Changes in Morocco’s family laws have resulted in a fall in the number of women affected by violence in Morocco, explains Fatima Outaleb. In Morocco, concealing a married woman is illegal. As a result, Fatima Outaleb and the others at the shelter in Rabat find themselves operating in somewhat of a grey area.
Changes in Morocco’s family laws have resulted in a fall in the number of women affected by violence in Morocco, explains Fatima Outaleb. 
In Morocco, concealing a married woman is illegal. As a result, Fatima Outaleb and the others at the shelter in Rabat find themselves operating in somewhat of a grey area.
“The authorities tend to look through their fingers when it comes to us, but we still have no legal protection. Nor do we receive any form of financial support from the government. We exist thanks to funds and other support from outside Morocco.”
 

Breaking free from violence – and from male dependency     

At the shelter, which has room for 45 women, work is carried out not only to help the women break free from violence, but also to wean them away from their dependency on men. 
 “The majority of the women cannot read or write and they have no form of insurance so this in itself leaves them very exposed. We educate them so that they can go out and get a job and in that way become independent and move on to a new place in their lives”, tells Fatima, who also works as a partner in a local gender education programme.
In respect to gender equality, Morocco has come a long way over the past thirty years:
“In the 70s, talking about violence or changing Moroccan family law was completely taboo. But today we’ve succeeded in bringing both topics onto the agenda and in changing attitudes out in society”, explains Fatima
 “Patriarchy dominated, legislation discriminated and the entire political environment was very conservative back then. This context was what we aimed to change. We fought violence against women with every means possible, and it worked.” 
 

New interpretation of the Sharia 

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“Back then, people said that the old family law was sacred and couldn’t be touched as it was based upon religion. But we managed to put forward an alternative interpretation of the Sharia which focussed on different aspects”, continues Fatima.
“Among the improvements is the fact that sexual harassment at work is now a punishable offence. Also, men and women now face equal penalties for adultery or honour-killing and the length of maternity leave has been lengthened from 12 to 14 months. Men and women now also have equal rights when it comes to divorce and a legal minimum age for marriage has been set at 18. With respect to this last change, legislation still allows a judge to provide dispensation and still, and there’s still some way to go, because after marriage, most of the rights relating to children are held by the husband”, stresses Fatima.
 “And unfortunately, there is still a need for shelters – and for more rights for women affected by violence”, continues Fatima. “Nowhere in current legislation are women victims of violence mentioned and this is something we’re working to put right.”