Moroccan women's rights groups cry foul
By Mohamed Saadouni for Magharebia in Casablanca —12/07/12
Moroccan activists and women's rights groups have been calling for reform of a law that allows rapists to escape conviction by marrying their victim.
Solidarity, Women and Family minister Bassima Hakkaoui last May surprised them when she reportedly said during a meeting with Justice and Development Party (PJD) legislators that "the issue of child sexual abuse has been politically exploited by associations, which have greatly harmed Morocco's image abroad".
In response to Morocco's most visible example of this, the Amina Filali case, where a 16-year-old rape victim killed herself with rat poison to escape her marriage to the man who raped her, the minister said: "marriage of underage girls must be subject for discussion… because many advanced countries allow girls to marry at the age of 14".
Hakkaoui also lost favour among the groups after she responded to a statement from the Democratic League for Women's Rights (LDDF) about Morocco's retraction of reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She described it as "irresponsible", "confused between outdated and preconceived ideas", and with language of "poor standard".
"When there is just one approach, it is, unfortunately, adopted… which, as ministers, we can't carry on with," Hakkaoui said, explaining that as an MP she was able to represent the people without the responsibilities she now has with the government.
On July 6th, Hakkaoui announced during a Tamkine management committee meeting that she had been working in co-operation with the United Nations and Spain on a bill that would contain the "most severe" punishment for acts of violence against women to "ensure that it will never happen again".
Women's rights organisations have lined up to express their dissatisfaction with Hakkaoui's remarks over the past months.
The LDDF demanded the government "hold the minister institutionally accountable for her provocative, negative discourse against the functions and activities of associations that protect and promote rights and contribute to democratic development".
LDDF President Fouzia Assouli accused Hakkaoui of what she described as "attempts to defame rights and women's associations… as if they were serving foreign agendas, and not concerned with the interests of country".
The group condemned the minister's statements as showing "a rigid mentality that doesn't believe in the role of civil society in democratic development", adding that the minister reflects "the close-minded trend that believes in only one voice".
"It wants associations to collude and hide violations and abuses against women's rights and human rights in general," the LDDF said.
Moroccan Women's Democratic Association chief Khadija Rabah said in a statement to Magharebia that the minister's statements "are irresponsible" and that they "harm, rather than serve, the minister's career".
"Women's associations are not an opponent to the minister who should direct her attention to issues that harm children and women because she is the one who oversees this sector, rather than blame the associations that are doing their job," she told Magharebia.
"The minister should have thanked and appreciated the work of these associations which unveil our sick reality," she added.
Bayt Al Hikma (House of Wisdom) president Khadija Rouissi condemned the government's failure to issue an explanatory statement, correction or apology for the minister's statements.
"I would like to say to the minister that the world has become a small village," Rouisi told Magharebia. "With this technological revolution and the Arab Spring, nothing can be hidden."
"What is the government's position on these issues if the minister, who is the only woman in government, is against the exposure of violations against children and women?" she wondered.
For its part, Touche Pas à Mon Enfant (Don't Touch My Child) also condemned the minister's statements and urged the government to intervene and reinstate the proper image of these associations that are working to disclose the diseases of society so as to protect women and children.
Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane on June 16th expressed frustration with Hakkaoui and other members of the ruling party, saying: "We have helped these people reach the positions they would never have attained without our help."
"We need you to stop attacks from within. I cannot evade both the bullets that I get from the outside and the ones that I get from within the party," he said.
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