Leader’s Words About Women Jolt Morocco

11:39 AM Aida Alami 0 Comments

By Aida Alami

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of Morocco told Parliament this week that women would be better off at home than in the workplace, setting off alarm in a country that has seen slow but steady gains in women’s rights.

“Today, there is a problem with women’s role in modern society,” he said Tuesday in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, when asked about the government’s position on women’s rights. “Women don’t even find time to get married, to be mothers or to educate their children. Why don’t we embrace this sacred status that God gave to women?”

The reaction on social networks and in the Moroccan news media was swift and heated. Columnists said the prime minister should solve the country’s economic problems and not offend women, and political rivals said his comments revealed the true agenda of his conservative Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party.
“This is a threat — an insult to all Moroccan women and all the fights waged for many years,” Khadija Rouissi, a member of Parliament with the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We are all aware of the dangers posed to women’s rights, and we must mobilize against this.”

Some observers pointed out that with municipal elections coming up, the prime minister, popular for his plain speech in a local dialect, could have just been playing politics, trying to appeal to the conservative voters who dominate in Morocco. The Justice and Development Party, after all, has more female members of Parliament than any other party.

“What Benkirane is defending — family values, complementary roles instead of equality — is in line with what the vast majority of Moroccans think,” said Youssef Belal, a political science researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “It can also be argued that he is using language that feminists use internationally, which is that taking care of a household should be considered work and valued.”

Since Mr. Benkirane’s party took power in November 2011 and formed a coalition with three others, the Islamists have been careful to keep their ideology out of politics. In January, for example, Parliament amended a law to eliminate a loophole that had allowed rapists to walk free if they married their victims.

Still, many fear that Mr. Benkirane’s party, which strongly opposed revisions to the family code in 2004 that gave women more rights in relation to marriage and divorce, will roll back women’s rights and women’s gains in the labor force. Women make up only 26 percent of the work force, according to the Moroccan High Commission for Planning.

Mr. Belal said Mr. Benkirane’s comments were unlikely to lead to legislation that would roll back the rights women have gained in recent years.

“In policies and legislation, there haven’t been any breaks with the past” by the prime minister’s party, he said. “There have been small disagreements, such as the minimum age to get married, which has proven to be one of the biggest shortcomings of the family code.”

You can read the story on the New York Times' Website

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