Morocco Is Debating Anti-Harassment Laws, Here’s Why That Might Not Be Enough
Passing the laws is just step one. Changing attitudes to enforce them might be the bigger battle.
Since June, two videos filmed in Morocco have gone viral — one of a woman being chased by a mob of whistling men and another of a woman being sexually assaulted on a bus. But these capture only a small fraction of the many, many instances of sexual harassment that are reportedly common in the north African country.
The viral videos sparked fierce debate over sexual harassment laws in Morocco, or the lack thereof. And just last month, members of Moroccan Parliament continued to debate laws which would criminalize the verbal and physical harassment of women in public, according to the Washington Post.
But activists and politicians in favor such laws are fighting an uphill battle whether or not the legislation gets passed.
An anti-sexual harassment bill was first drafted in 2013, Al Arabiya reported, and has been revised multiple times since.
In August, after the video of a 24-year-old woman having her clothes torn off while riding the bus went viral and in response hundreds of people protested in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city. Protesters called for laws to protect women against violence, the Washington Post reported, and reignited the debate over sexual harassment laws.
The Moroccan Prime Minister said the government was "considering how to deal with this kind of phenomenon so that such acts do not happen any more." He added that "the strategy to be adopted will be announced at the appropriate time," according to the Daily Mail.
But even if the harassment law currently being discussed were passed, activists told the Washington Post that it would be difficult to change the societal attitudes, which have emboldened men to openly and frequently harass women and enable them to escape punishment for doing so.
A survey conducted by Promundo, a gender justice non-profit organization, found that 72% of Moroccan men surveyed would blame the victim of harassment if she was dressed “provocatively” — 78% of women shared that view — and 71% of men believe that women enjoy being sexual harassed.
While the country has been taking progressive steps away from its deeply conservative roots, according to the Washington Post, Morocco’s government is led by a moderate Islamist party. So in Morocco, “Everything that concerns women’s rights is connected to religion,” Khadija Ryadi, former president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights said.
“You can bring the most progressive law to Morocco, but the society will not accept it,” Search for Common Ground’s Morocco country director, Noufal Abboud, told the Washington Post. “It’s a man’s society.”
Proposals for anti-harassment laws have gained traction — together with efforts to strengthen laws preventing other forms of violence against women like forced marriage and domestic abuse — and have been debated and re-drafted over the past year. The latest iteration of the draft proposes anywhere from a month to two years’ imprisonment for harassing a woman in public, the Washington Post reported.
However, these proposals have been criticized by rights organizations like Amnesty International for using language that is “high problematic” and “ambiguous” that create a legal loophole for rape cases to be tried as sexual harassment cases.
Morocco amended its rape laws in 2014, closing a legal loophole that allowed rapists to evade punishment by marrying their victims, making the country one of the first in the Middle East and North Africa region to do so, according to the New York Times. Lebanon, Jordan, and a few other countries followed suit, abolishing similar laws just this year.
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