Interview with Zhor Chekkafi, first female Moroccan party leader
Interview by Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca – 12/08/2007
As the nation's first party headed by a woman, the recent establishment of Morocco's Democratic Society Party (PSD) aroused public interest. The party has enjoyed a high degree of visibility in Morocco's political landscape in the lead-up to legislative elections in September.
PSD Secretary-General Zhor Chekkafi spoke with Magharebia about the role of women in Moroccan politics, and the ongoing battle to change people's opinions. She said the PSD believes in the democratic transition underway in Morocco, and that the party must send a strong signal to the country's political class that women represent half of society and should participate in the political process.
Magharebia: How does it feel to be the first woman to lead a political party? Have you felt an enormity of responsibility on your shoulders?
Chekkafi: It is a difficult responsibility because it is related to honesty above anything else. As for being a woman, I think the responsibility is no different from a man's responsibility. As we know, women have other responsibilities at home and with the children; something that makes them bear double responsibilities. If women have the same opportunities as men in terms of education and practice, they can push themselves to the maximum limit in bearing such responsibilities. Thank God, today we find that each time a woman is assigned a certain task, she does her best to measure up to the responsibility that has been given to her. For me, I hope I will be up to the task and that I will not fail those who put their trust in me, because my first and last goal is to serve this country.
Magharebia: When did you have the idea to establish a new party, and to put a woman in charge as Secretary-General?
Chekkafi: The idea urgently presented itself after the municipal elections of 2003. No one thought at all about the party being led by a woman. I was the only woman who attended the meetings that discussed the establishment of the party. Afterwards, other women came along, and work started to grow. By the beginning of 2006 the idea was fully crystallized. However, we wanted to be somewhat different from other parties. The selection of a woman was the distinction we were seeking. I was chosen from three or four other women in the party, not because I was the best, but because I was the most experienced in political work, which I practiced gradually.
Magharebia: Did you actually want the party to be a women's party? And did you really want a party to fight male domination of politics?
Chekkafi: This matter about the party being a 'women's party' provokes me, because I believe in absolute gender equality. As for 'fighting male domination', I don't have any complexes in this regard. I have always been supported by men in all stages of my practical and political careers. Rather, I find that our Moroccan society often supports women because it is a refined, civilised society. The best example of that was when I was able to win in the 1997 municipal elections against five male candidates with a difference of 120 extra votes. This constitutes a piece of evidence that Morocco, even in rural areas, has started to appreciate the role of women and their competencies. That is why Moroccans readily support women, if they possess the level of competency Moroccans desire.
However, the real problem consists of the fact that our national parties do not do anything to support women or to nominate them in elections. This is in spite of the equality and democracy they claim in their speeches. In practice, women are still absent. Even the women's movement's request for a quota did not do anything, although I have reservations on the quota because it is humiliating to women. We have struggled too hard to, at the end, be given a quota under which we cannot exceed 10 percent, rather than struggle to make parties nominate their women cadres and competencies on a wide scale.
Magharebia: But without the quota, women would have no chance?
Chekkafi: It would have been better to pressure the parties, and for us to boycott them as women, because this will remove half of society. Those parties will not be able to do anything without such a half. I have never been satisfied with this way of dealing with women. Yet, I respect the struggle of my sisters and their opinion that this is related to positive discrimination, although I think there is no such thing as 'positive' discrimination and 'negative' discrimination.
Magharebia: How will your party deal with women and youth then?
Chekkafi: We are for absolute gender equality. We believe in capacities, competencies, and the ability to give. It is true that we still have a male majority, but we were keen to make youths (less than 40 years old) 50 per cent of our membership, males and females alike. Generally speaking, there are several party members who are under 50, and they also do not have political experience. They include lawyers, engineers, businessmen, female journalists and female university professors who have a common desire to change. Therefore, we pushed them forward and gave them roles to engage in politics.
Magharebia: Generally speaking, how do you evaluate the role of women in the Moroccan parliament?
Chekkafi: Women always prove their serious and responsible work. They also prove their ability to deal with the most difficult issues. The fact that women reached a level of political maturity was what made men attempt to marginalise them. Women made important contributions in all parliamentary sessions, but, as I have just said, they were opposed by a male mentality that would give them no chance to work, endeavour or participate in the decision-making process.
Magharebia: Do you have predictions on how the political map will look after the September 7th elections?
Chekkafi: We cannot predict anything, but we hope the next elections will bring serious people who would endeavour to promote the basic sectors which form the basis for progress for the citizen; rather than people who would perpetuate differences and kill the spirit of citizenship in both the child and youth, who may turn into a time bomb unless we care about him or her as a human being.
Magharebia: Are there any parties you find close to your principles and attitudes, with which you can enter into alliances in the future?
Chekkafi: So far we have not determined any alliances, particularly as we consider ourselves not to be a left, right or centre party. Rather, we are just a democratic party; no more, no less. We look at things realistically and we do not want to be described as premature.
Magharebia: Do you also think that the Justice and Development Party is the frontrunner in the forthcoming elections?
Chekkafi: I think that this involves a little bit of exaggeration. I do not trust opinion polls or surveys that do free-of-charge publicity. The reality is that the Islamists are present in the arena; we cannot deny that, but they do not know political calculations better than anyone else.
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