WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE URGES MOROCCO TO ELIMINATE STEREOTYPES, RECONCILE HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS WITH ISLAMIC LAW, CULTURE AND TRADITIONS

WOM/1413
15 July 2003

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE URGES MOROCCO TO ELIMINATE STEREOTYPES, RECONCILE HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS WITH ISLAMIC LAW, CULTURE AND TRADITIONS

15/07/2003
Press Release
WOM/1413


Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

626th & 627th Meetings (AM & PM)


WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE URGES MOROCCO TO ELIMINATE STEREOTYPES,

RECONCILE HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS WITH ISLAMIC LAW, CULTURE AND TRADITIONS


Morocco’s efforts to overcome discriminatory stereotypes, while ensuring respect for national culture and traditions, as well as harmonizing the provisions of Islam with the human rights approach, were the focus of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it considered the situation of women in Morocco during two meetings today.


Acting in their personal capacity, the Committee’s 23 experts from around the world monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which entered into force in 1981.  Having ratified the Convention in 1993, Morocco continues to hold reservations to several of its articles, including article 9 on the equal right of men and women regarding the nationality of their children, article 16 on marriage and family life, and article 29 on the administration of the Convention.


Members of the Committee urged the Government to withdraw those reservations, and speed up and enhance its legislative reform for the advancement of women, saying that persistent inequalities, particularly regarding the status of women in society, must be removed.  In that connection, they welcomed a recent statement by Morocco’s Prime Minister on the harmonization of national law with international instruments.  Several experts also expressed satisfaction that a bill on nationality was currently under discussion, expressing hope that its adoption would allow Morocco to remove its reservation to article 9 of the Convention.


Emphasizing Morocco’s international obligations, one of the experts said that the question was how religion could fit in with legislation on the elimination of discrimination against women.  Moroccan society had changed, and the law had to develop accordingly.  A suggestion was also made that legal research on the compatibility of Islam and the Convention should have a major impact on legislation and decision-making.  To overcome stereotypes, speakers emphasized the importance of education and suggested measures to train journalists, judges and police in the area of human rights and women’s rights.


Introducing the country’s report and responding to experts’ questions, Morocco’s Permanent Representative, Mohamed Bennouna, countered that the question was not about the compatibility of Islam with the Convention, but rather adapting the spirit of society to the demands of the times.  He stressed the importance of ensuring respect for Morocco’s values, saying that each nation applied fundamental human rights principles within the context of its own religion, culture and traditions.  It was in that spirit that the implementation of the Convention was undertaken in Morocco.


Regarding reservations, he said that in Morocco, as in all Muslim countries, there was a need to reconcile obligations under international law and the Islamic Shariah, which was part of the country’s Constitution.  Morocco was trying to make progress on the issue of modernizing the Moudouana, or family law.  However, any revolutionary laws would be of no benefit if they went against the prevailing mindset or created new tensions.  The Prince of Morocco had created a committee in which women met with theologians and religious leaders to discuss ways to change the family law.  While the issue had raised passions, the fact that it had been raised at all was progress in and of itself.


Also responding to questions, Fatima Kerrich, Chef de Service des Affaires Féminines, Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Protection Sociale, said that along with new legislation, it was also important to change public perception in order to make sure that the laws did not remain “a dead letter”.  Among the Government’s efforts to achieve that goal were measures to raise awareness of gender issues and international human rights instruments, including a number of workshops on gender equality.  Gradually attacking the problem on all fronts, the country was hoping to achieve real equality.


During a detailed article-by-article consideration of Morocco’s compliance with the Convention, an expert welcomed the fact that 35 women had been elected to Parliament under special quotas introduced by the Government.  That was a major victory for all Muslim women, and the country must give some thought to also introducing representation quotas in other areas of public life.  Although it was used as a pretext for holding women back, the country’s religion actually did not prevent the Government from giving women their due place in public life.  Women were competent and capable, and they should take their lawful place in society.


The conversation also focused on the efforts to improve women’s access to education and health services, combat violence against women, and ensure equality in the workplace and in family life.  On the latter, the experts expressed serious concern over continued discrimination in marriage as far as divorce and custody of children were concerned.  As opposed to men, Moroccan women did not have the right to ask for divorce, and girls as early as 13 got married, and many of them were exposed to conjugal violence at a very early age.


Also participating in the discussion on behalf of Morocco were Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Directrice des Relations Internationales, Ministère de Droits de l’Homme; Khadija Chakir, Chef de Division de la gestion pédagogique, Direction des Lycées, Ministère de l’Education et de la Jeunesse; and representatives of the Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Promotion Sociale:  Mohamed Ait Azizi, Chef de Service de la promotion du secteur associatif; and Naima Benyahia, Chargée d’Etude auprès du Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Promotion Sociale.


The next formal meeting of the Committee will be announced.


Background


The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the second periodic report of Morocco (document CEDAW/C/MOR/2).  The report notes that, while Morocco ratified the Convention in 1993, it continues to hold reservations to several of its articles.  Morocco has made declarations on two articles, namely, article 2, on the guarantee of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, and article 15, paragraph 4, on the movement of persons and freedom to choose a residence.  Provisions to which Morocco holds reservations include article 9, paragraph 2, on the equal right of men and women regarding the nationality of their children; article 16, on marriage and family life; and article 29, on the administration of the Convention.


According to the report, Morocco’s Constitution, which was adopted by referendum in 1996, reaffirms the country’s determination to abide by universally recognized human rights.  Moroccan authorities are empowered to apply the principles of human rights.  Safeguarding respect for human rights is part of the mandate of its judiciary.  In 1990, the Advisory Council for Human Rights was established to assist the head of State in dealing with all human rights-related issues.  In 1991, a special department for general freedoms was created within the Ministry of the Interior with the task of, among other things, monitoring implementation of legal provisions related to general freedoms, providing judicial assistance to resolve disputes and studying international conventions.


In 1993, the report continues, the Ministry of Human Rights was established to “prepare means to promote and mechanisms to guarantee human rights, bringing domestic legislation in line with the requirements of international human rights instruments”.  In 1994, the Consultative Council in charge of social dialogue follow-up was established.  As part of the Ministry of Social Development, Solidarity, Employment and Vocational Training, a Secretariat of State has been established with responsibility for social protection, the family and children.  Included in its mandate is the advancement of the family, women and children.


Providing two examples of Morocco’s position on equality between men and women, the report notes that the Supreme Court has rescinded provisions in the draft code of penal procedure requiring a wife to obtain authorization from a magistrate to bring a suit against her husband.  The judiciary has also decided to recognize the right of a married woman to remuneration for the performance of her marital duties.  She may seek compensation for performance of those duties after the marriage has terminated.  A number of Moroccan authorities have adopted the decision.


The report notes that very little information is available on female prostitution, which is a socially unrecognized phenomenon.  In Morocco’s Criminal Code, various measures have been adopted to combat prostitution, including imprisonment for persons who incite, encourage or facilitate prostitution.  The Criminal Code also provides for sanctions such as imprisonment for owners and managers of hotels, clubs and places of entertainment involved in prostitution.  Despite such measures, however, prostitution and public solicitation, particularly among young women, continues to be widespread.


The report also notes difficulties in achieving universal schooling and parity between urban and rural areas and girls and boys.  In rural areas, the percentage of women attending school is very low, particularly for girls.  The main problems include increasing costs of schooling, the persistence of traditional attitudes and employment, and early marriage among rural girls.  According to the 1994 census, some 67 per cent of all women over the age of 10 are illiterate.  Among girls between the ages of 10 and 14, the ratio is 47 per cent.  In rural areas, some 90 per cent of all women were unable to read or write.  Illiteracy is most widespread among rural women.


Concerning the issue of employment, the report notes that although men and women benefit equally from the minimum wage, discrimination in the private sector exists.  In the textile sector, a major employer of the female workforce, women receive an average wage equivalent to 50 per cent of the minimum wage.  In the industrial sector, the wage differences between men and women range between 30 and 40 per cent.  In 1996, some 49 per cent of women were engaged in “private and domestic services” and about 44 per cent in “manufactured products”.  There is also discrimination in wages and general working conditions against impoverished and marginalized women.  Women were also more likely to be unemployed.


Regarding Morocco’s reservations to the Convention, the report says the current Government has worked to harmonize Moroccan law with international instruments.  It has also undertaken to enhance the legal position of women on the basis of the principle of equal opportunity.  The Government is committed to a gradual revision of the “Moudouana” (Code of Personal Status) insofar as the revision is not incompatible with Islam.  The Government, universities, civil and political institutions have undertaken a major examination of the Shariah.  A women’s non-governmental organization held a conference on “the women’s issue and ijtihad (interpretive judgement) in Islam”.  These initiatives have aimed to propagate an Islamic culture that acknowledges equality between the sexes.  They have also constituted efforts to revise the “Moudouana” along lines that are compatible with the teachings of the Shariah.


Introduction of Reports


Presenting his Government’s second periodic report, MOHAMED BENNOUNA (Morocco) said that the document had been provided to the Committee four years ago, but it had not been taken up due to scheduling considerations.  He intended to update the experts on the current situation of Moroccan women.


It was necessary to recognize that each nation applied fundamental human rights principles within the context of its religion, culture and traditions, he said.  It was in that spirit that the implementation of the Convention was undertaken in Morocco.  The country’s Constitution reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to universally recognized human rights.  Since 1993, a Ministry charged with human rights issues had been functioning in the country.  To consider more specific questions facing Moroccan women, a governmental body had been set up in 1998 to handle family affairs and the situation of women.


A ministerial commission under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister formulated the national strategy to incorporate women in the country’s development, he continued.  The representation of women in the Advisory Council for Human Rights had significantly improved, and now eight out of its 41 members were women.  One of the working groups within the Council handled issues on family and the condition of women.  Following reforms in 2002, the Council was now autonomous and could handle grievances on human rights issues.  Another innovation was the creation of Divan al Madalim -– a post comparable to that of an ombudsman.


Another achievement concerned the 2002 legislative elections, he continued, which, according to international observers, had been completely transparent and conducted with respect for the rule of law and democracy.  As a result of those elections, the presence of women in legislative bodies had been enhanced considerably.


The country’s Constitution recognized the primacy of international conventions over national legislation, he continued.  To make sure that those instruments in no way conflicted with the Constitution, the Government was undertaking significant efforts to harmonize domestic legislation with international conventions, including the women’s anti-discrimination Convention.  Recently, the Government had developed a plan of action to integrate women in development, which intended to address the subjects of education, literacy and culture; reproductive health; women’s economic integration; and legal measures.  In that context, the reform of the Code of Personal Status had been initiated by the King.


The country accorded great importance to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations following the presentation of its first report.  The Convention had been published in 2001.  The report before the Committee was the product of collaboration between the Government and civil society.


Regarding measures against trafficking in women and prostitution, he said that many legal measures had been undertaken in that regard, establishing penalties of up to five years for aiding, encouraging or supporting the practice of prostitution and for the persons who benefited from prostitution.  Civil society and the media were engaged in awareness-raising to prevent the spread of prostitution.  Strategies to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable groups of society were undertaken as a preventive measure.  Female victims of prostitution now received particular attention from the Government.  An association of women’s solidarity provided help to single mothers, with government assistance.  The country had acceded to international conventions related to drugs and trafficking in people, as well as the instruments on the protection of migrant workers and transnational organized crime.


Since the adoption of its first Constitution, Morocco was trying to ensure the equal rights of men and women, he continued.  Women fully participated in elections, representing about one half of the electorate.  In the political sphere, women also participated in representative bodies and the civil service at all levels.  The situation was not perfect, but efforts were under way to improve women’s participation in decision-making.  To guarantee the right to equality, legal measures alone were not enough, however.  That was why, since 1998, the Government had been taking specific action to strengthen women’s presence in public life and in civil society.  All ministries had been instructed to hire more women.  A commission, under the presidency of the Prime Minister, had been monitoring developments and following up on the progress in that regard.


According to statistics, in 1999, some 24 per cent of senior posts within government structures were occupied by women.  Last year’s statistics had demonstrated broadening of and diversification in the posts occupied by women.  In legislative bodies, a recent law had set up a positive discrimination quota system, giving 30 seats within the House of Representatives to women.  Currently, there were 35 women (more than 10 per cent) in the Parliament.  The political parties had also been requested to include women in their governing bodies.


At the international level, there was clearly no discrimination within the Foreign Ministry, which recruited staff on the basis of merit.  There were three female ambassadors now.  Under the country’s nationality code, women enjoyed the same rights as men.  However, the code did not authorize women to transfer nationality to their spouses and did not automatically confer nationality to a child from a foreign father.  The Parliament was now making considerable efforts to allow Moroccan women to transfer nationality to their children.


Equality in the field of education was one of the major challenges faced by the Government, he said.  A considerable effort was being made to combat illiteracy and reduce drop-out rates, particularly for women.  The right to education had been acknowledged by the Constitution, and school education was free at all levels.  However, parents had to be convinced to keep their children in school, and socio-economic conditions for that to happen needed to be provided.  School attendance in rural areas was linked to the development of infrastructure, including roads.  The national education charter set the targets in order to achieve universal access to primary education after the age of six and increase the percentage of those enrolled in secondary and higher education.


As for women’s participation in the labour market, he said that, under the law, all citizens had the right to equal opportunities.  The only restrictions for women were in relation to dangerous or harmful jobs.  The aspiration of the Government was to ensure non-discrimination in the field of labour, and a major accomplishment was a new labour code.  The new code made it a crime to practice any kind of discrimination, imposing fines on those who broke the regulations.  The rights to equal salaries were also recognized.  The new health insurance system was mandatory for all salaried workers and pensioners.


Turning to health care, he said that one of the Government’s major concerns was maternal mortality, which at 228 for every 100,000 births between 1992 and 1997 still remained high, despite the fact that it had been reduced in recent years.  As a result of the implementation of the family-planning programme, three out of five married women were currently using some sort of contraception.  The degrading practice of violence against women was a source of concern, and the Government’s strategy was to make it a crime and recognize it as a violation of women’s human rights.  The country was implementing some innovative approaches to achieve effective intervention and provide assistance to the victims of violence.  Communications, research, information and partnership development were among the tools used by the Government.  A recent anti-violence law had been further strengthened by the new labour code.


Experts’ Questions and Comments


Experts congratulated the Moroccan delegation for the presentation of their report.  Several experts, noting Morocco’s commitment to the implementation of the Convention, also expressed concern that the Government continued to hold declarations and reservations to several of the Convention’s articles.


The Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, welcomed the large delegation, which consisted of several experts on the implementation of the Convention.  The Committee was happy to hear that the Convention had been published in Morocco’s official Gazette in 2001.  She was also pleased with efforts under way to amend laws that precluded Moroccan women from conferring nationality to their children and husbands.  It was a good development and she hoped that such amendments would lead to a reconsideration of Morocco’s reservation to article 9 of the Convention.  The Committee was particularly concerned with reservations to article 16.  She urged the Government to reconsider the reservation to that article with a view to eventually withdrawing it all together.


MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said she was also concerned that Morocco had not been able to remove its reservations to the Convention.  It was essential that the reservations be removed.  Persistent inequalities, particularly regarding the status of women in the family and society, must be removed.  The Government must continue efforts to combat persistent stereotypes.  An ongoing outreach programme must be implemented so that the Committee’s recommendations could be adequately disseminated throughout Moroccan society.


NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said that since the 1990s Morocco had been keen to strengthen respect for human rights, in particular, the rights of women.  She hoped for more detailed information on Morocco’s strategy for the integration of women in development.  Regarding national machinery, she noted that Morocco had many human rights mechanisms.  While there was political will, a national mechanism for the advancement of women was missing.  On Morocco’s legal framework, she said respect for conventions included two aspects, namely, implementation and harmonization.  She hoped for more action on the harmonization aspect of implementing the Convention.  She welcomed the Prime Minister’s declaration to the Parliament on harmonization and the gradual revision of the reservations, as it reflected the Government’s political will.


FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, also congratulated Morocco for the report.  Regarding Morocco’s reservations, she was pleased with the bill currently under discussion on the nationality issue.  She hoped Morocco would soon remove the reservation to article 9.  She also hoped that when the delegation returned to Morocco, it would relay the Committee’s concern regarding the reservation to article 16.  Moroccan women must be allowed to exercise their civil rights and equality under the law.  It was rather sad that a State secretariat was handling women’s issues.  She hoped that body had the necessary capacity to fulfil its mission, as Moroccan women had high hopes for it.


FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked a question about a specific prostitution case involving a young girl.  What had the Government done for that girl?  What measures was the Government taking to prevent similar cases in the future?


SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noting the large number of reservations entered by the country, requested Morocco to take a deeper look into the matter.  The reservations could be made far more specific.  Regarding Morocco’s national machinery, she noted that the Ministry of Social Development had been replaced by the State secretariat responsible for the protection of family and children, which seemed to be a lower ranking institution.  Was it a separate entity devoted entirely to women’s rights or was it only devoted to family welfare?


HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said she was glad to hear that the Government considered the issue of violence against women as an issue of paramount importance.  She welcomed the intention to draft legislation that would define violence against women as a crime.  Was the Government considering separate legislation regarding domestic violence?  Did the Government have a concrete goal on the establishment of shelters?  Police training would be very important, and she wondered if there were plans to include women police officers in that training.  She asked the delegation to look at general recommendation 19, which dealt with all issues related to violence.


Country Response


Mr. BENNOUNA, addressing the issue of reservations, said that in Morocco, as in all Muslim countries, there was a need to reconcile obligations under international law and the Islamic Shariah, which was part of the Constitution.  Morocco was trying to make progress on the issue of modernizing the Moudouana, or family law.  The Moudouana was a social issue in Islamic countries.  It was an issue of culture, which must be developed.  At the Government’s request, important discussions on the matter had been undertaken.  A revolutionary law would be no good if it went against the prevailing mindset or created new tensions.  The Prince of Morocco had created a committee in which women met with theologians and religious leaders to discuss ways to change the family law.  While the issue had raised passions, the fact that it had been raised was progress in and of itself.  Results were needed and he hoped Morocco would be able to present those results in its next report.


Regarding the amendments and the Shariah, he said that, as the country advanced, the law on nationality and children would be adopted.  Also, the country would revisit the issue of amendments to reconcile the country’s international and cultural obligations.


As for violence, he said it had been criminalized in Morocco in relation to both men and women.  At this point, it was important to raise public awareness on violence against women and to raise the curtain of silence regarding it.


HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Directrice des Relations Internationales, Ministère des Droits de l’Homme, said that while the country’s Constitution did not have a specific provision determining discrimination against women, the principle of equality was fully incorporated in it.  In particular, the Constitution decreed that “all Moroccan citizens shall be equal under the law”.  International law had precedence over domestic provisions, and the efforts to harmonize domestic law with international instruments included a new law on prisons and legal means of redress to female victims of discrimination.  At the same time, she stressed the importance of ensuring respect for Morocco’s values and cultural traditions.  She hoped that, in time, it would be possible to withdraw Morocco’s reservations, and she assured the Committee of the Government’s strong political will to bring national laws in line with the Convention, removing as many reservations as possible.


Regarding domestic violence, she said that the new Criminal Code made it a crime, and the country’s Penal Code also contained provisions against violence directed at both males and females.  Domestic violence was a rather touchy issue, however, and steps had been taken to increase its visibility.  It was difficult to remove all the stereotypical taboos in that respect, and a considerable step had been made in making sexual harassment a crime.  Studies, round tables and other outreach efforts were being undertaken to change society’s attitudes.  Training programmes had been initiated in partnership with civil society.


Turning to prostitution, she said that it was a chronic problem.  Recently, as a result of media attention given to a number of young girls engaged in prostitution, a forced prostitution ring had been dismantled, and the issue had received much publicity.  The current Penal Code had recently strengthened provisions regarding forced prostitution, and measures had been put in place for re-education of prostitutes and their reintegration in society.


FATIMA KERRICH, Chef de Service des Affaires Féminines, Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Protection Sociale, said that the country’s legislation was the main guarantee that equality was enforced, but it was also important to change public perception in order to make sure that the laws did not remain “a dead letter”.  For that purpose, the Government had introduced a number of workshops on gender equality.  Gradually attacking the problem on all fronts, the country was hoping to achieve real equality.  A recent ministerial declaration had proclaimed the importance of gender equality in all sectors.  Efforts were being made to mainstream gender issues in all areas of public life.


She went on to describe the national gender equality machinery, adding that to complement the efforts of the national committee on women’s matters, a plan had been set to create regional committees, as well.  All sectors of Government were acting to implement the measures already adopted.  Focal points had been created in various sectors, and a data bank and a national women’s center to conduct research were among recent initiatives.


KHADIJA CHAKIR, Chef de Division de la gestion pédagogique, Direction des Lycées, Ministère de l’Education et de la Jeunesse, said that education was the main focus of the Government’s attention.  Considerable progress had been achieved in promoting literacy and improving girls’ attendance in schools.  Education was also an important tool in overcoming traditional stereotypes.  The national education programme, which had been initiated in 1994, adopted an integrated approach towards gender equality.


Experts’ Questions and Comments


HUGUETTE BOKPE GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, said that in the case of religion, the question was how religion could fit in with legislation on the elimination of discrimination against women.  Moroccan society had changed and the law had to be innovative and develop according to legal changes in the country.  Morocco had international obligations in addition to its State religion.  There seemed to be some organizational difficulties in Morocco’s national machinery.  How were the various government structures coordinated and who was in charge of the follow-up to the implementation of those structures?  How independent was the commission established to discuss the issue of personal status?


CORNELIUS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said Morocco had introduced a large number of remedies for women at the local level.  Was the Government making it possible for women to bring violations of their rights to international forums?  He was pleased to hear that Morocco might ratify a number of optional protocols and he hoped the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention was one of them.  He was intrigued to hear that international conventions took precedence as a matter of principle over domestic law, provided there was no conflict with law and order in Morocco.  In light of the fact that the Convention had been published, had it been directly invoked in any court cases?  Were there any cases in which Moroccan law and order had prevailed over its international obligations?


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, urged the Government to consider the Committee’s general recommendation 19 on the question of violence against women.  Gender-based violence seriously inhibited women’s ability to enjoy their human rights and included sexual harassment in the workplace and violence by public authorities and private individuals.  Implementation of the Convention was one of the Government’s priorities.  That must translate into concrete measures that directly impacted Moroccan women.  While the Convention had been ratified in 1993, extensive discrimination persisted.  She asked for more information on concrete measures to remove the obstacles facing women.  Which ministry was responsible for harmonizing domestic legislation with the Convention?


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked several questions about Morocco’s Constitution.  Following its last consideration of the situation of women in Morocco, the Committee had recommended incorporating the principle of equality between men and women into Morocco’s Constitution.  Did the Government envisage the possibility of including such a provision? 


KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if there had been any academic or legal research on the issue of gender equality and Islam.  Legal research on the compatibility of Islam and the Convention should have a major impact on legislation and decision-making.  She had been disappointed with the presentation with regard to the sharp differentiation between prostitution and forced prostitution.  The most progressive piece of international law in the area did not differentiate between the two.


VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, said there had been major advances to modernize legislation and change mindsets to ensure respect for international standards in Morocco.  She called upon the Government to make even greater efforts, especially in the area of women’s rights.  Did Morocco have plans to train journalists, judges and police in the area of human rights, including women’s rights?


Country Response


Mr. BENNOUNA said that the question was not about the compatibility of Islam with the Convention, but rather adapting the spirit of society to the demands of the times.  The issues surrounding religion were the subject of numerous discussions at various levels within the country.  The country was aware of the fact that international conventions had superiority over domestic law.  However, he could not cite any cases when the Women’s Convention was applied in domestic courts.

He added that the country was working to join the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  As for stereotypes in Moroccan society, he said that women did suffer from discriminatory attitudes.  While proper education was important, it was also necessary to combat stereotypes through the press and discussions within society.


Also regarding clichés and stereotypes, Ms. IDRISSI said that schools and educational institutions should be a starting point for efforts to raise public awareness.  Also important was media coverage and training sessions organized by civil society partners.  Discussion of ethics and human rights within society played an important role, as did publication of support materials on human rights.


Experts’ Comments


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that the report had provided a description of the situation in political life, and the numbers were rather sad.  She hoped that the positive developments achieved in the country represented a sustained effort on the part of the Government.  While the document contained information about several areas, including economic decision-making and diplomatic careers, it did not present any plans to address the situation.  She inquired about the results of the local elections last month.  She also expected that the next report would be much more balanced in presenting the number of women in diplomatic careers and at the university level.


Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, inquired about the law aiming to ensure better representation of women in the Parliament.  Would it make it possible for Moroccan women to be properly represented within the Chambers? 


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, welcomed the results achieved in the Moroccan Parliament elections under special quotas introduced by the Government.  The number provided by the country -- 35 women in Parliament -- was a major victory for all Muslim women.  The country must give some thought to introducing representation quotas in other areas of public life, as well.  Although it was used as a pretext for holding women back, the country’s religion actually did not prevent the Government from giving women their due place in public life.  Women were competent and capable, and they should take their lawful place in society.


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, congratulated the Government for the tremendous efforts it had taken and the political will it had demonstrated to improve the representation of women in political life.  Regarding the two circulars issued by the Prime Minister on the appointment of women in decision-making posts, what was the chance of those circulars being translated into the adoption of special temporary measures?


Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said she had misunderstood the 30 per cent quota for women’s representation in political parties as being part of the law.  That percentage was actually an agreement between the political parties.  In that regard, she suggested that a decision be taken to ensure a percentage of women in the Parliament.  The representation of women at the local level was a real problem.  Another issue was the low number of women in the judiciary.  How could the low proportion of women in the judiciary be explained?


The expert from Nigeria, Ms. KWAKU, noted that female members of the diplomatic corps were obligated to request a leave of absence to accompany their husbands on tours of duty.  The report did not mention a male diplomat requesting leave to accompany his wife.  By accompanying their husbands, women’s own diplomatic careers were put on hold.  Morocco was among the first to appoint a female ambassador in the 1960s.  Since 1972, however, there had not been any female ambassadors.  Why was that the case?  Were religious reasons attached to the dearth of female ambassadors?


Country Response


Mr. BENNOUNA said there was no obstacle, either religious or other, to designating women at the highest levels of responsibility.  He agreed that some progress needed to be made in that area.  He had requested that female members be added to the diplomatic corps in New York because of their superior lobbying abilities.  Women had family obligations and were not often available to leave the country.  They had certain constraints in assuming jobs that required extensive travel.


Regarding the judiciary and education, currently there was no problem in the area of education, he said.  In the judiciary, mental changes were needed in order for women to be accepted to judiciary positions.  Moroccan men had a difficult time accepting that a woman could make a judgement over a man.  While religious and legal obstacles did not exist, mental obstacles did.  Regarding mandatory quotas for women in political parties, he hoped the agreement for 30 per cent representation of women in political parties would continue.


Ms. IDRISSI added that the policy agreed to by the parties would almost certainly continue.  Moreover, specific steps had been taken as a result of the two circulars.


Ms. KERRICH said the Government had taken a number of initiatives to increase the representation of women.  The Prime Minister had sent a message to all government sectors to reinforce the number of women in decision-making positions.  In the political field, the parties had adopted a quota.  Measures for positive discrimination to strengthen the representation of women in elections were being considered.


Experts’ Comments


Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, agreed with the importance of education in the Government’s efforts to improve the situation of women.  What was being done to improve school programmes to promote a more positive image of women, especially in rural areas?  She congratulated Morocco for having acceded to the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, which should now be reflected in the labour policy and in the informal sector.


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that one of the reasons given by the Government for the low participation of women in education was the high cost of education.  She asked for a clarification because, earlier today, the delegation had reported that education in the country was free for all.  She also wanted to know what measures were being taken to improve the situation of domestic servants, and asked if the country’s new labour code had already been adopted, or was still under consideration. 


Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, required clarification regarding a statement in the report that wages were fixed by means of individual or collective contracts, based on the principle that it was wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of gender.  Rather than just specify that it was wrong, the Convention required equal pay for work of equal value.


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, also inquired about measures to improve the situation of women in rural areas.  Also, what was done to reduce professional segregation?


SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, said that the country’s response indicated that the Government had embarked on an integrated educational programme.  How was the Government developing a “human rights culture”, which it referred to in its report?   The greatest challenge was to reconcile human rights with religions and traditional attitudes within the country.  To eliminate discrimination and stereotypical attitudes, were women’s rights emphasized as human rights?  Creating a positive image of women and girls was very important, and she wanted to know if educational curricula reflected that attitude.  The reports also indicated that in an effort to eradicate illiteracy, some 10,400 had been trained in mosques.  How many of them were women?


Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, noted from the report that 87 per cent of the doctors in Morocco were practising in urban areas.  That meant that women in rural areas had very limited access to health services.  To rectify the situation, she suggested that the Government consider introducing incentives to doctors to remain in rural areas.  She also commended Morocco on the eradication of female genital mutilation, which had been reported by the Government.


Country Response


Responding to questions on the labour code, MOHAMMED LOULICHKI, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Morocco, said the code had been adopted following a long process, and would instil respect for human rights, especially rights for women.  Regarding questions on education, he said that while education was free for children, associated expenses, such as transportation, were also a factor.  Measures were being taken to help underprivileged students.  Non-governmental organizations were also working to reduce the costs associated with schooling.


Ms. IDRISSI said the right to work was enshrined in the Constitution.  Equality in civil and political matters must be accompanied by economic and social democratization.  Regarding wages, there was no discrimination in the public sector.  In the informal sector, however, it was difficult to know how many people were actually working.  Women were hit the hardest, since they did not have much bargaining power.  The Government had adopted measures to monitor the issue.  Inspectors had been trained in the field of human rights.  While there were problems remaining, especially in the informal, private and rural sectors, Morocco was making progress in labour issues.  The Government had a fundamental responsibility to protect the rights of rural women.


She said the labour code also covered the issue of domestic workers, including a special status category for them, which was still being considered.  Regarding mothers employed in the labour market, nursing mothers were given a certain amount of time and a designated place to nurse their babies.  Pregnant women were also able to do their work sitting down. 


MOHAMED AIT AZIZI, Chef de Service de la promotion du secteur associatif, Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de la Famille, de la Solidarité et de la Promotion Sociale, said women’s employment was promoted in rural areas.  There were various services to promote employment opportunities for women, including information campaigns and micro-credit programmes.  Such programmes would be accelerated in 2003.


Addressing the issue of education, Ms. CHAKIR said that some 92 per cent of children aged 6 to 11 were enrolled in primary education programmes.  At the high school level, some 66.5 per cent of adolescents aged 12 to 14 were registered.  The percentage was expected to rise in coming years.  Regarding the professional training level, some 41 per cent of students aged 15 to 17 were registered.  Measures to sustain such levels included expanded dining facilities and dormitories and more advantageous scholarships.  The number of girls at boarding schools had also risen.  There was a clear trend in academic reform and new educational material had been included.


She said measures were being taken to promote a culture of respect for human rights in the schools.  Regarding literacy, a national campaign to eliminate illiteracy was in place, given the high illiteracy rate among women -- some 62 per cent. 


On the issue of health, Ms. IDRISSI said access to health care in remote areas was a problem.  Local communities were working to improve access to health care.  The Ministry of Health had decreed a waiver to ensure democratic access to health services.  More than 300 doctors had been recruited in recent years to work in such areas.


Experts’ Comments


Ms. GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, responded to the remark by the Ambassador that there was no incompatibility between Islam and the provisions of the Convention.  However, according to the country’s written replies, the source of social conduct was Islamic law.  Thus, some interpretations of Islam were slowing down reforms in the country.  What were the chances of seeing an amendment or reform of the provisions flowing from the Shariah?  The Government seemed to be quite tolerant of the laws and practices that constituted discrimination.  For example, Moroccan women did not have the right to ask for a divorce, as did men.  Girls as early as 13 got married, and many of them were exposed to conjugal violence at a very early age.


AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, pointed out that some six years ago, the country’s initial report had come before the Committee.  Following a lively discussion with the delegation, the experts had learned that the Constitution had been revised and various legal provisions had been amended.  The Committee had also noted with concern serious discrimination in marriage as far as divorce and custody of children were concerned.  Members of the Committee had said that cultural customs and peculiarities could not question the universality of human rights.  Today, however, de jure and de facto discrimination continued in Morocco.  Men remained heads of the family, and they were the ones making decisions for women.  That was very discouraging.


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that the Government had not included information on articles 15 and 16 in its report, perhaps because it had reservations to that section of the Convention.  Coming from a country where Islamic law was in effect, she felt obliged to express her views in that regard.  While the Shariah should be respected, it was also possible to introduce modern legal provisions to resolve many problems.  In the case of divorce, for example, or death of one of the spouses, there was a problem if there was no marriage contract.  The statute of the country could introduce provisions related to communal property and its separation.  As for many discriminatory practices, they did not really stem from the Shariah, but from local prejudices instead.  Unless a text was Koranic in nature, it was not part of religious law.  A strong message should be sent that provisions of modern law should be implemented.


Ms. ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noted that the Government had provided information to the effect that the Constitution contained provisions regarding equality before the law, but that was not the same as practical equality between the sexes.  She also wanted to know about the situation of single mothers.  The report stated that single mothers tended to abandon or even kill their babies, and fathers faced serious consequences if they admitted paternity in such cases.  What was the Government planning to do to address that situation?


Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, drew attention to inequalities in marriage in Morocco, including those related to divorce and division of property.  Those inequalities undermined women’s ability to be autonomous and independent.  The Committee would be looking forward to the Government taking measures to achieve better equality in that area, for they would be in the interests of the country.


Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, noted that the report listed a variety of measures taken by different ministries to address the issue of violence against women.  Coordination of legislative and administrative steps was needed, as well as a coherent strategy to address all forms of violence against women.


Country Response


Mr. LOULICHKI said that discrimination had nothing to do with Islam.  Islam had as a basic premise the principle of equality between men and women.  What man did with it was something altogether different.  Progress could be made in the area of legislation.  Coordination among the various bodies that worked to combat violence against women was needed.  The Government was making a concerted effort in that regard.  While that effort had been dispersed, it did not reflect a lack of will.


Ms. IDRISSI said that Islam did not mean inequality.  It was a matter of how Islam was interpreted.  Morocco was looking at the issues of the rights of equality in marriage.  The root of Islam acted as a guarantor of equality.  There had been some abuses of Islam, which had resulted in some confusion.  Six books on the personal status had been drafted.  The personal status code had not been static.  There had been draft reforms in 1965, 1981, 1983 and 1993.  The establishment of the consultative committee to revise the personal status code was not a coincidence.  She hoped the major debate on the issue would result in a national consensus that would allow women to go forward.


It was not accurate to say that Morocco was at the same stage six years later, she continued.  A man could not divorce his wife without giving reasons, and the woman had to be present.  There must also be an attempt at reconciliation.  The new law governing civil status provided for better protection of women within marriage.  Some problems did exist in the area of child custody, however.  Civil society had done a great deal to raise awareness on the issue.  The Government had also done its part by proposing various bills.  Regarding Islam and human rights, she said there was no opposition between the two.


Regarding violence against women, Ms. KERRICH said Morocco had taken important steps by organizing, in 1999, the first campaign on violence against women.  That programme eliminated the silence on the issue and allowed female victims of violence to describe their suffering.  The Government had established a body to eradicate violence against women.  Morocco had also conducted a survey on violence against women in Casablanca and surrounding areas.  The national security institute had set up focal points to address the issue of intra-family violence.  Training courses had been organized in the police force to eradicate the phenomenon, and the major hospitals had centres for victims of violence.


Ms. IDRISSI said Morocco was trying to move towards a family code.  Polygamy was a contentious issue.  The marriage contract could include a clause on monogamy.  If the clause was violated, the marriage contract was considered null and void.  An attempt had been made to eliminate early marriage.  Women were not allowed to divorce.  The husband had the right to include the monogamy clause in the marriage contract.


Ms. GNANCADJA, expert from Benin, noted that she had not, in her earlier statement, said that everything that came from Islam was bad.  It was necessary to distinguish between what came from Islam, such as the inheritance law, and what was attributed to Islam.  She had a great deal of tolerance and she was merely seeking greater clarification.


Ms. IDRISSI said the expert’s comments were more than welcome and had not been misunderstood.


In a concluding statement, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson, said Morocco had systematically expressed its political will and commitment to the elimination of discrimination against women.  Morocco had also taken significant steps in that direction.  It was clear that social consensus needed to be facilitated by governmental action.  In that regard, the Government’s political will was particularly important, so that the implementation of the Convention did not take an “intolerably” long time.  There was a need for concern over the speed and effectiveness of measures to eliminate discrimination in Morocco.  Efforts needed to be enhanced.  Morocco’s national machinery had to be strengthened and there was a need to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, with particular reference to the Committee’s general recommendation 19.  There was also a clear need for advocacy measures in partnership with non-governmental organizations to create public awareness on violence against women as a human rights violation.  Perpetrators must be punished and measures to ensure the protection of victims needed to be enhanced. 


She said there was also a need to address stereotypes that lay at the heart of discriminatory practices.  The Government’s programme to eliminate illiteracy was commendable.  While formal education was very important, education by itself was insufficient for ensuring equality.  The content of education, including the extent to which it incorporated human rights training, was extremely important.  There was a need to change mentalities in Morocco.  The Committee was impressed with efforts to increase the number of women in political decision-making.  The sustained representation of women in political decision-making was key to ensuring de facto equality.  Women’s participation in the economic sector, the judiciary and the diplomatic areas was also important. 


The Committee was concerned about inequalities in Morocco’s legislation governing marriage, divorce and custody, she said.  The Committee urged the country to take a more direct approach in addressing those issues.  Morocco should take a fresh look at the issue of amending its personal status laws with a view to establishing harmony between the universal human rights of women and the Islamic religion.  The issue of personal status laws should be addressed sooner rather than later.  She urged the Government to reconsider the withdrawal of and/or narrowing down of its widely stated reservation to article 16.  That would be a powerful demonstration of the Government’s political will to ensure equality between men and women.  She also encouraged the Government to ratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol.


Mr. LOULICHKI said he was pleased to note the richness of the exchange today, which was a reflection of the Committee’s interest in the report.  The delegation would convey the Committee’s remarks to the Government.  He was aware of the course that lay ahead, as well as the challenges that must be met.  The successful implementation of measures would require both imagination and daring.


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For information media. Not an official record.