Professionals are taking a stand to stop violence and discrimination against women in Morocco

By Camille Roch

In Morocco, human rights training for professionals has enabled women to respond to gender-based violence and discrimination. We spoke to one of these professionals to find out how human rights education sparks change beyond the training sessions.

How to support women’s rights activists in a country that is ranked among the 10 worst countries for gender inequality, and what happens once you’ve trained the trainer?

In the region of Meknes, Morocco, 30 professionals including people from women’s rights groups, activists and lawyers have taken part in human rights training in response to gender-based violence and discrimination against women. Over six days, participants received legal training and advice on how to assist women at risk of physical, sexual or psychological harm.

This form of training of trainers has since multiplied in impact and led to an increase in educational projects targeted at other women across the region.

During the training, both men and women took part in practical exercises and activities, Meknes, Morocco, April 2015 © Amnesty International

For Touria Bouabid, Human Rights Education Program Coordinator at Amnesty International Morocco who organizes the trainings, working directly with professionals is an essential aspect to counter a situation that remains critical for many women.

Gender-based violence remains largely prevalent in society despite the Constitution guaranteeing equality between men and women. According to a national survey conducted in 2011, 62.8% of Moroccan women had reported suffering from an act of violence within the 12 previous months

Despite judicial reforms - including the removal from the Penal Code of a provision that had formerly allowed men who raped underage girls to escape prosecution by marrying their victim – discriminatory laws on inheritance and the criminalization of consensual sex between unmarried people still exist, and there is no legal framework to protect women from domestic violence.

To assist professionals in their work, Amnesty Morocco’s training for professionals focuses on legal knowledge of international norms to provide a deeper understanding of the legislation associated with women’s rights. “The professionals we train will be able to work with women using a rights-based approach,” says Touria.

“We also want them to be able to defend the idea that Morocco has signed international conventions on the protection of women’s rights, which means that it needs to take all necessary measures to make sure these conventions are implemented across the country,” she says.

Moroccan women have the right to live a decent life just like men, without being raped, or suffering violence that prevents them from being fully involved in the country’s political, economic and social life. We ought to work towards this end and change this reality; by doing so, we’ll secure freedom and dignity for every woman, and build a healthier society
Amina Azatraoui, women's rights activist

Training local women’s rights defenders and legal actors has proven helpful to reinforce their professional work, but also contributes to reaching a larger number of women from different social backgrounds. “Most of the women these professionals work with on a daily basis are illiterate, with no access to information or resources to understand their basic rights. It can also be very challenging to explain in popular Moroccan Arabic what international law is, or what their rights as women are.”

“For instance, I’ve met 16 year olds, forcibly married, abused every day – both physically and sexually - by their husbands, but who didn’t know this was not normal,” Touria says.

Several participants have since built on their own projects to pass their knowledge to other women and tackle societal attitudes and stereotyped images.

A young girl holds a candle at the awareness event organized by the participants of Amnesty Morocco's human rights training, March 2015, El Hajeb, Morocco © Amnesty International

Amina Azatraoui is one of the women’s rights activists who participated in the training. Every day, at the college in Meknes where she teaches, Amina sees the impact gender inequalities have on the lives of many of her students: “I heard stories involving students, particularly young women, victims of sexual harassment or physical violence from relatives, sometimes even from the teaching staff.”

“To address this issue, we first set up a counselling centre for young women to speak up about their vulnerability to violence, and seek psychological support or medical assistance. We’re now also able to offer sensitization workshops where students learn how to identify discrimination and defend their rights.”

The workshops she set up enable young people to learn to identify and open up about the discrimination they experience. Every two months, students aged from 15 to 20 years old get together and take part in debates and participatory activities to share and discuss the challenges they face. During these sessions, young women also learn how to protect themselves against physical and sexual violence, or how to speak out about an assault in front of the authorities or in court.

Amina Azatraoui teaching students from the Abderrahmane ben Zidane HIigh School to identify discrimination using participatory activities to recreate real-life situations, April 2015, Meknes, Morocco © Amina Azatraoui/Halima Maher

According to Amina, working with young people and giving students the opportunity to discuss freely issues such as sexuality and reproductive rights already represents a step towards equality: “I hope to change mentalities of both men and women that perceive women as inferior.”

“Moroccan women have the right to live a decent life just like men, without being raped, or suffering violence that prevents them from being fully involved in the country’s political, economic and social life. We ought to work towards this end and change this reality; by doing so, we’ll secure freedom and dignity for every woman, and build a healthier society,” she says.

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