Moudawana, al-

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the set of laws dealing with personal status, family, and inheritance in morocco.

The Moudawana, or Mudawanat al-Ahwal alShakhsiyya, is made up of six books issued in five dahir (decrees) between 22 November 1957 and 3 March 1958. The Moudawana refers back to one of the most important texts of Maliki law, al-Mudawana al-Kubra by Sahnun ben Saʿid (776/7854) of Qairawan, although it follows French patterns of codification. Addressing those charged with promulgating the Code of Personal Status following Morocco's independence from France in 1956, King Muhammad V stated that Morocco's rich history meant that it did not need to have recourse to the legal codes of foreign powers. All that was needed to reveal this glorious heritage was to rid it of the sterile commentaries and aberrant customs that over time had become mixed in with the shariʿa (religious law) and had retarded the state's evolution and progress. The Moudawana today is influenced by three juridical sources: in addition to the legislation inspired by Islamic law (Fiqh) and the legislation inspired by French law, the Moudawana is affected by trends in comparative law and international conventions. Beyond these written texts, women's status in Morocco is also regulated by unwritten sources such as traditions and inherited customs. When laws are in conflict with normative traditions concerning family customs, women may find their lived experience does not equate with their constitutional rights and civil status.

In Morocco, as in the other states of the Middle East and North Africa, the family lies at the core of society, and women at the core of the family. The processes of modernization, the creation of Western-style nation-states following independence, and globalization and internationalization have constructed women as citizens in contradictory ways: women are at one and the same time universal subjects as reflected in state constitutions and international conventions, special subjects as reflected in family law codes such as the Moudawana where they are legal minors, and privileged bearers of national and cultural authenticity in the symbolic imaginary of nations.

While other legal texts promulgated after independence reflected a shift in emphasis from the extended to the nuclear family, and thus from collective to individual identities and rights, the Moudawana reinscribed principles of Islamic law and posited a patriarchal family model. Civil status, as embodied in the various Moroccan constitutions dating from 1962, is founded on the principle of equality between men and women: the Moroccan Constitution states "All Moroccans are equal before the law" (Article 5); men and women enjoy equally their political and civil rights (Article 8); and, the sexes are equal in exercise of public employment and in the conditions required (Article 12). These statements of equality for women contradicted the Moudawana, which constructed female citizens as minors unable to enter into marriage contracts on their own and needing to be represented by a wali (guardian or tutor) until their husbands take over. Women had no say in the event the husband decided to marry additional wives. Lacking autonomy, women had little control over their own lives or those of their children. These contradictions led to periodic movements to bring the Moudawana into harmony with other laws. A 1972 royal commission drafted some proposed changes, but this effort was soon halted. In 1979, two drafts for changing the Moudawana were submitted, but the Ministry of Justice went outside the Constitution, giving them to a group of ulama (religious scholars), and only a few initiatives passed. That same year, a royal commission of three magistrates proposed many minor changes and some major changes to the Moudawana, but they also met intense religious opposition.

Another campaign to liberalize the Moudawana began during the mid-1980s when Morocco suffered severe financial crises and underwent a process of structural adjustment. A series of economic reforms and human rights reforms followed as Parliament discussed a new constitution. Women at this time renewed their fight for equality, holding meetings and workshops, and sharing research on women's rights according to the Qurʾan. In October 1990, the Union de l'Action Féminine (Union for Feminine Action), a group founded by professional and middle-class women, launched a campaign to gather a million signatures on a petition to reform the Moudawana. They came into increasingly bitter conflict with conservative religious groups. On 20 August 1992, in a national broadcast, Hassan II intervened, stating that the Moudawana was his responsibility as Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Muʾminin) and that only he had the authority to amend it.

After meeting with the women to discuss the proposed reforms, Hassan II brought their suggestions before the Council of the Ulama, and in 1991 some reforms were passed, opening the door to change: a man now needed his wife's permission to take other wives; a religious judge's permission was required for a divorce; and a mother who is more than eighteen years of age would receive custody of their children if the father died. In 1999, pressure from various sources forced the government to create a National Plan of Action to integrate women into the economy. High on the agenda was protecting women from violence and raising levels of female literacy. Supporters of women's equality argued that the participation of women was essential to any process of modernization and to democracy, that there could be no true development without women, and that it was the women's movement that had opened space for a civil, democratic society.

see also aicha, lalla; hassan ii; mernissi, fatema; morocco; muhammad v; muhammad vi.


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Charrad, Mounira M. States and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Esposito, John, and DeLong-Bas, Natana J. Women in Muslim Family Law, 2d edition. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

Joseph, Suad, and Slyomovics, Susan, eds. Women and Power in the Middle East. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Naciri, Rabéa. "Engaging the State: The Women's Movement and Political Discourse in Morocco." In Missionaries and Mandarins: Feminist Engagement with Development Institutions, edited by Carol Miller and Shahra Razavi. London: Intermediate Technology Publications in association with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 1998.

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