COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF MOROCCO'S REPORT19970120
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was an integral part of Morocco's law, and the Government was committed to implementing its provisions as long as they did not run counter to Islamic Shariah, Ahmed Snoussi, the country's Permanent Representative, told the Committee which monitors the treaty this morning. Morocco placed reservations to certain articles of the Convention upon ratification in 1993.
The representative was replying this morning to questions posed last week by members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women about Morocco's efforts to implement the Convention. Several experts had described Morocco's reservations to article 2, on legislative and constitutional protections for women's rights, and to article 16, on discrimination against women in family matters, as striking at the very heart of the Convention.
The Moroccan Government realized legislation and constitutional change alone would not change people's thinking, Mr. Snoussi said. The reservations on the Convention were the result of a national consensus and were not simply a decision of the Government. The Constitution had been adopted by that same national consensus in 1996. In reply, an expert asked how a national consensus could be reached when women did not participate fully in society and their illiteracy rate was so high.
The Koran could not be used as a pretext for not implementing the Convention, one expert said, noting that other Muslim countries had moved forward more than Morocco in achieving equality between men and women. Another expert said that, coming from a Muslim country, she was well aware that there was nothing in Islamic teaching which stood in the way of fully implementing women's human rights or limiting their full cultural participation in society.
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Mr. Snoussi said that religious practice was a lifestyle and an integral part of Morocco's culture and traditions. It was also a rampart against fundamentalism and terrorism. The Government was not trying to avoid its obligations to implement the Convention, but it could not make decision based solely on ideological considerations. Morocco was a developing country with limited resources and it had to confront certain attitudes, particularly on health family matters, in rural areas. The prevailing opinion was that Moroccan men and women were at different stages of development.
An expert said that more priority should be given to the cultural and social status of women under Islam and not just their political rights. The Moroccan King had a special standing in the Islamic world and, under his aegis, a compilation of the rights of women under the Shariah could do a great deal to help save the next generation from a misinterpretation of the Koran's teachings. Responding, Mr. Snoussi said the King presided over a conference every year during the month of Ramadan which emphasized such areas as the rights of women.
In thanking the Moroccan delegation for its report, the Committee Chairperson, Salama Khan of Bangladesh, noted that Mr. Snoussi had not replied to all of the questions and comments of the experts and she hoped that Morocco's periodic report, which is due in 1998, would address the Committee's main concerns.
Also this morning, the Committee heard a report of its pre-session working group on its efforts to prepare a preliminary list of questions and issues for each of the country reports, which were scheduled for the upcoming session.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to hear the response of Slovenia to questions by its expert members on Wednesday 15 January.
Committee Work Programme
The monitoring body for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women met this morning to hear the response of the delegation of Morocco to questions posed by Committee experts on that country's initial report on its implementation of that treaty (document CEDAW/C/MOR/1). The report was presented on 14 January.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, made up of experts who serve in their personal capacity, is charged with monitoring the implementation of the Convention. The Convention -- adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, opened for signature in March 1980, and entered into force in 1981 -- has been ratified by 154 countries. It requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. In pursuing the Convention's goals, States parties are encourage to introduce affirmative action measures designed to promote equality between women and men.
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.
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", the report emphasizes.
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. (For a summary of the report, see Press Release WOM/928 of 14 January.)
In the presentation of the report, the representative of Morocco told the Committee 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
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compatible with Islamic law. While noting that the process of constitutional and legal revision had promoted public service opportunities for women, the representative acknowledged 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. Although there had been progress in revising discriminatory laws, experts said many significant cultural barriers must be removed before Moroccan women were guaranteed full development and advancement. In addition, experts raised specific questions in an article-by-article examination of the report.
Response by Morocco
AHMED SNOUSSI (Morocco), in his delegations' response to Committee questions, said the report indicated the existence of political will in his country to further the advancement of women. A draft plan of national action had been developed and would be submitted for approval. It would focus on education and health in rural areas and a literacy campaign. It would ensure coordination with citizen's groups on the promotion of human rights.
He said the Government had called on all women's associations to cooperate in the development of a comprehensive programme to strengthen human rights, particularly women's rights. He went on to describe a joint commission to address the content of school textbooks. A number of educational measures were planned to counter the stereotypical roles of women in the society.
In Morocco's legal hierarchy, international treaties to which the country was party came after the Constitution and before the domestic law, he said. Regarding the Convention's article 2, on legal and constitutional protection of women's rights, he said the Government was committed to implementing those measures as long as they did not run counter to the Islamic Shariah. The King had initiated a process of reform of the personal status code. He reiterated a number of changes in family law and in the Criminal Code in that regard. He also outlined the Moroccan laws on trafficking and prostitution.
Regarding article 5, on social and cultural patterns, he said legal change was by itself insufficient to change people's thinking. The Government recognized that there could be too great a gap between law and fact. It was, therefore, facilitating the work of women's associations in the area of advocacy of rights.
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On article 10, on education, he said that in the current decade the Government had adopted strategies to adjust programmes to encourage women's participation in schools in rural areas. A pilot project for one rural area having a particularly low female attendance in schools had promoted a policy of full participation. Another project, in conjunction with the World Bank, sought to improve access for women in health and education in 13 provinces, which constituted 394 rural communities. National goals for education had been established.
On article 11, on employment, he said the draft code of labour proclaimed that any discrimination in employment was prohibited. Legislation also sought to guarantee certain property rights to women. Access to the judiciary had been created for women. He cited a number of statistics which indicated the growing participation of women in that area.
Turning to article 12, on health care, he said equal access to health care was a primary concern. All programmes of family planning called for freedom of choice. Government priority had been given to the area of basic health care. There was a network of primary health care based on a preventive strategy. The hospital network involved the private sector which promoted maternity care. The contraceptive prevalence rate by married women had reached 50 per cent in 1995. The gap was still wide between rural and urban areas. Only a 39 per cent contraceptive prevalence rate had been reached in rural areas, while the rate was 64 per cent in urban areas. The national family-planning programme was financed by the Government and international donors.
In spite of efforts, he said the maternal mortality rate remained high -- 332 per 100,000 live births. Goals included the reduction of maternal mortality by 25 per cent by 2001. He made reference to importance of a Congress on Women's Health held in December 1996 in Morocco and the strategies it put forward. He added that abortion was allowed in the case of danger to the life of the mother.
On article 16, on family matters, he said Morocco had placed reservations to the Convention based on Islamic law. He reiterated that it was true that the husband remained the legal head of the family. In civil terms, women could raise the issue of domestic violence against the husband with proper proof of the charges. The repudiation of a marriage could be delegated by the husband. In the case of the husband's repudiation, the marriage was not dissolved, it was suspended. The changes being brought about in family law were part of an ongoing revision of the personal status code.
Further Questions by Experts
Experts noted that the delegation had not responded to quite a number of questions and expressed the hope that Morocco would answer them in the next
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report, which was due in 1998. Several experts also emphasized the need for the Government to disseminate the concluding comments of the Committee to the society as a whole in Morocco.
An expert said the Government should attempt to provide more attendance at births by trained professionals in rural areas in order to lower maternal mortality. She noted that abortion itself was not a threat to women's health; it was unsafe, illegal abortion which had a definite impact on maternal mortality rates.
Women were caught in a contradiction between religion and the law which kept women in a subordinate position, said an expert. Religion could never be a pretext for non-implementation of the Convention. It was not possible for women to achieve equality in the workplace, education and health if they had not achieved equality in the family. It was vitally important for women to achieve equality in the family.
The Koran should not be used as a barrier to women's equality in society, according to several experts. Everything possible should be done to disseminate the recommendations of the Committee and the contents of the Convention itself in order to make the society fully aware of the rights of women. In no country had development been achieved without full equality of men and women, said an expert.
An expert stressed the importance of providing information to women who were migrating to other countries from Morocco to prevent them from falling victim to trafficking. They were often placed in a vulnerable position in such countries as Spain, and they needed to be made aware of their rights.
Another Committee member stressed the family and health issues. She said even the Koran had been re-interpreted over the centuries. Some Islamic leaders had viewed the restrictions on women in a different light.
In the Moroccan report and presentation, there was no indication of why women had not achieved the ambassadorial level in foreign service, when so much progress had been made in the judiciary, said an expert.
An expert asked how the Government could claim a national consensus process in the advancement of women when women did not fully participate in the society. How did women actually participate when the illiteracy rate was so high? Every society had its traditional values which were often positive and should be preserved, she added.
Concerning the high incidence of violence against women, an expert said Morocco's next report should address preventive measures to deal with the problem. Women themselves and law enforcement agencies needed to be informed on the issue.
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An expert said priority should be given to the social and political rights in regard to Islam, and not just political concerns. The King of Morocco had a special status in the Islamic world. Under his aegis, a compilation of the rights of women under the Shariah could be completed and could prevent a continued misinterpretation of Islamic law.
Another expert asked about the number of women in higher education -- some 40 per cent in 1993-1994. Was there any strong feminist movement among women university graduates? Did they have a visible role in the process of advancement of women? A question was also raised about the status of women's non-governmental organizations. On women's participation in public life at the decision-making level, a Committee member appealed to the Government to make efforts not only to increase the number of women candidates, but to help them be elected.
While it was natural of people to speak from a cultural perspective, an expert said that the real issue should not simply focus on a religious point of view, but instead stress the fundamental rights and freedoms. The cultural conditions of 13 centuries ago no longer existed. There was nothing in Islam that would stand in the way of the universal rights of all women.
An expert emphasized that Morocco should remove its reservations on the Convention. She noted the progressive measures being implemented by Turkey, in spite of the existence of religious dogma. Religious fundamentalism was not restricted to Islamic countries; such attitudes existed in Christianity as well. Affirmative action was urgently needed to create de facto equality, since women continued to suffer systematic discrimination.
Mr. SNOUSSI (Morocco) said his country had only been independent for 35 years and, therefore, only so much could be accomplished. The questions which the delegation could not answer at present would be transmitted to the Government for further consideration. Religion in Morocco represented a total lifestyle and civilization. It was a rampart against fundamentalism and terrorism. In Morocco, the prevailing thought was that men and women at present were at different stages of progress. A basic concern of his country was religious fundamentalism which would seek to impose intolerance. The Government could not make certain decisions and take certain actions based solely on ideological considerations. Morocco was confronting a significant rise in fundamentalism in other countries. It was not seeking to avoid its responsibilities to the advancement of women. But Morocco was also a developing country with limited resources.
He said two women had served at the ambassadorial level. The problem in Morocco often concerned the fact that husbands did not want to accompany women who were offered diplomatic posts. He referred to a recent conference on water resources, which had made it possible to promote the participation of young girls in rural schools.
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In the rural area, he said, there were still attitudes and habits to confront and overcome about health care. The Government had made efforts to train birth attendants for rural health facilities.
He stressed that the King presided over a conference every year which confronted such issues as women's rights and Islam. The Government did everything possible to assist the work of the non-governmental organizations. The King had made an appeal to women to exercise their right to vote and underlined the importance of their participation in the legislative process.
He said the reservations on the Convention were the result of a national consensus and were not simply a decision of the Government. Pressure on the Government, therefore, would not change that situation. The Constitution had been adopted by that same national consensus in 1996.
Report of Working Group An expert then presented the report of the pre-session working group which noted that the majority of reports by States parties followed the reporting guidelines and allowed progress in implementing the Convention to be assessed. The working group appealed to States parties to follow guidelines so as to expedite its work and allow it to analyse progress in more depth. She suggested that the experts' questions in response to initial reports by States parties be included in subsequent reports.
An expert said given the number of reports and the fact that there were now two working sessions a year, the Committee should rethink its working procedures. Maybe a post-session working group should be useful to prepare questions as was the practice in other human rights monitoring bodies. Subsequent country reports could concentrate on a few key issues. The Committee had taken up the practice of submitting concluding comments which could be the focus of discussions when the countries presented their subsequent reports. The majority of the reports had been prepared prior to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). Thus, they were unable to comply with the revised reporting guidelines. However, the pre-session working group raised questions relating to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and the commitments undertaken by States parties during the Conference.
Another expert said a post-session working group would give States parties time to prepare their answers and present them in writing so they and experts could engage in a constructive dialogue. Such sessions would also help non-governmental organizations prepare their work. She asked why were there different procedures for initial and subsequent reports. The preparation of follow up or subsequent reports were the most difficult task. Subsequent reports were not supposed to be exhaustive, but should focus on follow-up questions. Perhaps, attention should be given to how subsequent reports were presented.
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An expert said that those Committee members who did not participate in the pre-session group and non-governmental organizations should send their questions in sufficient time so they could be integrated with the subsequent reports by the United Nations Secretariat.
Another expert said that it was important not to neglect the role of non-governmental organizations in helping the Committee carry out its monitoring work. The Secretariat had to compare countries' responses to previous questions by the experts. Major comments on initial reports could be included in general comments in subsequent reports. Information submitted in advance by non-governmental organizations could also help experts with their questions.
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