Morocco’s Veiled Feminists

It is often assumed that modern feminism has no place, and thus can make little headway, in societies undergoing a religious revival, particularly in the Islamic world. But the real progress made in recent years on women’s rights in Morocco suggests otherwise: a unique combination of activism by secular and religious women, the calculations of political parties, and a significant role for the King has led to real progress.

Pioneering Moroccan feminists began their work soon after independence in 1956. By and large representative of a liberal perspective, they nonetheless recognized the importance of Islam throughout Moroccan society. As a result, they took care to frame their demands in ways that provided a measure of Islamic identity.

This first generation of Moroccan feminists was guided by a key insight: the interactions of men and women were not dictated by religion, but by social practices that had often used religion as a means of reinforcement. For example, women and their sexual purity were linked with the honor of men and their families – a connection that was defended by grounding it in Islam. For these activists, such linkages were intended to maintain control over women, and were part of Moroccan society, not Islam.

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