In 2004, Morocco reformed its family code, known as the “Moudawana.” The “Moudawana” expands women’s rights and protections in relation to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The new law promotes the principles of justice and equality between men and women.
Prior to the 2004 reform, the previous family code (or Moudawana) was severely disadvantageous to women, due to unequal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women were typically seen as subordinates to their male family members, were not prioritized for access to education, or left education early to be married. Gender-based violence was also prevalent. The Moudawana reinforced the patriarchal structure in Morocco.
The new family code mandates gender equality in marriage and childrearing, and puts an end to the guardianship of women by male members of the family. Other major advances in the law:1
- raising the age of marriage from fifteen to eighteen for men and women,
- restricting the practice of polygamy,
- granting adult woman tutelage or authority over their own being (women were previously under the tutelage or guardianship of their father or husband),
- granting women the right to file a divorce,
- granting both parents equal rights to child custody,
- recognizing children born out of wedlock and simplifying their proof of paternity,
- criminalizing domestic violence, including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse,2 and
- removing degrading language towards women from the previous Moudawana.
In 1992, the Union de l’Action Féminine (UAF) launched the One Million Signatures campaign, aimed at gathering a million signatures (amidst a total population of twenty-give million) to put pressure on the government to reform the Moudawana. The UAF exceeded their target, which led to the reform of the Moudawana from the long-standing and patriarchal personal status law into what is now the 2004 Moroccan Family Code.3
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, where the King still holds enormous sway. King Mohammed VI played a catalytic role in garnering traction to reform the Moudawana by using his platform to advocate for gender equality and legitimize women’s rights under all religions.4
In 2001, King Mohammed VI created a royal commission to draft the Family Code, which included both modernist and traditionalist experts so as to preserve popular opinion of the final law. In February 2004, the new Family Code (also the Moudawana) was unanimously adopted by the Parliament.
In 2007, the Ministry of Social Development, Family and Solidarity was established, in part to implement the new family code. In 2012, the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development was established, bringing women’s rights to the forefront.5 The newly established ministry adopted a four-year governmental Plan for Gender Equality (ICRAM) for the period 2012-16, and a second governmental Plan for Equality (ICRAM 2) for the period 2017–2021.6
Information regarding the associated costs of the family code were not identified by the author.
Assessments by the Overseas Development Institute7 and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia8 found the Family Code to be one of the most progressive in the Arab region. The Social Institutions and Gender Index identified Morocco as the second most liberal country of six countries[*] in the MENA region in its treatment of women, after Tunisia. The reform of the Family Code is just one reform in a series of gender-based reforms to advance gender equality in Morocco.
Overall, Morocco has demonstrated positive outcomes in furthering gender equality at the family level. However, given the nature of the Family Code, it is difficult to definitively prove that women have a greater say within family structures, are empowered to dissolve unhappy marriages, and have greater access to inheritance. Morocco’s fertility rate is now one of the lowest in the region, while its maternal mortality rate has fallen by two-thirds in just two decades.9 Both indicators are related to an increased average age at marriage,10 improved socioeconomic status of women, and the use of family planning.11 Popular opinion has seemingly also moved towards endorsing gender equality within the family.12 Although far from perfect, the Arab Barometer reports that half of Moroccans believe that men should have the final say in the household, which is less than in earlier surveys and less than many other countries in the region. The report also notes that the majority of Moroccans, both men and women, perceived that gender-based violence had either decreased or remained the same, including during the pandemic when family tensions were heightened.13
However, a lack of understanding and high rates of female illiteracy, particularly in rural areas, and limited implementation of the Family Code have prevented its full success,14 In addition, cultural norms embedded within the code have allowed early marriage and polygamy to continue; although these practices are not unusual, they do limit the attainment of full gender equality. For example, the law allows for courts to approve early marriages (between the age of 15 and 18) in exceptional cases or for marriages to be registered late, both of which have been used to perpetuate the practice of early marriages.15 The proportion of girls married early has slowly decreased from 13 percent in 2011 (first available comparable data) to 11 percent in 2022, leaving ample space for improvement. Similarly, although the practice of polygamy has been restricted, it is not banned outright and is still permitted as long as all wives are treated equally, the women consent to being in a polygamous marriage, and the man can financially support multiple wives. Despite it being illegal, 30 percent of women in Morocco still experience gender-based violence during their lifetime (Although this figure will be slow to fall as it covers all historic cases of gender-based violence, the Arab Barometer indicates that gender-based violence may be falling).16
In 2011, a reform to the constitution asserted that women had equal rights to men and prohibited all forms of discrimination, including gender discrimination.
The government of Morocco has undertaken gender-disaggregated budgeting, whereby all spending is disaggregated by the impact on gender. In 2006, gender-responsive budgeting was piloted in the Ministries of Finance, Health, Education and Agriculture, and a gender budget statement or gender report has been drafted annually since 2006 and presented as an annex to the Finance Bill.17
Morocco’s move towards democracy has had mixed outcomes for women. While it has allowed for greater political participation of women and calls for greater gender equality, it has also seen the rise of a moderate Islamist party to power—the Justice and Development Party (PJD)—that is more opposed to progress in women’s rights.18
Photo: ©Adobe Stock/Max Peikert
[*] The Study of the Social Institutions and Gender Index covered six MENA countries: Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen.
- 1. EuroMed Rights, “The Moroccan Family Code “Moudawana,” 2012, https://euromedrights.org/publication/the-moroccan-family-code-moudawana.
- 2. European Institute of the Mediterranean, “Repercussions of the Reform of the Family Code in Morocco," 2021, https://www.iemed.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Repercussions-of-the-Reform-of-the-Family-Code-in-Morocco.pdf.
- 3. Centre for Public Impact, “Reforming Moroccan family law: the Moudawana,” 2016, https://cdn.odi.org/media/documents/9607.pdf.
- 5. Islamic Development Bank, “COUNTRY GENDER PROFILE - MOROCCO,” 2019, https://www.isdb.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2020-09/Morocco%20Gender.pdf.
- 6. ESCWA, “Gender Justice and the Law, Morocco,” 2018, https://www.unescwa.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/morocco-adjusted.pdf.
- 7. Overseas Development Institute, “The Road to reform.”
- 8. ESCWA, “Gender Justice and the Law, Morocco.”
- 9. Overseas Development Institute, “The Road to reform.”
- 10. Population Reference Bureau, “Fertility Decline and Reproductive Health in Morocco: New DHS Figures,” May 1, 2006, https://www.prb.org/resources/fertility-decline-and-reproductive-health-in-morocco-new-dhs-figures.
- 11. Population Reference Bureau, “In Morocco, More Modern Contraceptive Use Plays Key Role in Decreasing Maternal Deaths,” June 26, 2012, https://www.prb.org/resources/in-morocco-more-modern-contraceptive-use-plays-key-role-in-decreasing-maternal-deaths.
- 12. The Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality and the Family, 2016, “ سنـــــــوات على تطبيــــــق مدونــــــة الأســـرة: أي تغيرات في تمثلات ومواقف وممارسات المواطنين والمواطنات؟ دراسة ميدانية ”. https://social.gov.ma/wp-content/2020/08.2016-1.pdf.
- 13. Arab Barometer, “Gender Attitudes and Trends in MENA,” 2022, https://www.arabbarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/ABVII_Gender_Report-ENG.pdf.
- 14. ESCWA, “Gender Justice and the Law.”
- 15. Ibid.
- 16. World Economic Forum, “Global Gender Gap Report,” 2022. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2022.pdf.
- 17. Islamic Development Bank, “COUNTRY GENDER PROFILE - MOROCCO”, 2019. https://www.isdb.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2020-09/Morocco%20Gender.pdf.
- 18. Overseas Development Institute, "The Road to reform.”