14 January 1997


14 January 1997

Press Release


19970114 Moroccan Representative Stresses Historical Process Of Promoting Advancement of Women Compatible with Islamic Law

The revision of restrictive laws in such areas as family life and employment was part of an ongoing historical process in Morocco which, while promoting the advancement and development of women, also must be compatible with Islamic law, that country's representative stated as he introduced Morocco's initial report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to the monitoring body of that treaty this morning.

While noting that the process of constitutional and legal revision had promoted public service opportunities for women, the representative told the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women that women were still prohibited from employment in several areas, including mail delivery. In family life, women had gained such rights as holding a passport without a husband's consent, but women were still subject to a number of other laws which maintained the husband's position as head of the family.

In general comments following the report's introduction, experts raised repeated objections to Morocco's derogation from article 2 of the Convention, on overall legislative and constitutional protection of women's rights, and article 16, on discrimination against women in matters relating to the family. Such reservations struck at the very heart of the Convention and should be reconsidered and withdrawn.

One expert questioned whether Islamic law indeed supported the existing discriminatory measures against women in family and other matters. Another expert pointed out that there were a number of progressive Muslim States. Although there had been progress in revising discriminatory laws, many significant cultural barriers must be removed before Moroccan women were guaranteed full development and advancement.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

Strong concerns were expressed over maternal mortality and reproductive health rights. One expert noted that women in polygamous societies had a higher rate of HIV/AIDS.

As he introduced the report, the Moroccan representative also stressed the importance of the national strategy for the advancement of Moroccan women to the year 2000, which would focus on their educational needs and combat the widespread illiteracy particularly in rural areas. Experts questioned whether the strategy would actually remove discriminatory practices. Another query was raised about the legal status of the strategy and the extent of influence exerted by women's groups and associations in determining policy.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue consideration of the Moroccan report.

Committee Work Programme

The monitoring body for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women met this morning to take up the initial periodic report of Morocco on its implementation of that treaty (document CEDAW/C/MOR/1)

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed under article 18 of the Convention to submit national reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years, on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.

In its initial report, Morocco, which acceded to the Convention in 1993, emphasizes that it is a Muslim country, as well as a democratic and social monarchy, with a modern legal system deriving from the Muslim religion. It is governed by a Constitution approved in a 1992 referendum. The King of Morocco embodies both spiritual and temporal powers, and the Government is responsible to the King and Parliament.

According to the report, Islam has established the equality of women with men regarding civil rights. In establishing those rights, Islam has made a distinction between men and women only when it is dictated "by considerations relating to the nature of each of the sexes, their responsibilities in life and what is most suited to them, as well as concern for the general interest and the good of the family and women".

Islam has placed men and women on equal footing in education, culture and the right to work, the report states. The latter right is restricted only when that is necessary to maintain the dignity of women and to preserve them from anything contrary to the rules of morality. Islam requires that women should work within a framework of respect for morality and does not permit work by women which might damage society, prevent them from fulfilling their other obligations to their husbands, children and homes or demand of them more than they are able to give in accordance with the teachings of the Islamic shariah.

The report goes on to say that Moroccan labour legislation contains no provision authorizing any form of discrimination between men and women. A draft labour code recently submitted to Parliament contains rules prohibiting any such discrimination. However, a number of deviations of constitutional equality of the sexes exist with respect to personal status. The King of Morocco had emphasized the need to revise the existing "personal status code"

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

and called for written proposals from Moroccan women's associations concerning such areas as divorce and repudiation, desertion, child custody, alimony and women's freedom of movement. The Sovereign did emphasize the limits of revision in terms of Islamic law. Following the submission of proposed amendments of the status code, Morocco acceded to the Convention and, by so doing, pursued a policy of eliminating discrimination against women.

A number of legal reforms have followed accession to the Convention, the report states. Family law and the personal status code have been reformed, for example, to ensure real consent of the woman to marriage and to do away with the power of matrimonial constraint and the power of the guardian to compel marriage. Another reform has made the act of repudiation of a wife by the husband more difficult. Other changes have taken place in guardianship to allow the mother to become guardian in the case of the father's death and in the payment of alimony by establishing the use of an expert to estimate the amount to be paid. In addition, a minimum age of fifteen for marriage has been established. According to existing law, husband and wife maintain their own separate property in marriage, and thus marriage does not give rise to community property.

The personal status code, the Moudouana, does retain the principle which determines that the husband is the head of the family to whom the wife owes obedience. The law also discriminates in favour of men in that they are allowed up to four wives, while a women is constrained to monogamy. A woman does have the right to stipulate in the marriage certificate that her husband must undertake not to take a co-spouse. Polygamy is, under the reforms, subject to the judge's control and requires both wives to be informed. While the criminal code offers the same punishment for both husband and wife convicted of adultery, that equality does not apply to the legal justification of murder or bodily injury, which is granted only to a husband who discovers his wife in the act of adultery.

The report indicates that the political rights of women are set out clearly in the Constitution, and legal recognition is given to the principle of equal access by citizens to public service and employment. Women are excluded, however, from certain areas, such as the police, customs administration, and fire-fighting. No discrimination between men and women can be practised with respect to promotion or remuneration in civil service careers. In practice, however, women benefit much less than men from various opportunities offered civil servants. In general, the presence of women side by side with men has not yet been accepted by all officials, many of whom remain imprisoned by archaic prejudices. Maternity leave is now provided at full pay, as various regulations are adapted to meet the specific needs of women.

In other job-related issues, the report goes on, women may not be employed as mechanics involving work on engines or machinery or in other

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

potentially dangerous areas of employment. They may also not participate in various types of "morally hazardous work", such as the manufacture of morally objectionable printed matter, posters, pictures or other objects. Other provisions of the law determine such employment conditions as hours of work and minimum wages.

Turning to political status, the report goes on to say that women have taken an increasingly active role with 87 women elected in 1992 for a total of 22,237 seats in communal elections. Women have a growing access to public office. The number of women heading departments or divisions remains low. The very recent access of women to public office and their equally low level of recruitment are unfavourable factors. In order to achieve a broader participation of women in economic and social life, the National Committee for Women was established to implement a national strategy for the promotion of women -- to revise their legal status, improve training and education and limit obstacles to entering politics. As a result of such efforts in the employment area, the active population of employed women in 10 years has increased from 1.17 million to 3.4 million.

In spite of the progress, Moroccan women continue to be plagued by such problems as a high rate of illiteracy, particularly in rural areas. Health care and education must receive particular attention. In a predominantly rural society with a high level of illiteracy among women and where cultural resistance to the emancipation of women is strong and sociological pressures powerful, it is impossible to achieve de jure and de facto equality between men and women in a short time. Notwithstanding the obstacles, a measured and realistic process has been initiated which is working. Recent reforms in the family code will be followed by others, and the situation of working women will improve. Introduction of Morocco Report

EL HASSANE ZAHID (Morocco), introducing the initial report of his country, outlined the structure of the document. He noted that the first part described the overall social, economic, political and legal framework of his country's approach to the elimination of discrimination against women. It also discussed legal and institutional measures which had been taken by the Government, as well as other activities undertaken to promote and ensure the full development and advancement of women.

While human rights is an important part of public policy in Morocco, he said it must conform to Islamic law, the Shariah. Methods used to ensure the full development and participation of women were many and varied, including legal, political, administrative and the media. The current policy by Morocco was generally guided by the Ministry of Human Rights. Clearly, a great deal remained to be done, particularly in rural areas, to address the needs of the most vulnerable women. For example, a campaign to combat widespread illiteracy had been undertaken as part of the national policy.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 5 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

He went on to say that the second part of the report contained constitutional, legislative, administrative or other provisions in force; Morocco's national strategy for the advancement of women to the year 2000; and restrictions or limitations imposed by law or practice on the enjoyment of women's rights.

Regarding employment and women in public service, he said legislation had been adopted to promote the advancement of women. Some functions, such as mail delivery, fire-fighting and customs, were still limited to men. Maternity leave and related rights were protected by law and favoured the interests of women. The Constitution guaranteed women's right to education and equal opportunities in employment. Labour legislation did, however, prohibit certain types of work which were considered to be dangerous for women.

In the 1990s, he said the creation of the Ministry of Human Rights and the revision of the Constitution had made an enormous difference in the overall status of women. The national strategy to the year 2000 was an important part of that evolution. The new Constitution had established a bicameral government, which created certain significant legislative powers. Parliamentary control was strengthened; for example, it was given the power to establish fact-finding commissions in such areas as the promotion and protection of human rights. The Parliament also had the power to raise question of constitutionality of a law before it was promulgated, as well as a power of censure.

He went on to outline a number of legal measures implemented to promote the advancement of women, including the right to a passport without a husband's approval. The draft labour code was directed towards rescinding such laws as the need for the husband's approval before the wife could take salaried employment.

The action taken by Morocco regarding the advancement of women was part of a historical process on the path towards the full development and advancement of women, he said. There were still a number of obstacles facing the Government in the process of improving the status of women, but it was committed to realizing its objectives.

General Comments In their general comments, most of the experts said that Morocco's failure to follow the reporting guidelines for States parties had made it difficult to ask questions on particular articles of the Convention or to make comments and recommendations to help the Government implement its provisions. They also described Morocco's reservations, particularly to articles 2, on legal and legislative protection of women's rights, and article 16, on discrimination against women in family matters, as a "serious concern". A number of experts noted that although the Convention allowed for reservations, they should not undermine its principle or spirit.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 6 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

One expert said that Morocco's reservations to articles 2 and 16 made the enjoyment of equal rights for the country's women almost impossible. She urged the Government to withdraw its reservations to articles 2 and 16, which she described as the "core or the heart of the Convention", adding that "reservations to them make ratification almost irrelevant".

Another expert commended Morocco for establishing legal human rights education, especially for law enforcement agencies. She recommended that those education policies be extended to the medical and paramedical fields. Domestic violence was rampant in Morocco, and most victims were seen first by medical personnel, who should be made aware of human rights violations so they could treat victims accordingly, she added.

An expert commended the use of statistics to illustrate the situation of Moroccan women, but said the failure to use reporting guidelines made it difficult to analyse the report. She noted reforms, "that are not minor", had been carried out and that was a first step towards change. However, those reforms needed to go further, because the report showed that, unfortunately, women were virtually excluded from public and civil life. She said there was a lack of a sustained and coordinated approach to advancing women's rights.

Noting the timeliness of the report, another expert applauded the Government's efforts to rescind a number of restrictive laws regarding women. She said there seemed to be political will on the part of the King and his advisers to move forward. However, the report failed to make any commitments regarding the implementation of the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), and she urged the Moroccan Government to do so. She also expressed concern at Morocco's reservations to articles 2 and 16 which, she said, really struck at the heart to the Convention and prevented women from taking part fully in civil and political life. It was difficult to follow the reasoning behind the objectives of the Islamic law of Shariah, which supposedly aimed to strike a balance between men and women in family life. How could inequality preserve balance in family life, when it really led to violence and illiteracy and was a severe impediment to the progress of women? she asked.

Another expert said article 2 was central to the Convention and wondered how the Moroccan Government proposed to comply with the spirit of the Convention if it had a reservation to article 16. Moroccan family laws made that impossible, she said, and asked why it was necessary for a woman to have permission from a male relative to marry. How did polygamous marriages on the part of men only preserve the integrity of the family? Why was it more difficult for women than men to divorce, given that men are more likely to end a marriage than women? Was violence against women not a sufficient reason for women to gain divorce and support for herself and her children? She urged the Government to remove its reservations to articles 2 and 16.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 7 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

Another expert said international treaties recognized the right of countries to make reservations, but the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993) stressed that national cultures or traditions could not be invoked to justify discrimination. Islamic law recognized the rights of women, including their rights to marriage and to inherit and keep property. But some traditions needed to be altered to bring them into harmony with modern life. She urged Morocco to change some of its laws in order to bring it closer to international norms.

Comments on Specific Articles

Referring to article 2, an expert asked whether there had been any national public debate on the Moroccan Government's reservations to that article when the Convention had been ratified.

Another expert said clearly the Moroccan Government was making an effort to improve the status of women and clearly there were also obstacles rooted in national traditions which made implementation of the Convention difficult. She asked if there was a national strategy for the promotion of women's rights and whether there were any proposed changes to the legal status of women. Had thought being given to the extension of women's civil and social rights? she also asked. The experts then addressed implementation of article 3, by which States parties will take appropriate legislative and other measures, particularly in the political, social, economic and social fields to ensure women's development and advancement to guarantee them full and equal rights.

One expert said that legislation alone was not enough to ensure women's equality, social changes were also needed and that required coordinated national strategies. And national strategies were not the same as a national policy. She asked which ministry was responsible for coordinating government action? She noted that cultural and economic factors impacted on women in African States where women often had a less favourable status. However, some Muslim countries had been very progressive and abolished polygamy, whereas some Christian ones had fallen behind.

Another expert asked about the legal status of the national strategy for the advancement of Moroccan women to the year 2000 and the political status of the National Committee for Women. Was it a coordinating mechanism for national policy? she asked. She also requested information on literacy programmes for women.

An expert said the effectiveness of many mechanisms depended on a country's political will. Was there any government effort to educate the public against discriminatory practices against women which were based on cultural and traditional practices? And was the State actively involved in countering negative stereotypes and images of women? she asked.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 8 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

Had the Government taken any action to narrow the gap between de jure and de facto discrimination against women? another expert asked. She said changes must come from all levels of society. The Moroccan Government had taken some action, but women must take initiatives to change their situation. She asked for more detailed information on the content programmes to educate the family about discrimination. Did the Moroccan media play any role in promoting such programmes? she further asked.

Commenting on article 6, on suppressing traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution, one expert underlined the need to address the issue of violence against women. The expert, indicating that Morocco had provided no information on the subject of trafficking in women, went on to ask about present laws and practices which might prohibit exploitation of women in that regard. Government programmes to protect immigrant women and cultural attitudes towards prostitution were also questioned.

An expert said reforms under way in Morocco were laudable, but were only initial steps which should lead to a faster pace to improve the status of Moroccan women. The legal changes had been minor, and the major laws discriminating against women remained in force. On violence against women, no recent data was included in the report on domestic violence or rape. Incidents of sexual harassment had also not been reported. Given the restrictive behavioural norms for women and girls in Moroccan society, women in prostitution would probably be subject to extreme social and legal judgement. Legal penalties against prostitution should be described in detail.

Regarding article 7, on elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life, an expert inquired about the presence of women in judicial posts. Another Committee member questioned how Morocco could build a modern State if only two women were currently serving in the Parliament. Women also were absent from decision-making positions in political parties or labour unions. The proportion of women elected on the local level revealed another great gap in equality with men. Complete democracy involved the participation of the majority of the population, which, in Morocco, were women. What measures had the Government taken to address the issue of women's participation in the political life?

One expert questioned the law on nationality, which prevented women from conferring Moroccan nationality on their children when the husband was a foreigner. Was the law being revised? she asked.

On article 10, concerning equal participation in education, a member said educational inequality still existed, particularly in the rural areas. A question was put forward about the differences in Koranic and modern public schools and whether there were differences in support for each. Were human rights being taught in the schools and was there equality in all educational activities? The content of what was taught in the educational system

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 9 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

regarding women's status and role in society was also significant. Did equal access exist for family-planning information? What power did husbands have to prohibit a woman's continued education? she asked.

One expert questioned the Government programme to combat illiteracy and asked for more details on the ambitious strategy to reduce the illiteracy rate by 10 per cent by the year 2000.

Turning to article 11, on employment discrimination, a Committee member asked about the legal prohibition against "immoral work for women". Was there a similar prohibition against men performing such work? She also questioned why women were denied the right to work in certain areas. Did the prohibition against girls under sixteen operating pedal sewing machines apply because they were minors or because they were female? Concerns were also expressed about the actual existence of equal wage for work of equal value. More information was requested about the participation of women in trade unions.

Another expert said conditions placed on women's employment did not give women equal status. Many measures were of a protective or restrictive nature and not designed to promote equal opportunity. Were such protective laws appropriate to modern society? Often, such legislation impeded the full advancement of women. Labour inspection was described in the report as inadequate. What steps were being taken to improve such inspection regarding the protection of women's rights in the workplace? A request was made for more specific employment and unemployment statistics concerning women. Questions were also raised about age limits for women in public service and the limitations of the maternity leave.

An expert raised the issue of the increase of Moroccan migrants in other countries. Did the Government have mechanisms to protect migrant workers, particularly women? Was the increase of women finding employment a reflection of the relaxation of laws limiting women or of economic necessity? A question was raised about the kind of work prohibited to women which was described in the report as damaging to society.

Concerning article 12, on equal health care, one expert asked if women's health concerns other than childbirth were addressed in the health-care system. Specifics were requested concerning maternal and infant mortality, as well as the fertility and contraceptive use, rates. The high maternal mortality rate reported by independent sources was a matter of serious concern. Independent sources also indicated there had been a decline in infant mortality, but there had been a decline in births attended by trained health professionals. Information was also sought about female mental patients.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 10 - Press Release WOM/928 312th Meeting (AM) 14 January 1997

Another expert stated that inequality of women in other areas directly affected women's health issues. Had the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) been factored into the overall area of reproductive health? What resources had been allocated to reduce maternal mortality? Was abortion permissible under any circumstances and what health-care provisions existed for women with incomplete abortions? she asked.

Noting that independent sources indicated a 42 per cent contraceptive use rate, an expert asked what resources had been allocated to reproductive health services and what obstacles existed to women's access to those services. It was noted that women in a polygamous society had higher rates of HIV/AIDS. Given the inequality of the family structure under Islamic law, a greater incidence of domestic violence could be expected. Information concerning domestic violence and its causes needed to be provided by the Government, experts said.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.