March 8th is indeed another day we had been instructed to mark on our calendar as a day dedicated to the celebration of the woman and to honor the woman. I have first started celebrating such a day among other women as a member of an NGO in 1995. Colleagues from Al Joulane High School in Mohammedia Morocco and other female and male members of The Organization For Women Action would meet and discuss the situation of the Moroccan woman unequal civil rights as portrayed in private laws that regulate family laws from birth to marriage to divorce to child custody…etc The meetings consisted of lectures, discussions and analyses of the family laws that still used Al Shareea as its sole reference for deciding on Family Laws that are in their current forms far from being fair to the Moroccan Woman.
Family laws are the only regulatory statute system in Moroccan legislation that borrowed its regulations from Al Shareea and remained faithful to it despite the renovations and scholastic adaptations and incorporation of modern laws into Moroccan legislation. It is not until very recently that there have been some changes that happened under the pressures of Non-Governmental Organizations for women who petitioned the late king, Hassan II, to intervene by gathering a million of signatures nationwide. The changes that followed were very negligible and simply glossed a modern lift-up over some of our archaic laws. Although the Moroccan husband, for example, became mandated by the recently amended law to apprise his wife of his decision to get remarried and the wife has acquired the right to object she still remains powerless -under the new law- to stop the marriage. This recent adjustment granted the woman the right to ask for a divorce and be granted one should she refuse to be part of bigamous matrimony. She continues to have the custody of the children if the Moroccan husband does not legally challenge the decision.
As for the assets’ just divisions and matrimonial alimony the laws tend to fall behind serving justice. Unfortunately, apart from child support and some severance allowance for the first three months she gets nothing out of the household’s assets if she does not have a proven legal ownership through purchase, heritage or any other legal transactional agreement. Let’s suppose a woman has lived in a marriage for thirty years, had children with her husband who are now all working or legal adults but then the husband decides to remarry and she objects, the only option she would be left with is to leave the marriage empty handed even if she has been working all her life besides being a wife and a mother. Fortunately, most women who are active contributors to the household income are aware of such unfortunate probabilities and started to request being a legal partner of all owned assets that are gained within the marital bond.
So far, the Moroccan woman has not attained ‘legal majority’ in the eyes of the Moroccan legislators and is considered a ‘½ person’ as far as heritage laws in Morocco are concerned in comparison to her male compatriot whether the latter is an infant or a 90 year old man. The laws that regulate heritage are Shareea Laws that not even a Will can change. A person has the right to only grant 1/3 of the total cleared assets to those who are not legal heirs. The rest is divided very unequally among children, spouses, parent, siblings, and other close family members according to their degree of kinship and other complicated regulations and computations. A wife for example has the right to ¼ of the total clear assets if she is the sole inheritor while the rest goes to the dead husband’s family members according to their degree of kinship; otherwise she gets no more than 1/8. The Shareea statutes are very extensive and expendable as they track down all the ones entitled to a heritage. All of the divisions are very unjust when it comes to a female family member whether she is a wife, a child, a sister or another close member with the right to the heritage under the Islamic family laws adopted by the Moroccan legislators since the Arab Muslim conquest to North Africa. These laws continue to state that such inheritance division is binding to all parties so contesting it would not lead to any different outcomes unless the modern Moroccan legislator dares enough to give a bold face-lift to its private laws.
Until very recently, children born to Moroccan women from foreign husbands were not allowed Moroccan citizenship while the ones born to Moroccan fathers from foreign women have a similar and equal right to citizenship to those born from two Moroccan parents. A Moroccan is a citizen if he or she is born to Moroccan parents. No one is required to have a citizenship certificate but rather a birth certificate where the birth certificate shows the legal names of the Moroccan parents and their parents’ names. Another aspect of the Moroccan private laws that maintains the woman in the status of a minor and a legal graded citizenship and dependency.
Only a child born within a marriage is registered while the ones born outside the marital bond have to go through legal venues and disputes to resolve the issue. A father however can register a child in the civil book from a relationship outside the matrimonial bond by acknowledging that the child is his. A ‘wedlock’ child might be the one that suffers most if the father denies his paternity. Women who get pregnant without being married end up aborting in most cases unless the father marries the sinful pregnant. In some tragic cases, the pregnant women or girls who were unable to abort or get married end up killing their infants and tossing them in landfills or trash barrels. There are other instances where the pregnant single mother commits suicide or gets killed trying to get rid of the baby using unorthodox methods. The women who do so tend to do so out of fear of society’s oppression and stigma and also for fear of what awaits the life they are carrying should they decide to keep the pregnancy. Suing the alleged fathers seems to be rare for two main reasons. First, both the man and the woman who have children outside the marriage are adulterers and sinners in the eyes of Islamic laws that are still adopted by the Moroccan Private Laws and they are therefore subject to the punishment reserved to such acts. Since lashing is not used in modern Morocco, prison is the most common punishment. As only the mother carries the obvious result of her sin then the father can easily get away without punishment should he persist on denying the sexual act that allegedly happened and resulted in his alleged paternity to the child of ‘shame.’ Another aspect in private laws that is very strict and harsh and leads to disastrous social outcome to both children and women.
Now since the first time I joined a movement for women action with the goal to be part of a movement that seeks a more effective and productive role in society; I have seen some changes happen let’s sum them up: A man is now mandated to inform the current wife of the decision to remarry and to try and have her consent before getting a second wife but I am not sure how the reformed act works when it comes to a man who is already married to two or three other wives. In such case is the husband under the amended law legally required to inform all his distaff. The latter however cannot change the decision but can require to be granted freedom from the bigamous or ‘multigamous ‘ matrimonial bondage. A child born to a Moroccan mother from a foreign husband has acquired similar rights to all other Moroccan children that includes citizenship and therefore the right to be part of the Moroccan public workstream, the right to ownership and running a business without being mandated to be in partnership with a national should he/she choose to. While ½ personhood is still a constant in the heritage laws as far as women are concerned, the ‘wedlock’ child has not acquired that right and his/her viability is still hanging on the father’s decision to acknowledge or deny, the mother’s strength of character and the kindness of the ones around.
How is my status as a naturalized American woman from a Moroccan origin differ from mine as a Moroccan woman? My former colleagues or comrades or friends from Morocco might wonder. As an American woman I can only be part of a monogamous matrimonial structure since bigamy is illegal. In theory I can also have children outside a marriage or by getting a semen sample at a fertilization clinic. I can only abort when I want to and in states that allow abortion and only in the first weeks of pregnancy before the fetus gains the legal age of viability after which abortion is criminalized since at such gestational age the fetus gains personhood. If I die, since I am divorced, only my child gets my total heritage unless I decide otherwise. As a wife I have equal right to a total inheritance if my husband decides so. There is also a multitude of social structures that can help a single mother or father with children outside marriage. The same resources are also allowed to households of the same gender whether they are in states where such marriage is allowed or not. The legislator seems to take into consideration children’s interest at heart. Of course this is in theory and I have also seen it in practice working well for most others, should I add.
There are however other types of injustice that are not tolerated by the law as officially published for the people and for the law officers to execute and respect. There is a saying that has stayed with me since I first heard it in a lecture at one of the amphitheaters of Boston College as a visiting teacher from the Middle East and North African Region during the first interdisciplinary educational program offered by the University of The Middle East with the partnership of The Irish Institute. The lecturer quoted someone who said: “ Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It must have been said within the context of conflict resolution and leadership styles because we were being trained to gain better insights in critical thinking skills, conflict resolution, leadership, civic involvement, applied learning as teachers and also how to instill such skills in learners and create a more cross-culturally tolerant area with a real concern for stability, multi-dimensional development and effective citizenship. I admired the lecturer for the quote as I loved how the words rang so axiomatically well to the point that one could almost take them for a social and behavioral theorem that does not fail. I was proven right since I have first stepped in US to become a permanent resident and ultimately the American citizen I have become. My project novel The Secret Society which I initially labelled The Socratic Sorority is inspired by the social theorem I mentioned earlier. I am a living proof; indeed “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I rebelled against being considered a half person, feared for my son’s future in a highly patriarchal society -as I understood- and I panicked as young mother raising a child without the presence of the father around just to be stripped of my whole personhood, and to be the target of a very intricate assault on my sanity, my health and be held captive to a non stop scenario of horror to the point that talking about it would in fact make me sound like a lunatic: a non comparable scenario of intimidation, aggressive assault on reason and relentless attempt to brainwash and depravation.
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