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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Morocco women win rights

Stephanie Irvine
BBC Moroccan analyst

The Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, has announced a landmark reform to the law over women's position in the family.

The changes to the personal status code would give women greater rights on matters covering marriage and divorce.

The King said the measure, which is expected to be approved by parliament soon, was designed to end "the iniquity weighing on women".

But he has had to tread a fine line in what is a very controversial subject.

'Vulnerable position'

Morocco's family law - or moudouana - has been one of the most hotly debated and divisive issues in the country in recent years.

Moroccan MPs
How can a society advance while the rights of women are squandered and they are subjected to injustice, violence and marginalisation
King Mohammed VI

The law, based on Islamic Sharia, has left women in a vulnerable position within the family.

Husbands have been able to divorce their wives easily, and turn them out of the home, while it has been very difficult for women to get out of abusive relationships.

Now part of that law is going to change.

Women will get property rights within marriage, and both spouses will have equal authority in the family.

Divorce will be made easier for women, and the age of marriage for girls will be raised from 15 to 18.

Polygamy will not be outlawed but will be made more difficult - a man will need to get consent from his existing wife before marrying another.

Protest rally

Women's groups have been campaigning for changes to the moudouana for years.

Minimum age for women to marry raised to 18
Judge's authorisation required for polygamy
Women given right to divorce their husbands
Women given new rights to assets acquired during marriage
Children's rights reinforced

But when the government attempted to reform the law three years ago, Islamist leaders organised a massive protest rally in Casablanca, attended by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.

The government got cold feet, and abandoned the reforms.

That was when the King stepped in, setting up a Royal Commission, made up of both Islamic scholars and women's representatives.

It was meant to report last year, but the controversial and sensitive nature of the subject has meant they have had difficulty reaching agreement.

Announcing the changes to parliament, the King said he wanted to prevent society from splitting apart over the issue.

He will be hoping that his religious authority in Morocco - he is Commander of the Faithful - will convince the country's more conservative Muslims that the changes are in keeping with the faith.

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