Morocco’s Gender-Equality Laws Fail to Improve Situation

Article Summary
While Morocco has passed laws designed to guarantee gender equality, the situation remains largely unchanged, writes Lahcen Achy.

In the last 10 years, Morocco has witnessed two divergent trends relating to economic equality between women and men. On one end, the country has enacted laws affirming parity in the labor market between men and women, and it ratified the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The prime minister also issued a directive, the first of its kind since 2001, exhorting the promotion of women to high-level positions in public office. The Labor Law devoted many clauses to reducing wage and job discrimination based on gender, especially in the private sector. In 2011, the new constitution introduced universal parity principles, and it lifted the remaining reservations standing in the way of empowering women within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals.

Paradoxically, on the other end of the spectrum, these measures have not had any real impact on the reality on the ground. The economic integration of women has actually declined, and their ability to become financially independent is thus diminished. The proportion of female participation in the labor market did not exceed 25% in 2012, compared to 30% in 1999, despite the improvement in women’s access to education and the apparent decline in birth rates. By comparison, the median worldwide percentage of female participation in economic activities was 51%, while female participation in sub-Saharan African countries reached 60%.

Besides their weak economic participation, female unemployment rates are higher than those of males, especially in the cities, where these rates reached 21%, compared to 11% for men. More than a year after entering the labor market, 75% of women remain unemployed, compared to 60% of men.

Field studies have shown that women who spend a long time searching for jobs lose their “desire” to continue on their career paths, as their work skills erode over time, and they eventually choose to not work at all. Morocco hasn't recognized that long-term unemployment is one of the factors that frustrates women and compels them to withdraw from the labor market. Moreover, some within society feel that female unemployment isn't the same as real unemployment, especially considering that under the Family Law, men must “provide for their family’s needs, while women can choose to contribute as their abilities allow.”

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This situation has resulted in a wide chasm between legal and social progress, while confirming the impossibility of changing society through legal measures alone. Although important, the legal arsenal — as it slowly falls in line with international norms — requires other mechanisms to neutralize the pockets of resistance standing in the way of change, through the implementation of appropriate social and economic policies.  

This chasm is particularly evident in Morocco’s ranking with respect to female economic participation on the Gender Inequality Index. It stands in 128th place out of 135 countries worldwide, and in 12th place out of 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The proportion of female participation in public office did not exceed 31% in 2012. This proportion increased slightly from 2003, when it was 29%. This proves that the state was timid in its adopted policies aimed at employing women, despite its commitment to the policy of “gender equality” in its official discourse.

Female participation is primarily centered on the areas of health and education, and to a lesser extent, the judiciary and legal professions. Meanwhile, their representation in the symbol of the state — the Interior Ministry — remains weak, and women comprise only 9% of the total number of employees. Additionally, the number of women in senior government positions does not exceed 13%, which puts Morocco in 98th place on the World Economic Forum’s classification.

The state must develop a national employment strategy that integrates all the segments and constituents of society, while adopting a voluntary policy aimed at reinforcing and encouraging economic parity between men and women. Such a policy can be translated into tax measures that encourage private sector activity, and the allocation of appropriate quotas for women in vocational and self-employment training programs.

The state should also strive to implement all pertinent legislation, by adopting a clear and transparent policy permitting the assessment and tracking of employment, job advancement, and wage criteria to remedy the gender based disparity that the law forbids. It is the government’s responsibility, as part of its efforts to revitalize the spirit of the constitution, to take practical measures aimed at consolidating the principle of parity or encouraging discrimination in favor of women, during a transitional period that would improve female access to public jobs.

In consultation with professional associations, and as part of its efforts to create economic equality between the genders, the state can establish a framework that emboldens the private sector by facilitating its access to public projects, or affording it preferential fiscal treatment. The body created under the constitution and tasked with maintaining equality and combating all forms of discrimination must demonstrate its capacity to innovate, and strive to attain economic parity between men and women as the constitution stipulates. In addition to government action, civil-society organizations, which constitute the driving force behind change, must also increase their pressure aimed at giving women better access to the world of business, and a more equitable chance for admission into more fields of work without them suffering the effects of gender bias and discrimination.

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