that women were the educators of future generations. Female ignorance was denounced not as an attack on human dignity but as an obstacle to the education of male citizens, particularly those who would be called upon to play an important role after independence. At the same time, in view of their functions as mothers and teachers, women were held up as the protectors of traditional values and .authenticity., especially in the face of colonization. The education of women was thus encouraged, but this education was to be limited to branches of knowledge which might be useful to them in their roles as wives and mothers. Women.s minds were not to be corrupted by allowing them access to .modern. branches of knowledge, which conveyed the values of the occupying power and, moreover, were communicated in the language of the latter.
The predominant aim, therefore, was to ensure that such changes would not introduce disorder into the familial and natural order imposed by divine will and based on the primacy of man over woman. In view of the fear that access to education might become a vehicle for propelling women into the public sphere, they continued to be kept in seclusion, although the boundaries of the private sphere were slightly enlarged. These arguments have remained basically unchanged, although they have been reformulated to suit the end of the twentieth century.
The feeling of national pride that characterized the post-independence years and the impact of the nationalist movement on political life enabled women to achieve two previously unattainable goals: education and work. There is no doubt that the most dramatic changes over the last decade concerned social life; several social indicators demonstrate the extent of the break with the .traditional. system of values in Morocco, where a .quiet. revolution is transforming women.s lives and roles.14 As a result of education and employment, as well as increased urbanization,15 age at marriage has risen gradually (the average in rural areas is now over 24) while fertility has shown a dramatic drop (particularly in urban areas).16 Women are increasingly educated: four university students out of 10 are women, and nearly 50 per cent of physicians are women. Women.s employment has greatly increased since the beginning of the 1970s (although a decrease has been observed more recently). Large numbers of women work in industry and services, and women make up half of the population working in the agricultural sector.17
Another important social change of recent decades, with particular repercussions for women, has been the rise in prevalence of the nuclear family (along with the decline of the extended family). This transition has been closely linked to the emergence of .individual. identity, replacing a social system where one.s identity was tied to membership of a tribe or family clan. Such changes have especially favoured women, since they challenge the image of women as guardians of tradition, and family and tribal honour. Thus, in contemporary Morocco, women.s roles no longer entirely correspond to the traditional gender division of social roles.

Rabéa Naciri