Women in Morocco Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Morocco

Women in Morocco
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Berberse tapijtknoopster uit Zemmour TMnr 10028617.jpg
A Moroccan woman practicing the traditional weaving, Middle Atlas, 1955
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)100 (2010)
Women in parliament11.0% (2013)
Women over 25 with secondary education20.1% (2012)
Women in labour force43.0% (2012)
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.454 (2019)
Rank111th out of 162
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.612 (2021)
Rank144th out of 156

The history of women in Morocco includes their lives from before, during, and after the arrival of Islam in the northwestern African country of Morocco. It is a misconception that harems are formed here or that there is a universal rule to women's treatment and rights in this country. Some households subscribe to more ancient, Amazigh customs . Others adhere to an Arabized and Islamic . Independence from France in 1956.[3]

After Morocco's independence from France, Moroccan women were able to start going to schools that focused on teaching more than simply religion, expanding their education to the sciences and other subjects. Upon the institution of the legal code known as Mudawana in 2004, Moroccan women obtained the rights to divorce their husbands, to child custody, to child support, and to own and inherit property.[3]

While Morocco's current borders and entity as a nation state were not recognized until 1956 following independence from France, women there have played a significant role in its conception, which spans several centuries. From their roles of relaying oral traditions and stories, to forging the foundation of important institutions, to their involvement in resisting colonialism, and holding positions of power following the establishment of the Moroccan state, women were and continue play significant roles in Morocco.

Amazigh women in Morocco[edit]

Prior to the spread of Islam in Morocco, which started with the Arab conquest in the late 7th century CE, Morocco was part of a region inhabited mostly by non-Arab Amazigh populations.[4] Various Amazigh tribes during the 4th, 5th, and 6th century are said to have been matrilineal, such as the Tuareg tribes of the Sahara and Sahel regions.[5] As such, Amazigh women took on significant roles in local communities. A historical example is the figure of Kahina, a legendary Amazigh female military leader who fought against the Arab expansion into North Africa.

The jewellery of the Berber cultures is a style of traditional jewellery worn by women and girls in areas inhabited by indigenous Amazigh people. Following long social and cultural traditions, the silversmiths of such ethnic groups created intricate jewellery to adorn their female customers. Traditional rural Amazigh jewellery was usually made of silver and includes elaborate triangular fibula brooches, originally used as clasps for garments, as well as necklaces, bracelets, earrings and similar items.[6]

An Amazigh woman with tattoo, traditional jewellery and dress in southern Morocco, c. 1950

Amazigh women also have had a lasting position in Moroccan folklore. It is believed that the tale of Aisha Qandisha has existed since at least the 7th century.[7] There are several variations of Aisha Qandisha's name, which include Lalla Aicha and Aicha Hamdouchia. Stemming from the pre-Islamic era of Morocco, Aisha Qandisha is believed to be a female demon that takes the shape of multiple beings, including a half-goat.[8] Unlike other demons in Moroccan folklore, Aicha Qandisha appears mostly in men's dreams and is said to make a man impotent. Such folklore remains widely popular in Morocco today, especially with children.[citation needed]

In her study about Amazigh women's social and cultural roles in the Ait Kabbash tribe in southern Morocco, art historian Cynthia Becker wrote:[9]

In fact, women in North Africa and more specifically, Amazigh women, have always been active agents who influence both the domestic and the public sphere. They play an important role in their communities by providing commodities such as tents, clothing, rugs, sacks, and ceramic pots, in addition to acting as healers, marriage brokers, midwives, cooks, agriculturalists, and pastoralists.

— Cynthia Becker, Amazigh Arts in Morocco. Women shaping Berber identity

Establishment of Islamic institutions (680-900)[edit]

Following the Arab expansion into the Maghreb region, some women took on significant roles in the institutional foundation of landmarks that continue to function today. Fatima al-Fihri, for example, is credited for founding the Karaouine mosque in Fes in 859, which in later centuries developed into the "world's first academic degree-granting institution of higher education".[10][dead link] Fatima's sister, Mariam al-Fihri, also founded the al-Andalus Mosque in Fes.[11]

European imperial expansion and forms of colonialism (1600-1956)[edit]

As part of a broader French imperialist project that brought about the French occupation of Morocco and the Maghreb region in general, European narratives on Moroccan women were often fixated on Orientalist images. Dominant narratives described Moroccan women as docile, oppressed, and in need of being saved. Consequently, Moroccan women's experience of life under French influence was a result of multiple intersections of power and patriarchy. For example, following a growing trend of French land expropriation and economic hardship, which drove rural Moroccan families out of their homes and land, many Moroccan women migrated to the urban areas in search of economic opportunity, especially to Casablanca and other major cities.[12] Upon migrating to Casablanca, some of them were forced into prostitution, due to their lack of formal identification documents — a policy that the French instituted.[citation needed]

Women in anti-colonial resistance[edit]

Just as Moroccan women were subject to a gendered form of colonialism, their resistance was gendered as well. The oral traditions of Moroccan women were a unique form of disseminating stories of resistance, oftentimes inspired by oral traditions of female warriors who fought in early Islamic history, such as the stories of Hind and Sukayna.[13] Moroccan women, for example those involved in the armed resistance against Spanish colonial rule in the northern Rif region, adopted their own experiences of fighting against colonialism to existing frameworks of oral traditions that address women in war. The storytelling of these events played a significant role in shaping memories and conceptualizing post-colonial identities among women.[citation needed]

In addition to the oral traditions of women involved in armed resistance, a role that mostly lower-class women took up, upper class Moroccan women were heavily involved in the nationalist politics of resisting colonialism. The Istiqlal Party was the primary mobilizing political force in Morocco that rallied against French colonial rule. The party included the participation of various elite Moroccan women from wealthy and educated families, such as Malika Al-Fassi, from the still influential Al-Fassi family.[14] There was a close collaboration between women like Malika Al-Fassi, who were important figures in the political resistance, and women such as Fatima Roudania, a working-class armed resistance fighter.[13] The wealthier women involved with the Istiqlal Party provided educational services to lower-class women involved in the armed resistance, assisted in the proliferation of nationalist literature and knowledge production, and provided protection by hiding women who were fighting against the French.[13]

Many of the Moroccan women involved in resisting French colonialism oftentimes looked to the public presence of women in struggles of resistance in the region for inspiration, such as in Algeria and Palestine, including women like Djamila Bouhired and Leila Khaled.[citation needed]

Independence (1956-present)[edit]

Literature, knowledge production, artistic expression[edit]

Following independence from France in 1956, Moroccan women were at the forefront of knowledge production and artistic expression—all of which nuanced the conception and perception of a post-colonial Moroccan identity. Fatima Mernissi, for example, emerged as a critical figure in the knowledge production on gender studies in Morocco. Laila Lalami has also become a popular figure in literature on Morocco, being the first Moroccan author to publish a book of fiction in English. Other Moroccan women who gained prominence through their published work include Leila Abouzeid, Latifa Baka, Khnata Bennouna, Farida Diouri, and Bahaa Trabelsi.

Moroccan women artists also gained regional and international popularity, including Lalla Essaydi, Samira Said, Amel Bent, Najat Aatabou, Dounia Batma, and Naima Samih, among others.

Women in politics[edit]

In addition to art and literature, Moroccan women have been publicly present in shaping contemporary politics. In 1961, the Union Progresiste des Femmes Marocaines emerged as one of the first exclusively female organizations in Morocco. Princess Lalla Aicha, the late sister of the late King Hassan II, was the president of another woman's organization called the Union Nationale des Femmes Marocaines. Various other woman's organizations in Morocco were created after independence with the aim of advancing the cause of women's rights, such as the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women and the Union de l'Action Feminine.[15]

Various Moroccan women have held positions in the government, cabinet, and high ranks in political parties, including Asma Chaabi, Nawal El Moutawakel, Bassima Hakkaoui, Nouzha Skalli, and Mbarka Bouaida, among others. Also, Moroccan women have been at the forefront of dissent and the opposition, sometimes facing jail and harassment from the Moroccan government. Among those are Nadia Yassine of the Moroccan Islamist movement Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane (Justice and Spirituality) and the human rights activist Khadija Ryadi. During the beginning of Morocco's version of the Arab Uprisings that began in December 2010 following the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, an unmarried Moroccan mother, Fadoua Laroui, set herself on fire in front of a municipal office in protest of her public housing application getting rejected. Laroui has been dubbed by some as the "Moroccan female Bouazizi".[16]

Bassima Hakkaoui, former Moroccan Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of the Justice and Development Party.

Despite the fact that Morocco ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the political representation of women in Morocco remains relatively low. Following the November 2011 elections, only one woman was appointed minister. Like other neighboring countries, Morocco introduced Law n° 59–11 in 2011, which created a quota system that allocated one-third of the seats in the Lower House of Parliament to women.[17] As a result, 66 of the 395 seats in the Lower House of Parliament belong to women as of the November 2011 elections.[17]

Due to this increased political voice, women's representation in parliament has increased dramatically, from 1% in 2003 to 17% in 2015; Morocco's 2004 Family Code (Moudawana) is one of the most progressive in the Arab world; in 1993, Morocco ratified an international agreement on gender equality that has provided leverage for further progress in domestic legislation.[18]

Following the increase in representation, Morocco has seen improvements in women's health and social outcomes: the fertility rate is now one of the lowest in the region; the maternal mortality rate fell by two-thirds in just two decades; girls' primary school enrolment rose from 52% in 1991 to 112% in 2012 (due to re-enrolment); and just under 23% of women are in formal employment (2011).[19]

Outside the realm of formal politics, Moroccan women have been active in various advocacy projects and legal reforms. Most notably, following the suicide of Amina Filali, a young girl who was forced to marry her rapist, various Moroccan woman organizations, such as Union de l'Action Feminine,[20] pushed for the reform of Article 475 from Morocco's penal code. Prior to the national campaign, Article 475 was the law cited by the judge in Amina Filali's case that stated a rapist may be acquitted of charges if he marries his victim. The campaign led to the repeal of Article 475 in January 2014.[21]

Moroccan women have also been active in lobbying for reforms to the personal status code laws (Mudawana). It was initially codified following Morocco's independence from France and was used as a tool for the state's immediate consolidation of power.[22][23] Following Mohammed VI's accession to the throne in 1999, reforming the Mudawana was a major platform that guided the early years of his reign. Various women's organizations supported these measures, such as l'Union de l'Action Féminine (UAF) and Association Marocaine pour les Droits des Femmes (ADFM).[24] In 2004, reforms in the new Mudawana included stricter measures for men wanting to marry additional wives, greater leniency for a divorce initiated by the wife, more equitable inheritance rights for women, and the increase in the legal age of marriage for women. The reception of these reforms to the Mudawana varied across class lines and the political spectrum. While members of the aforementioned UAF and ADFM championed these measures, various groups, such as the Islamist Al Adl Wa Al Ihsanne, opposed these measures, claiming the reforms were "Western-inspired" and rooted in the neoliberal feminist measures of the World Bank.[25]

Abortion in Morocco[edit]

Abortion is illegal in Morocco. According to Article 453 of the Penal Code, abortion was only allowed if the mother's physical health was threatened. An amendment to Morocco's abortion law has recently been approved. The new amendment allows abortion in cases of rape, incest and foetal impairment. The debate on Morocco's abortion law was opened after the Moroccan Association for the Fight against Clandestine Abortion (AMLAC) reported that 800 illegal abortions were performed daily nationwide. Dr. Chafik Chraïbi [fr], former head of gynaecology and obstetrics at the Matérnité des Orangers in Rabat, Morocco, and founder of AMLAC, was behind the study.

Hajar Raissouni, a journalist, was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly having an illegal abortion and sex out of wedlock.[26] She was later pardoned by King Mohammed VI.[27]


Women in Morocco are often forced to endure harassment when they go out in public. Often the sexual harassment takes the form of name calling. To fight this abusive, misogynistic culture, a number of Moroccan women have stood up to their abusers. The culture of sitting at a café had been dominated by men for a long time. It is only during the recent two decades that seeing women mixing with men in cafés in urban cities, such as Marrakech, Tangier, Rabat or Casablanca, became socially acceptable. There is also a demand to uphold the law to ensure the safety of women, and to punish the abusers. Although a law protects women from abuse, the real problem is that there is no tangible intention to pursue or apply it.[28] In 2018 a law went into effect throughout Morocco known as the Hakkaoui law, drafted by Bassima Hakkaoui; it includes a ban on sexual harassment in public places, as well as a ban on forced marriage and harsher penalties for certain forms of violence. But it was criticized for requiring victims to file for criminal prosecution to get protection.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gender Inequality Index" (PDF). HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORTS. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  2. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2021" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Women in Morocco". THIRDEYEMOM. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  4. ^ Laroui, Abdallah. The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay. Princeton: Princeton Studies on the Near East, 1977.
  5. ^ Brett, Michael, and Elizabeth Fentress. The Berbers. Wiley: Blackwell, 1997. [page?]
  6. ^ Becker, Cynthia (2006). Amazigh arts in Morocco : women shaping Berber identity (PDF). Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-79591-4. OCLC 568018126. The Art of Dressing the Body p. 47-75
  7. ^ Crapanzano, Vincent. The Hamadsha. A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
  8. ^ Westermarck, Edward. Ritual and Belief in Morocco. London: Macmillan and Co., 1926
  9. ^ Becker 2006, p. 5
  10. ^ "dead link". www.sacred-destinations.com. Retrieved 2022-03-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "Fatima Al-Fihri – Founder of the Oldest University in the World." The Urban Muslim Woman. Retrieved 2014-03-02
  12. ^ Maghraoui, Driss. "Gendering Urban Colonial Casablanca" in Martina Rieker and Kamran Asdar Ali, eds. Gendering Urban Space in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa (New York & Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
  13. ^ a b c Baker, Alison. Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women. New York: SUNY Series, 1998.
  14. ^ "Women Movements in Morocco." Al Akhawayn University. Retrieved 2014-03-02
  15. ^ Salime, Zakia. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  16. ^ Lalami, Laila (February 27, 2011). "Fadoua Laroui: The Moroccan Mohamed Bouazizi". Retrieved August 19, 2019 – via www.thenation.com.
  17. ^ a b "Gender Quotas Database | International IDEA". www.idea.int. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  18. ^ "Women's political empowerment in Morocco". Development Progress. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  19. ^ Castillejo, Clare; Tilley, Helen. "The road to reform Women's political voice in Morocco" (PDF). Development Progress. Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  20. ^ "Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa". www.swmena.net. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  21. ^ "Morocco repeals 'rape marriage law'". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  22. ^ Charrad, Mounira. State and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
  23. ^ Harrak, Fatima (2009). "The History and Significance of the New Moroccan Family Code". Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa Working Paper Series, Northwestern University.
  24. ^ Cavatorta, Francesco; Emanuela Salmasso (2009). "Liberal Outcomes through Undemocratic Means: The Reform of the Code de status personnel in Morocco." Journal of Modern African Studies.
  25. ^ Guessous, Nadia. 2011. "Genealogies of Feminism: Leftist Feminist Subjectivity in the Wake of the Islamic Revival in Contemporary Morocco." PhD diss., Columbia University.
  26. ^ Alami, Aida (2019-09-30). "Moroccan Journalist Sentenced to Prison for Abortion and Premarital Sex". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
  27. ^ "المغرب: الملك محمد السادس يصدر عفوا عن الصحافية هاجر الريسوني المسجونة بسبب "الإجهاض"". فرانس 24 / France 24 (in Arabic). 2019-10-16. Retrieved 2019-10-25.
  28. ^ "The Moroccan women fighting daily sexual harassment". BBC News. 10 October 2016.
  29. ^ "Morocco bans forced marriage and sexual violence - BBC News". Bbc.com. Retrieved 2018-09-13.

External links[edit]

Media related to Women of Morocco at Wikimedia Commons