Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Morocco’s New Hakkaoui Law On Violence Against Women Falls Short

Morocco- Bassima Hakkaoui
Moroccan Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, Bassima Hakkaoui, arrives at her ministry in Rabat. Hakkaoui has been a driving force behind the new law aims to fight violence against women. Photo AFP

Bill 103-13 (now called the ‘Hakkaoui Law’) was officially adopted by the Moroccan government on 14 February 2018. Named after Bassima Hakkaoui who heads the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and has been a driving force behind the legislation, the law aims to fight violence against women. The law was adopted after having been stuck in the legislative circuit since the Islamist PJD government came to power in June 2016.

Hakkaoui stressed that the law is part of a process of “consolidating democracy and parity, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution aimed at combatting all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sex”. In practice, the law provides some protections against violence, for example street harassment and forcing a minor to marry, punishable by between 6-12 months in prison. The law also provides for the care of women victims of violence as well as coordination mechanisms between stakeholders to combat violence against women, highlighting the important role played by civil society associations in this area.

However, the adoption of the law was accompanied by general indifference from MPs and anger from women’s associations and civil society at large. Less than a third of the members of the Chamber of Counsellors (38 in total) debated the bill, and in the plenary session, the law was approved by only 25 of them. Ever since the Islamists took over as the leaders of a post-Arab Spring coalition, the fear of a backlash on women’s rights has been growing.

The law met with severe criticism from feminist non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who believe that their observations and suggestions regarding criminalizing domestic violence and acknowledging domestic violence against boys made to Hakkaoui’s ministry prior to the enactment of the law have not been taken into account, and that, as a result, the new law does not meet international standards. Many powerful women’s rights associations, notably the Association Démocratique des Droits de Femmes (ADFM), did not approve of the Hakkaoui Law. The association’s president, Saida Drissi Amrani, stated, “It is disrespectful of the long work that associations and civil society [have done] to make this project a real breakthrough for women.” She added, “The speed with which [the law] was debated in the plenary session of the Chamber of Counsellors once again reflects the lack of importance given by elected representatives to the rights of women.”

Mobilizing for Rights Associates (MRA) is of the same opinion and pointed out, in a statement issued a few weeks ago, the shortcomings of this bill that has turned a blind eye to many recommendations from civil society to improve it. The criminalization of marital rape, for example, which has been demanded for years, is still missing.

What caused the indifference and lack of consensus? The root of the problem is the dramatic increase in violence against women in Morocco. In 2016, 622 instances of sexual violence, including 184 cases of rape and 148 cases of sexual coercion, were documented; also reported were 5,037 cases of physical violence, including 237 cases of attempted murder and 241 cases of hostage taking; 119 instances of marital rape; 6,039 instances of psychological abuse, equivalent to 40 percent of the total violent acts committed against women, of which 840 consisted of verbal abuse, 200 instances of death threats, 903 instances of threats of physical violence, and 206 cases of threats of expulsion from the marital home. Further, according to the latest figures, 6 million women in Morocco reported having experienced violence, and 3.7 million of them experience violence from their spouses.

Within this context, the long-awaited Hakkaoui Law is likely to fall far short of ending the lack of legislation and punishment of all forms of violence against women, whether at home, on the street or elsewhere, as Hakkaoui herself promised it would. The fact that it does not mention marital rape speaks volumes about the Islamist attitude towards women’s rights. According to The New York Times, “Most [victims of the law] are either illiterate or have a primary school education, and about half are housewives […] They need to know that it is possible to break from subservience and claim their rights over their bodies.”

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