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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 08:25 GMT
Changing status of Morocco's shunned wives
By Pascale Harter
BBC, Rabat

Moroccan beggar
Moroccan women have been second-class citizens

Khadija begs for money in the bustling alleys of the ancient walled city of Rabat, Morocco's capital.

"My husband repudiated me when I was three months pregnant," she says.

Under Morocco's old family code Khadija's husband and thousands of other Moroccan men could verbally divorce their wives at any time, and their decision was legally binding.

Khadija was thrown out of her family home.

Living in a shanty town she supports her two children and an ageing father on what she can beg from passers by.

Times are hard and Khadija has had to put her son in an apprenticeship with a tailor. He is just five years old.


In a strict Muslim society like Morocco's, there is great shame in being a spurned wife.

I was nine and I didn't want to live with my husband so I ran away... but my parents beat me and took me back
There is yet more shame in begging on the streets.

But these women are the victims of a family code that gave men in Morocco all of the rights in marriage, and none of the responsibilities.

Now this is about to change.

Under a new family code, or the Mudawana as it is known, husbands will now have to go to court to make their repudiation binding and women will no longer be legally required to be "obedient" to their husbands.

Layla Rhiwi and her organisation Spring of Equality, gives legal advice to women on matrimonial law.

She believes the new Mudawana will make a difference to the problem of abandoned women and children living on the streets.

"Under the new family code, whoever keeps the children keeps the marital house. So they will no longer be on the streets. This is an important protection for women."


Azziza was a child herself when her parents married her to an old man she did not know.

Moroccan woman
The future looks brighter, but equality remains far off
"I was nine and I didn't want to live with my husband so I ran away from my husband's house, but my parents beat me and took me back."

Azziza's marriage was not legal, but what was legal in accordance with the Koran, was that her father as a Walli, or male guardian, should decide her fate for her. Under the new Mudawana a woman from the age of 18, may be her own Walli.

This expert resolution solved the sticking point which could have stopped dead the whole project of changing the Mudawana.

Traditional followers of Morocco's national religion were afraid that the Mudawana would be re-written forsaking Islamic principles, such as that of the Walli.

Street protests in favour of modernising the law were followed by a much larger protest against.

But since coming to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI lent his full weight to the idea of a new Mudawana.

The document, the work of a Royal Commission allows for practices enshrined in the Koran, such as polygamy, but makes them much harder in practice.


Nadia Yassine, of the Association of Justice and Spirituality is perhaps Morocco's best known Muslim leader.

She participated in the street demonstrations against changes to the family code in 2000 because she says, the proposals at the time were un-Islamic and the result of foreign influence.

Now a backer of the king's Mudawana, perhaps surprisingly, Nadia Yassine says it does not go far enough because women remain minors under the penal code, which has not changed.

On paper at least, with the adoption of the new Mudawana, Morocco is set to become one of the most progressive countries in terms of women's rights in the Arab world.

Next, says Layla Rhiwi of Spring Time of Equality, the magistrates and judges must be retrained.

"They are old, they are sexist and they will not change over night," she says. However, she is hopeful.

Khadija and Azziza, scrabbling for small change in the medina are also hopeful: "I trust in Allah, I trust in the king, that one day I will have enough to eat," says Azziza.

"Freedom costs money," says Nadia Yassine.

"You can't liberate women without giving them any means. If a woman wants to get divorced and she is illiterate and unemployed, how she can exercise this freedom?"

Morocco women win rights
11 Oct 03  |  Africa

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