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On the Road to Women’s Equality

By Maria Herran

Despite the fight for the development of women, and for women’s equality around the world that has persisted for years, there remains much room for progress and for other factors that have been part of this social change. Many women have struggled as a result of the limitations that society has imposed on them across different fields such as politics, activism, and faith communities. Religion is especially an important aspect that needs to be considered in each woman’s progress. In many communities, women’s traditional roles are so tightly linked to religion that engagement with religion. Subsequently, engagement with religion – with respect to women’s rights and realities, needs to be addressed more. Religion is a vital element in shaping communities’ norms and aspirations; it can serve as a catalyst for action to improve women’s lives, or it can constitute a source of conflict and impede efforts for change.

Social reforms have challenged traditional expectations and practices in areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, among other issues. Women’s equality and rights in predominantly patriarchal societies where religions plays a vital role – continues to be a topic of controversy- while also serving as a clear example of progress towards gender equality. In Morocco, for example, the past decades have witnessed some considerable changes to women’s legal and social positions. The most significant advancement was the reform of Family Code in 2004 which was enacted after an active and open public debate that engaged religious and secular bodies across Moroccan society. Yet the Moudawana, the family code adopted in 1958 that governed areas of family law, gave few rights to women, reflecting centuries-old customs. This new Family Code, based on Islamic Sharia law, is now said to be the most progressive family law in the Arab world, giving women more freedom to travel, obtain employment and education, and creating greater equality at home.

Gender equality activists and proponents point out that although women are considered generally more religious than men, many religions and denominations continue to treat each gender differently in many aspects. These small changes in laws and even structure in patriarchal societies have pushed the movement for women’s equality in Morocco. Girls’ access to education has improved exponentially, with girl’s enrolment in primary school increasing from 52% to 112% in about twenty years, Morocco now has the highest enrolment in the region. As in many other communities, there are certain factors that have generated the emergence of feminism in patriarchal societies such as Morocco. There is an increased level of learning, in both religious and secular education, and feminist influences from both the secular societies and the western modern society. These new reforms that began in Morocco in the 1990s, have opened up opportunities for women to also exercise greater political voice and participation. In 2002, 30 seats were reserved for women in the Assembly of Representatives and this was increased following the Arab spring. Women have not only fought for equality but have seen the results of this long fight. Now, about 17% of parliamentary seats go to women. Giving women leverage in many issues and opinions.

Morocco is only one example of the many advances of women’s rights in important areas and is noteworthy for its effort to integrate the positive values and social benefits of religion and tradition with changing social norms. Achieving social change is an ambitious task that requite meaningful changes in both social structures and roles. Many communities have demonstrated that there has to be a balance between the quest for individual liberties, democracy, respect for the law and the capacity of individuals to achieve their religious as well as their social and political rights.

The views, thoughts, and opinions in this blog belong solely to the author and are not representative of an official position or endorsement by the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD).

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