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RIGHTS-MOROCCO: Renewed Efforts to End Violence Against Women

Amina Barakat

RABAT, Mar 17 2009 (IPS) - The campaign against violence towards women has been the focus of media attention in Morocco recently, in order to press for an end to gross abuses committed by men against women and make victims aware of the need to break the silence which allows it to continue.

The government, together with civil society, has stepped up efforts to end the plight of women in this North African country. In February, the Union for Women’s Action (Union de l’action féminine – an organisation working against all forms of discrimination against women) in collaboration with the Anaruz Network of listening centres, launched a campaign to raise awareness for victims of violence.

In the 16 municipal districts of Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, public forums were organised to sensitise local communities and encourage them to adopt a strategy to curb the scourge of violence against women.

This campaign encourages women in distress to speak about their traumatic experiences. Halima Idrissi, a married mother of two, opened up about the abuse she endured for seven months before breaking free. She calmly told IPS, “I lived a nightmare with a violent man who only knew how to communicate with beatings and obscene insults.”

Numerous listening centres were created to help abused women, and a telephone hotline is now available. The options are either to file a complaint with the crown prosecutor – followed by a court process – or to get a lawyer to handle the case, if the victim can afford one.

“By God’s grace I managed to walk away from it once and for all and this only after hearing of the Annadja Listening Centre (annadja means ‘to help’ in Arabic),” said Idrissi. “It has been a great help to me. The centre’s social worker gave me guidance and advice on what steps to take.”

Since 2006, when a new Family Code came into force, women have had greater support and protection under the law. The new code gives women the right to demand a divorce in cases of violence. Before the revision of the Family Code, a divorce application could take up to three or four years, but now the handling of a case does not exceed six months.

“The coming into force of the new Family Code has helped victims to step up and demand justice,” says Fatima Maghnaoui, president of the Annajda Listening Centre in Rabat. “Today, ending a marriage is no longer left only to the husband, but must be subject to prior authorisation from the court before it can be effectively implemented. It also requires the judge to rule within a period of six months.”

Fawzia Badri, a secretary at the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, told IPS: “The revision of the Family Code allowed me to escape my tyrant of a husband, who’d spend his time taking his issues out on me. I was so badly beaten my body became a boxing ring. If not for the Code, I would still be hanging about in the grim corridors of the court.”

Idrissi and Maghnaoui are only two of many women in the same situation. According to a study conducted in 2007 by the Moroccan Secretariat for the Family, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund, battered women face an alarming situation. The report found nearly 28,000 acts of violence were called into a free hotline set up to give legal help and counselling to women; just over 75 percent of reported assaults were committed by husbands.

Saadia Lachgar, a lawyer based in Rabat, explains that there are still legal loopholes in the law. “In instances of domestic violence, we must introduce repressive articles to the Penal Code and annul others, such as those requiring the woman to provide evidence of an act of violence, even though these acts usually take place in the absence of witnesses. The woman’s word must stand as evidence.”

Also mentioned in government’s 2007 study is a subject that is becoming less and less of a taboo: economic violence.

“The economic problem is a culmination of this scourge. A man who finds himself in need, is often restless; a restlessness which translates into uncontrollable violence. Unfortunately, it is the woman who suffers the consequences,” Saïd Amor, a bank employee in Rabat told IPS.

Maghnaoui believes that the question of violence against women must be taken very seriously. “Violence against women is a problem that must be handled at all levels; we need to institute a culture of gender equality, human rights and citizenship.”

The media awareness campaign has led to victims logging an increasing number of distress calls, while creating a certain solidarity between all stakeholders working for the condemnation of violence against women: listening centres, associations for the protection of women’s rights, civil society.

Abdou Mortada, a lawyer made this suggestion: “It will be important to establish a pilot rehabilitation centre, designed to help men to control certain violent behavioral patterns linked to psychological problems.”

For her part, Sawssan Boufous, an economics student at the University of Rabat, tells IPS: “I condemn all acts of violence against women and hope that this awareness campaign will bear fruit and encourage victims to speak out. I also hope that the laws are not only deterrent but also punitive in nature.”

Fadela Anwar, chief TV news editor at Morocco’s second television channel (2M) in Casablanca, tells IPS: “We cannot trivialise violence against women … To play our part, we are joining forces with others fighting this scourge to call for an end to this social phenomenon. We broadcast many reports and advertisements also invite guests to come on air and discuss this problem.”

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