Women and Civil Society: Foundations of Reform
In 1969, King Hassan II created the Union Nationale des Femmes Marocaines (UNFM), an organization with the stated goal of improving the social and economic status of women in Morocco. The activities of the UNFM focused less on legal reform and more on professional and training programs for women. It was given the legal status of a utilité publique, an important designation for Moroccan civil society organizations, which allows them to raise funds and be exempt from taxes (similar to non-profit status in the United States). Historically, this distinction, which must be conferred by the government, has provided a way for the Moroccan regime to exert a measure of control over civil society organizations, as those whose agendas conflict with that of the government typically find it difficult to obtain utilité publique status. Without this license, an association will have difficulty securing funding and has no right to recourse within the Moroccan justice system.
In the 1980s, a financial crisis led King Hassan II to implement a program of structural adjustment that included some social reforms, leading to increased activity among political and civil society organizations. This included the founding of many new women’s associations, many of which began as affiliates of existing political parties. This affiliation lends them a sense of legitimacy as well as connections and support, but some argue that it limits their autonomy as well.
The proliferation of civil society organizations flourished even more in the 1990s, due in part to King Hassan II’s active support for them, which reflected a worldwide trend of civil society promotion. Some have argued that the king’s support was motivated as much by international pressures and his desire to join the European Union as domestic economic and political problems. It was in this environment that calls for reform to the Mudawana first began to gain traction. All of Morocco’s major women’s organizations have positioned their work within an Islamic framework in some way, drawing on the work of Islamic scholars to inform their agendas.
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