Morocco: Growing Controversy over Women’s Inheritance Rights

In this 21st century and in a world where women are heads of State, heads of Government, leaders of political parties, CEOs, academics, physicians, soldiers, police officers, pilots, and even family income providers, it is absurd and perhaps ridiculous to continue to view and deal with women as second grade citizens.

It is worse in some countries, where women are considered as eternal minors. They cannot travel without expressed consent of their spouses, parents or an adult male relative regardless of their professional or academic status.

Some other countries are still debating whether women should be granted equal rights as men at all levels.

In Morocco, one of the most open and tolerant countries in the Arab and Muslim world, the issue of gender equality nonetheless often makes the headlines and sometimes fuels political debates. And this is exactly what’s currently taking place in the North African country.

This time, the debate is about the equality between men and women in matters of inheritance rights.

The controversy was triggered by Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) when it called for reviewing the family code to guarantee equality between men and women in inheritance.

The CNDH recommendation prompted a showdown between pros and cons of women’s rights.

In 2004, the North African country adopted a family code which was commended by the international community and rights groups as a major stride. Few years later, Morocco endorsed a new constitution guaranteeing gender equality.

According to Islamic laws, a son inherits twice as much as a daughter and a brother inherits twice the share of his sister. But CNDH in its latest report said women should be treated the same as men in matters of inheritance.

This sensitive issue triggered a strong reaction from the ruling Islamist Justice and Development party, the PJD, and some conservative theologians.

For the National Human Rights Council, it is a matter of principle and compliance with article 19 of the constitution which stipulates gender equality.

But the PJD, which is leading a coalition government, has slammed the CNDH call for equal rights in inheritance, saying it is an “irresponsible move” and “a flagrant violation” of the Moroccan constitution.

“The proposal made by the Council of Human Rights is a flagrant violation of the constitution, particularly Article 19, which regulates equality between men and women in accordance with Morocco’s religious and national specificity,” the PJD said in a statement.

The Islamist party also tried to involve the country’s King in the issue, saying the CNDH “interferes with the prerogatives of the King in his capacity as Commander of the Faithful”.

Yet, supporters of women’s rights cite Article 19 of the constitution which says “Men and women have equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and freedoms (…) in line with the conventions and international treaties duly ratified by Morocco”.

In response to the PJD statement, the political bureau of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) adopted a resolution, calling for the promotion of women’s rights, particularly in inheritance, and expressing support for the CNDH on this subject.

The PAM resolution was very critical of those who “obscure the diversity and spread radical discourse” and denounced those who “aspire to impose restrictions on free thinking and innovation” and “attempt to impose forms of tutelage over society.”

As many other women’s rights advocates continue to argue that the State should work towards the establishment of parity between men & women and has the duty to fight all forms of discrimination against women, some sides are calling for a public debate on the issue.

It is clear that the Moroccan constitution stipulates gender equality and women’s empowerment, but will the Islamists and other conservatives abide by the rules and the Constitution they voted for or will they try to make a fuss and renounce their commitments? Time will tell!

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