By Amanda Lo

In September, I attended a panel about “Women and Democratic Transition in the Middle East” organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Women’s Learning Partnership. Female activists and leaders representing Iran, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco shared their experiences and views regarding women’s role and futures in constructing a more democratic society in the region as part of the “Arab Spring.” Overall, speakers expressed hope that the protests that have continued across the Middle East and North Africa since January 2011 have opened up possibilities for progress in women’s rights in their countries, while acknowledging that obstacles remain.

With respect to Morocco in particular, Rabéa Naciri from the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc, one of the largest Moroccan NGOs focused on the rights of women points out that activism and policies addressing women’s roles and rights were present long before the Arab Spring, Nevertheless, the revolutions in the region have given renewed vigor to Moroccan feminist activism.

Moroccans were caught up in the fervor of protests against existing disparities and inequalities that began in Tunisia last January so that, on February 20, crowds gathered across the nation. Morocco’s king responded quickly, and within two weeks constitutional reforms were discussed.

The constitutional reforms in Morocco were approved in a referendum on July 1, 2011, by 98.5 percent of voters. A new section called “Liberties and Fundamental Rights” includes Articles 32 and 34 with statements concerning the rights of women, children and the disabled, Article 21 that prohibits sexism, Article 59 that safeguards these rights and liberties during states of emergency and, most importantly, Article 175 that says these rights cannot be retracted in future constitutional revisions.

IWPR and its partner on research about the status of women in Lebanon, Yemen and Morocco, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, will present a workshop in Marrakesh, Morocco in December with women‘s NGOS from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The workshop will discuss “lessons learned” from the IWPR-IFES project as well as some of the many events that are taking place affecting women’s lives in Morocco, and across the MENA region. Previous research on Morocco has covered women’s political participation, social attitudes towards women, family law and gender quotas, and women’s freedom of movement.

Amanda Lo is a Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.