Women in Morocco are a very good representation of the country’s paradoxes. While they make up at least half of the local workforce they also face surprisingly strong salary inequality in the workplace. In this essay I will address the particular issue of gender inequality, focusing on women in Moroccan urban areas and drawing on personal experiences and general knowledge of the local environment.
Morocco’s multiculturalism seems to be reflected in women’s condition and lifestyle. After a few years away from my home country it was a lot easier for me to spot the different social disparities than when I was part of the system. After my return to Morocco in 2003 my attention was immediately drawn to the increasing number of women wearing hijab (headscarf/veil), a reaction partially triggered by post 9/11 backlash on Muslims, although no official statistics are available about that. Interestingly, most women who had chosen to wear the veil perceived themselves as modern, educated and emancipated. In fact their decision was and is still often explained as a need to assert their identity as Muslim women. It is important to note that veiled women in Morocco walk side by side with other women dressed in the latest Western fashion. While some consider piousness as their main guideline in life others are waiting for the newest night-club in town to open and do not hesitate to head for Morocco’s famous beautiful beaches as soon as the temperature starts rising.
Moroccan women, backed by the policy King Mohamed 6th, seem to enjoy more rights and freedom now than a few years ago. They are significantly more visible today in the workplace, in politics as well as in entrepreneurial activities and associative sector. They can be seen in almost every field of activity and Morocco prides itself for having women pilots, judges and even “murshidat”, (religious preachers) a job strictly reserved for men in the past in Morocco, and which is still so in most Muslim countries today.
Still, a serious issue remains to be fully addressed and resolved: while women in Morocco seem to be preferred as employees and enjoy a certain level of informal affirmative action (discrimination positive) their salaries have remained surprisingly low when compared to those of their male counterparts. According to a Unicef study, in this day and age, Moroccan women continue to make in average 40% less than men with similar degrees and positions all while being perceived by their employers as more productive and more trustworthy.
Within my own professional experience I vividly remember when I willingly left my position as Sales Manager of a multinational corporation in Morocco in 1996 to be replaced by a man whose title was suddenly upgraded to that of Director of Sales, whose office was renovated to match the new status, and whose salary was doubled. It took me a while to fully understand the reasons why he was treated differently, while my letter of recommendation and other assessment forms told me that my General Manager was very satisfied with my work within the company.
Today, I realize that I probably contributed for that situation. My attempts for salary increase negotiations were very weak, to say the least, and I truly believed that being as woman head of department in a male-dominated society was quite an achievement already, so the money was not so important after all. Moreover, I was single and my salary was my pocket-money since I still lived in my parent’s house, following the Moroccan tradition. On the other hand, the person taking over my position was a husband and a father and therefore was “entitled” to a better pay, a much better pay that annoyed me a great deal.
I would like to add that the General Manager who made these decisions was a Southern European who seemed to have embraced local convictions about salaries in the workplace since they suited his cost control strategies. But the responsibility does not lie on his shoulders, it lies on ours, Moroccan women who have bought into the idea that we are worth much lower salaries than our male counterparts simply because we are women and they are men. This kind of mindset is very common in Morocco even today, where a woman’s good salary is perceived as a bonus while a man’s good salary is perceived as a necessity. For a long time, women in Morocco have worked outside of their homes while carrying the guilt that they were taking a man’s position, a man who was, at least in theory, the main bread-winner of the family. The consequences of that way of thinking are felt every day by Moroccan female professionals and workers as well as their families.
It is important to point out that this was a reality of the grand-parents generation in Morocco. At that time, the Islamic instructions that the husband/father was the provider of the family regardless of his wife’s wealth were strictly followed. Men considered using their wife’s money as humiliating and shameful. Muslims have always taken pride for having granted women the right to own property since the dawn of Islam, a basic right granted to most Western women only relatively recently. Muslim women are often also offered substantial dowry when they get married. On the other hand they only inherit half of the share of their male siblings. The reasoning behind this is that women do not have to bear the burden of providing for the family. Whatever they earn is theirs and theirs only. The only problem with this logic, is that it no longer applies to today’s reality.
Modernity has brought about some significant social changes in the Moroccan family. Starting from the sixties the divorce rate kept rising until it reached the staggering figure of 50% in the eighties. It remained this high until the enforcement of the new family code in 2004. The new family code guarantees fair treatment of women after divorce by forcing husbands to pay decent alimony to their ex-wives and to provide accommodation for them if they have children. Before that women who had gone through a divorce often found themselves in a dire financial situation. Custody was systematically given to them while their salary, when they had a job, was often not sufficient to cover all the family expenses. That is how the image of the husband/bread-winner got shattered in the real world.
However, coming to terms with this new reality was and is still a challenge. It is difficult for most Moroccans to bridge the gap between the idealistic Islamic concept of the close-knit family relying on the husband as the pillar of the family and the facts on the ground. Pre-conceived ideas also resist change especially when they suit the needs of business owners and even simple individuals. In middle-class households a maid would often work much harder and longer hours than a guard and yet would be paid less. In the same fashion, in the corporate world female professionals make almost half the salary of male professionals.
These disparities have finally come under scrutiny in recent years and in May 2006 Morocco launched a national strategy for gender equality aimed at reducing the gap between men and women through their full participation in the development process in all fields. The strategy, which was presented by the State Secretariat in charge of the Family, Childhood and Handicapped People, headed by Yasmina Baddou, with the technical support of the German Co-operation for Development (GTZ) organization, proposed five intervention fields, namely civic rights, decision-making, socio-economic rights, and individual and collective behaviors to face sexist stereotypes. Moreover, a recent report by Unicef, although not failing to point out to the substantial earnings gap between women and men in the Middle East and North Africa region and to the disastrous consequences of women and their families has also singled out Morocco, together with Algeria and Tunisia as countries that have progressed in strengthening the rights of women and children.
Although overcoming a 40% salary difference between men and women appears to be a daunting process I would like to think that progress has began. Morocco is starting to work on its paradoxes in order to provide a decent life to the weakest components of its society: women and children. Results are starting to show in the political and family life and they are expected to expand to the professional sector.
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