The Moorish Wanderer

Born with a Foot in his Mouth

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on June 18, 2014

Mr Benkirane’s latest speech betrayed his deep reactionary prejudice, though it certainly is not the first time his own Weltanschauung goes off the rail:

or two years earlier:

While praising gender-based government policies for the past two decades, and reaffirming his government’s commitment de jure in achieving gender equality, particularly on the labour market, the Head of Government touched upon a subject worthy of debate, though his speech was factually wrong. Families do not hurt because women go out for work. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that families are in crisis. It is true on the other hand that they have matured and transformed beyond the comfort zone of reactionaries like Mr. Benkirane.

Active women in Morocco are a minority, both in the workforce and in the total female population: for the past five years, the gender ratio in the workforce was 3:1 in favour of Men. There has been an actual decline in female labour participation in fact, and the graph below shows it is the primary reason behind the drop in overall labour participation:

gender-based analysis of labour participation confirm that women are a minority in the labour force, and rarely recover from a decline.

gender-based analysis of labour participation confirm that women are a minority in the labour force, and rarely recover from a decline.

Since 1998-1999, there has been a sharp decrease in labour participation, particularly so among active female workers, whose levels have not been yet reached. It could be estimated that for every percentage point lost to labour participation, there are two for the female population, and less than one for the male workforce. If anything, female labour participation has fared worse in the past 15 years. As a result, there are more, and not less inactive women. This would mean, in Mr Benkirane’s view, more eligible stay-at-home moms.

There is a cost to this decline however: since 2000, and assuming women maintained their pre-1998 levels of participation, GDP would have benefited from 5 Billion dirhams on average for the past decade. Similar computations put the benefits of a full gender equality on labour participation (around 72%) to a full percentage point in growth, enhancing the 4.76% average of 2000-2011, to 5.55%.

Mr Benkirane’s point about the supposedly adverse effect on family cohesion does not stand scrutiny as well: the percentage of young Moroccan women, from 15 to 24 has actually declined in the past 15 years: in 1999, one young Moroccan woman was active, in 2013, only 1 in three was out on the job market. A remarkable figure that concludes to a decline in the number of this particular cohort: there are fewer working young Moroccan women. This cohort is critical as it coincides with the tail end of the average age at first pregnancy in Morocco. In short, there are more young women, in percentage of total population and absolute numbers, with no work constraints to conceive and raise a family. This fact is at stark odds with Mr Benkirane’s assertion that working women are a threat to family stability.

Year 15-24 Pop 15-24 Female Working Female
1999 5 754 514 3 016 227 1 453 821
2013 6 222 000 3 173 220 1 028 123
% Change 7,81% 5,07% -34,65%

This suggests the causes of any hypothetical family crisis in Morocco are not due to female labour participation. If anything, it makes good economic sense to have as many women out on the job market as possible: first, as many have access to eduction (at least primary) it and given the secular downward trend in female fertility, women should have as many opportunities as possible to go out and get a job, part or full-time; indeed, a rough estimation of market counterpart to household activities suggests educated but inactive women cost an average of 1.32 percentage point of GDP; this means that stay-at-home moms with even a primary education certificate are a gross waste of government resources, even if they decide to have a lot more children, which they don’t.

Second, what Mr Benkirane decries is not a disintegration of families per se, but rather the gradual disappearance of a lionized traditional structure at odds with the changes the Moroccan society continuously undergoes. It also illustrates the irreconcilable trade-off PJD faces on social policies: on the one hand, they cannot renounce official slogans of gender equality, but on the other, their electoral powerhouse is primarily based on the idea of an activist social conservative State.

The setbacks for women’s economic rights are bad enough such as they are: education without an occupation is an economic waste to be sure, but it also subverts the central goal of public education, particularly so for women.

Hit’em all, God will reward you

(Pedantic note: the title is a slight alteration of the famous “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His”. Nice story about how the Catholics slaughtered fellow Christians…)

HCP provides all kind of statistics, and violence against women is no exception. Sadly enough, I am not entirely surprised by the figures. Though the numbers need to be detailed (violence as defined in the document subsumes economic as well as physical and moral ones), it is undeniable that the traditional family structure and the gender approach allow and, to some extent, encourage a machist type of behaviour in Moroccan households. But first, let us have a look at these figures, because there is unfortunately little surprising material there;

According to this survey, 63% of surveyed female population mentioned they were subjected to a violent act, and almost one out of two declared they experienced psychological violence (i.e. insults and verbal abuse). The other figures look a bit sketchy –and for once, HCP interviewers are blameless- because the subject is such a taboo among Moroccan households that I was surprised to read ‘only’ 2.2 million rural women went on record to state what they experienced. Tip of the iceberg, I shouldn’t wonder.

It’s complicated stuff. Surveys show that Morocco is on a steady path of modernization, which implies a greater respect for women and gender equality, at least as a stated principle no one would gainsay. This enthusiasm for a shiny and secularist Morocco has to be curbed though, as other numbers also mention a revitalized interest in religion, and a new sort of reaction that justifies itself with modern language. A sort of ‘back to basics’, so to speak.

Tough Love

We are however discussing violence, not something that belongs to our ‘fundamentals’. I mean, no one in their right mind might advocate that violence, whatever its form, is good for women (unless the author of such statement of belief is a one-eyed, insulated, bigoted wahabbi-trained Islamic scholar, or something of the like). And yet, it is much easier to brandish some argument that violence in households and outside in the public space is a collateral damage, and that if you look closer, it’s the victim’s behaviour that brought it on her, and as such deserved it: if a young women gets harassed on the street because she was wearing a jean’s deemed too tight, that’s her fault, because she was too alluring. If a wife gets manhandled during conjugal sexual intercourse, that’s because she was not enthusiast enough to please her husband. Stereotyped instances, to be sure, but do nonetheless convey my point: everyone is against violence, but there’s easy justification for it, because at the end of the day, it’s not the man’s fault; it’s the woman’s.

The values survey –undertook for the 50th independence anniversary did point out that one of the traditional values in the Moroccan society was ‘Sbar’, patience. And when one is talking about the ideal woman in Morocco, it’s a patient one. Better (or worse) still, according to the same survey, 79% of the interviewed sample believes that ‘female obedience facilitates harmony within the household’ (p.29) no wonder that 1 out of 2 acts of surveyed violence happened in a domestic context. Coming back on patience as a reference virtue, the report stress that it is mainly a feminine value (i.e. patience is more expected from a woman than a man, and more specifically from a married woman, whom is expected to be bear with an unhappy relationship, for the sake of their children) Other professed reference values elicited submission (or euphemistically, obedience) parental endorsement (‘rda) or decency (7chouma).

Is there an actual relationship between reference values and the recorded violence? According to the Commissioner’s testimony, there is. Now, these values do not call explicitly for violence against women (save for the Koranic commandment of chastising one’s wife, albeit gently) but because they act as a sort of moral justification, younger generation, due to the confusion of transition (or the sole effect of confusion) resort to it more than often.

It’s not the traditional set of values that should be incriminated directly in the violence against women. The present world we are living in has lost what philosophers define as the intelligibility, it’s meaning for many Moroccans (including women); I am not referring specifically to the elderly or the hardcore traditionalists, but to the lofty, reassuring effect traditional values have on Moroccan society. It might be true that in the 1960’s-1970’s the general setting was more liberal, and that is the case because there was, in my opinion, a linear perception of  struggle between conservatism and liberalism. There was also- again, to my opinion, a wait-and-see behaviour among many Moroccans. This is to say that in their broad majority, Moroccans are not ideologically conservative, and do not systematically justify their behaviour towards women with ideology; indeed, numbers show that economic and social vulnerability are the prime elements influencing violence against women: young, working-class and poor backgrounds, divorcées, large families, inadequate housing are but examples violence is not institutionalized as such, but it so because no one cared about addressing the underlying factors.

The enumeration of these factors is not a sign of solidarity to exculpate fellow males from their despicable behaviour, but rather an attempt to look further, and in depth to understand why they would allow, for a brief moment, or deep down their sub-conscience, a complete dehumanization of women: one shocking instance is that divorcées are 3 times more prone to get harassed at work than married or single ones. (Can someone explain to me why divorcées are always worse-off?)

In matters like these, social engineering takes a bit of time; and furtive public campaigns that are staged from time to time are a shameful waste of public money, and a cruel joke on a reality government and policy makers are too coy to address directly.

Legislation can be useful on the medium term by implementing deterrent measures (where the proof of harassment or abuse is on the male defendant, the so-called reverse burden of proof), but changing minds takes a lot more time, and for politicians, a lot of guts to devise policies shifting minds and reference values from Islamic-oriented, backward and conservative mindset to a more secularist, modern and progressive set of values. It’s much easier the other way round as experience shows.

However, the narrow window of attractive modern values to the younger generations of Moroccans allows for a certain margin for these sentiments to foster, rather than shut them down with half-backed measures, or flip-flops. I understand I am preaching from a utopian perspective –that the Moroccan government lacks the power, and the will to carry out in-depth policies – but let’s just keep on dreaming, for the sake of the exercise itself: violence, whether against women or generic violence, is omnipresent in our society. How could a government get rid of it, or at least make it social deviant?

As mentioned before, there are several axes to discuss for a policy: there’s the strategic setting, i.e. eliminate the economic roots of prejudice against women: it can be proven that when improved, economic conditions (GDP per Capita, material wealth) tend to allow individuals to experiment more freedom, and thus achieve gradual de facto equal status. Such objective is out of reach of direct government policy, and as far as available data tells us, women in Morocco are more and more integrated in labour market, and many of them are actually head of household. The first step to achieve gender equality is that of the general improvement of economic conditions, and the empowerment of female population through work (if it was not for the Nazi-blot on it, I’d say the Hegelian quote ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is a good motto for this kind of policy)

The more down-to-earth policy does not leave government empty-handed: as mentioned before, legislation can be marshalled into making violence, whether physical or moral, so expensive – in terms of financial compensation and ruining reputation- so as to deter machismo display. Some might argue that it is a sell-out to the feminist lobby (and I am 100% ok with it) and the institution of bland gender relationship, but it is cheap a price to pay for respect and equality. Plus our streets would be much cleaner, and safer for the Moroccan women to walk in without the degrading comment on their garment or their physical appearance.

On even more practical measures, it is high time the government was to introduce welfare payment for single mothers, divorcées, and unemployment benefits. The community needs to support the misfits to its values, not ostracize them and harass them. These proposals are certainly politically skewed, ideological and divisive, but someone needs to stand up and channel public money into real policies: the Families and Social Affairs department has an annual budget of about half a billion dirham, in total. The best it can do is to launch educative ads campaigns and open shelter centres. It might have been good some years ago, but such problem needs to be tackled decisively. Many women are left to rely on traditional family solidarity, and when public welfare does step in, the same traditional reflexes cast them aside. Need we to remind the reader of the Fadwa Laroui case? She suffered the double infamous mark of being a woman, and then for being a single woman.

More and more female breadwinners of Moroccan households, HCP Projects says.

A pledge to reform the marriage institution is another policy that needs to be taken into account: the HCP projections show that more and more Moroccan women, now and in the future, are going to be head of households, and many already are the breadwinners, often sustaining large families. The 2003 Moudawana reform has unveiled only a tiny tip of the iceberg, and legislation, even though it recognizes gender equality, still does not empower women as the main breadwinner in many households.

There is a need to re-think the marriage institution in Morocco, as it does no longer suit a growing number of young Moroccans, its supposedly social stabilization effects do not offset its financial cost and even its claim on social cohesion are subject to discussion – number of divorces on the rise after the Moudouwana relaxed divorce law. The socially conservative would argue that ‘now women have it easy to divorce, they just go ahead’. The truth is that marriage as an institution, with all its pomp, and given the circumstances (excuses de pun) is flawed and does not perform the traditional task of social cohesion; If anything, it tends to destroy it.

Deterrent legislation and serious government welfare benefits are two faces of the same medal: legislation provides the institutional framework to secure prosecution possibilities for women (the survey points out that there are more and more women willing to take on their aggressors and sue them) and the stricter legislation is, the more these women are encouraged to file a complaint.

Welfare and marriage reform are, on the other hand, women’s empowerment tools: providing financial safeguards, and recognizing their role in the national economy. Equality is achieved through productive contribution to economic activity.