• Sunday, November 23, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Q&A: “Poverty Kills Women’s Awareness”

    Nezha Guessouss / Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

    Nezha Guessouss / Credit:Bomoon Lee/IPS

    Liza Jansen interviews NEZHA GUESSOUSS, former member of the Morocco Family Law Reform Commission

    UNITED NATIONS, Dec 14 (IPS) – Five years ago, Morocco amended its family law to promote the idea of equality between men and women.

    Nezha Guessouss, a member of the reform commission that brought the new code from inception to passage, considers it a true success story, although she notes that many women – especially those who are poor – have yet to secure their new rights.

    “The law doesn’t necessarily mean there is equality in Morocco,” Guessouss told IPS this month, amid celebrations at U.N. headquarters surrounding the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

    Since King Mohammed VI adopted the law, the Mudawana, in January 2004, the legal marriage age for girls was raised from 15 to 18; a woman can ask for a divorce in court without her husband’s approval; and men are only allowed to have a second, third or fourth wife if they can prove it necessary for procreation and guarantee every wife the same quality of life, as written in the Quran.

    Currently a professor at the Medical School of Casablanca, Guessouss told IPS that despite its revolutionary reforms, much of the family law’ code remains taboo in Morocco. Excerpts from the interview follow.

    Q: Morocco’s revised family code was groundbreaking. What was your role?

    A: I contributed to this whole process from the beginning, being a human being and women’s rights activist. From the early 1970s, I’ve been involved in actions and protests.

    The Moroccan Family Law Advisory board was nominated by the king, and for a reason I will never know, I was nominated.

    For the first time, women were involved in a commission in a Muslim country drafting a family law. Three women were on the commission, and I think the rationale was that one was a scientist – which I am – one was a social scientist, and the third one was a lawyer.

    Q: What was the greatest challenge in drafting the law and ensuring it would pass?

    A: Everything, 100 percent of what we did was a very big challenge. You have to sit down with all these people from different [theological] backgrounds, trying to introduce some modern rationality in the discussion because you have to move from a law in which all the power is in hands of men, and allow a principle of equality. You can imagine how large the gap is.

    It was very hard, there were a lot of fights and public demonstrations going on, but it worked. Still, it is only a step, a lot remains to be done.

    Q: According to Fatiha Layadi, a member of the Moroccan Parliament, the new freedoms for women are not without controversy and educated women are still considered a threat by many Muslim men. How do you see this?

    A: That’s true, but I am not sure if it needs to be related to Muslims or Islam. I think it is much more linked to tradition. Islam is not our only culture, it is part of our culture.

    There is a lot of women’s poverty and a lot of women are not aware of their rights, because poverty kills awareness. For example, the family law says women can ask for a divorce, getting it in a maximum of six months. But if she hasn’t got a job or anywhere to go, how is she able to enjoy her right?

    I have never faced any discrimination, but I am very privileged because of my educational background. Educated women are in a position in which they can ask for their rights and are sure their rights will not be violated.

    Under Moroccan law, for example, men and women have [job] equality. Unfortunately, it does not always work like that in reality.

    Q: How much more do wealthy people in the country benefit from the law?

    A: The law definitely is a little elitist. Educated women, in the position of getting a job, earning money to buy a house, aware of the provisions of the law and able to pay a lawyer to defend them, can much more benefit from the law then poor, uneducated, jobless women who are dependent on their husband, father or brother.

    But the eternal question is: should the law wait until the situation is correct to be changed, or is the law one of the ways to change the situation?’

    I think we did both in Morocco. We had to wait almost 30 years after the old law was proclaimed. During those years, women’s position drastically changed. One out of 20 Moroccan families in the country is currently headed by a woman: the wife, the mother, the sister or any other woman.

    Q: Have you seen any change in your personal life since the law has been implemented?

    A: As a major change in my environment, I would say that in general women feel better protected and are more confident, even those who don’t know the provisions of the law or cannot benefit from it.

    However, I personally still know a lot of women who have been suffering for a long time trying to [obtain a] divorce but did not get it.

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