In 2012, after Amina Filali committed suicide, I set out with other young Moroccan filmmakers and activists to make a film about the subject. You can watch the film I refer to here.
In the next two days, the international press will report on the vote that abolished article 475 of the penal code, Morocco’s rape-to-marry law. They will omit important facts, they will misguide you and in some cases they will just lie to you. In Morocco, the propaganda machine will hail this as just more proof that we are a progressive democracy that cares for both genders. This is something international politicians seem to agree with. According to the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy, we are a role model for the rest of the region.
But I beg the rest of the region not to follow us, we are but a very mediocre role model, if one at all. Our laws and our constitution are nothing but papers. The only way they can be models is if you are actually willing to borrow from a document that “mentions the word ‘king’ 60 times and the word ‘people’ once” as Youness Belghazi would say. Our "papers" also still directly discriminate against women: we still allow polygamy and we still allow men to inherit more than women amongst many other types of gender discrimination.
But let’s get away from papers, because on paper we certainly can sometimes look like a gender-conscious-progressive-parliamentary-monarchy. Let’s get into the reality, because a state’s policy towards women is not determined by what it writes but what it does.
Now that article 475 is abolished we can maybe smile that our great efforts to bring this remnant of French code law to an end have succeeded*. But nothing more than a smile, not a cheer, not an applause. This is because this law means almost nothing. While making a film on this subject I discovered through interviews that the vast majority of rape-forced marriages in Morocco are done outside the realm of the law. They come in the form of inter-family arrangements that are designed to “save the honor” of the family. The rape that prompted such marriages is very rarely reported (reporting it would invite more shame and scorn from the authorities themselves as a part of a society still plagued with patriarchy). Hence, these marriages are treated as any normal marriage when they come to be registered.
Amina Filali’s case was an exception to this for two main reasons. First, from interviews conducted for our film, it became clear that the rapist’s family was not willing to marry him off to a ‘tainted’ girl. This prompted Amina’s family to file a lawsuit using article 475 of the penal code to force their daughter to marry him. This diverges greatly from the narrative that was disseminated by the international press which made the family appear like the victim, sometimes even showing pictures of them at protests. In fact, they were the culprits of the forced marriage.
Second, Amila Filali committed suicide. This wasn’t the first or the last case of suicide in this context since. But it was still an exception because the great majority of girls forced to marry their rapist do not commit suicide. It was the suicide, not the actual marriage, that prompted young Moroccan feminists to react. And it was this reaction that drew the attention of the media, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed as it has for decades.
So with Amina Filali’s case being an exception, and the use of article 475 in general being an exception, we can only conclude that abolishing the law is almost obsolete and will have little to no effect on the lives of women in Morocco. This is but a symbolic victory and it should be treated as such.
What Morocco needs is the abolishment of all the remaining discriminatory laws against women and the implementation of a comprehensive set of proactive laws that protect women from a society that has been denied gender education. Luckily for us, such a comprehensive set of laws has already been suggested by Moroccan feminist groups in 1998: the National Plan of Action (NPA). Amongst other very progressive suggestions, the NPA includes what I think is the most important and needed development in Morocco’s policy towards women: an educational program that teaches both men and women about gender, sexuality and rape. Without such an educational program, even progressive laws will have little effect: women will continue to fear reporting rape, police and other officials will continue to treat it lightly or scorn those who approach them with cases of rape, and Moroccan women will continue to be oppressed.
The fight for women’s rights in Morocco is far from over.
*Unlike what the conservative Western press likes to imply, this law has nothing to do with Moroccan tradition or Islam-- it’s a law introduced by Western colonialists.