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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

The Women's Movement and Political Discourse in Morocco

In preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing in September 1995, UNRISD initiated an Occasional Paper Series reflecting work carried out under the UNRISD/UNDP project, Technical Co-operation and Women’s Lives: Integrating Gender into Development Policy. In view of the intensified efforts in the aftermath of the Conference to integrate gender concerns into policy analysis and formulation, and the progress of the gender programme at UNRISD, the Institute intends to continue this Occasional Paper Series to facilitate dissemination of the findings from its gender-related projects. This paper, based on research undertaken in Morocco as part of the Technical Co-operation and Women’s Lives project, focuses on the role of the women’s movement in shifting the boundaries of political discourse on women’s issues.

As in many other countries, the claims of the women’s movement have been marginalized in conventional political debates in Morocco. Traditional political actors have long used the pretext of religious and cultural sensitivity in an attempt to keep women’s issues off the political agenda and to limit women’s visibility and their impact on public life. This paper attempts to place the political discourse on women’s issues within the context of efforts by political élites to maintain the status quo against processes unleashed by democratization and the containment of political Islam. Despite changes in the relationship between the state and citizens that have allowed the emergence of the women’s movement, the resistance of the old political élite remains strong. Rabéa Naciri argues that under these conditions, the women’s movement of the mid-1980s onward has rarely identified its activities as “political”, adopting instead a range of unconventional strategies to promote its concerns.

The paper traces the development of the contemporary women’s movement in Morocco, concentrating in particular on those associations which emerged in the mid-1980s out of the centre-left political parties. Over the past decade women’s associations have worked to consolidate their place in civil society. While asserting their independence, a rapprochement with the most progressive institutionalized political bodies has been sought by these associations as a way to establish influence. The movement has highlighted and exploited the contradictions in the politics of maintaining state legitimacy in Morocco, which depends on placating traditional conservative Islamist interests, while at the same time projecting a modernist progressive image. Interestingly, as the author points out, against the backdrop of political Islam, women have also used Islam as a “strategy of resistance” to strengthen their position.

The author concludes that the visibility and energy of the women’s movement have turned it into a defining element in the structure of civil society. By representing their independent interests, feminists have helped to redefine gender and political identities simultaneously. The paper argues that despite claims to eschew conventional “politics”, the women’s movement has nonetheless helped to shift “political” boundaries by encouraging public discussion and debate on issues traditionally associated with the domestic and private sphere. In so doing, the movement has helped to increase political participation and broaden the political terrain in Morocco.

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  • Pub. Date: 1 Mar 1998
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-3354
    From: UNRISD