Minister Hautala in Morocco: Women’s rights – putting words into action
“It is impressive to see how strong and active the Moroccan women's organisations are. Their perseverance pushes things forward,” states Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala when visiting women’s listening centre and shelter in Rabat, Morocco.
In the centre, maintained by a local women's organisation, women can receive judicial and psychological assistance and health care services.
“After my divorce, this is the place where I got information about my rights and found a lawyer,” told Karima, who escaped an abusive marriage. “I received no support from anywhere else.”
Therefore women’s organisations are demanding that the state take over such services as the listening centres, currently managed by them – primarily with foreign funding.
Implementation of the constitution is slow
In Morocco, the changes for the improvement of women’s status had already begun before 2011, but they were speeded up by the happenings of the Arab Spring. From the perspective of women, the Moroccan Constitution, adopted in July 2011, is progressive and, in principle, guarantees equal rights to women and men. The constitution raises the international human rights and standards as its starting point, but allows also an interpretation according to which national laws and established practices must be taken account of when applying international agreements.
“We demand the rights guaranteed to us by the constitution, and we will not let conservatives water them down by appealing to traditional values,” stated Latifa Bouchoua, chair of the women’s listening centre.
A threat of regression is also in the air. The implementation of the constitution and the legal amendments required by it have progressed slowly. For instance, the Moroccan family law has not criminalised violence against women at home or rape in marriage. Rapists can also avoid sentencing by marrying their underage victims. Traditions limit the fulfilment of legal rights.
Finland supports promotion of women’s rights
Minister Hautala underscored the implementation of the constitution with, for example, the representatives of the Moroccan Family Ministry and various women's organisations.
“There cannot be any democracy, if women lack equal rights. Therefore this issue is emphasised in all assistance Finland provides to the region,” Hautala commented.
Main part of the Finnish assistance to North Africa is channelled through international organisations. In addition, the Embassy of Finland in Rabat supported, for example, the women’s listening centre with EUR 30 000 in 2012 from its own appropriations for local cooperation.
During her three-day visit, Minister Hautala met also Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine El Otmani. The Ministers discussed, for example, the crises of Mali and Syria and the situation of Sahel, and came to the conclusion that the threats and repercussions related to these extend over very large areas. The Ministers considered the relations between Finland and Morocco good but somewhat thin, meaning that there is room for seeking closer contacts, for example, in trade relations.
From Morocco, Minister Hautala continued her journey to Tunisia.