Female Minister in Morocco’s New Government: One Too Many?

Bassima Hakkaoui (C), newly appointed Moroccan Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development stands next to outgoing Minister Nezha Skkali (R) during a handover ceremony in Rabat on 4 January 2012. (Photo: AFP - Abdelhak Senna)

By: Imad Estito

Published Monday, January 23, 2012

Morocco’s first Islamist-led government will include only one female minister. Many women’s rights activists fear it is a harbinger of things to come from this conservative government.

Despite the fact that the modified Moroccan constitution promotes gender equality and equal representation for women, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s new Cabinet contains only one female minister.

This was widely viewed as a serious setback for Moroccan women, thus provoking angry demonstrations against the new Islamist government.

As the prime minister read out his government’s agenda in parliament, a group of female lawmakers raised placards protesting the absence of women in his Cabinet.

Bassima Hakkaoui, a controversial Islamist politician, was the sole female minister in the government, taking over the Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Development from Nouzha Skalli.

Hakkaoui’s conservative views on gender equality and women’s issues made many consider her appointment an indicator of the new government’s conservative direction.

Activist Khadija Riyadi believes that the “the number of women in politics should be democratically representative. However, since we are not living in a proper democracy, then this reality does not surprise me. The real problem goes beyond the number of female ministers.”

Widad Melhaf, an activist in the February 20 movement, said that despite her movement’s boycott of the parliamentary elections that produced this government, it remains “very upsetting that recent gains for the cause of women’s rights were lost.”

“Moroccan women have managed again and again to prove their worth and competence in numerous fields. Having only one woman in the Cabinet is an alarming glimpse into the future of women’s rights in Morocco,” Melhaf told Al-Akhbar.

Melhaf also points out that “its true that I’m against symbolic representation at the cost of real competence, but in Morocco there is a large number of competent women with the skills necessary to take on ministerial responsibilities.”

“The fact that only one female made it into the Cabinet gives the impression that the misogynistic view of women is still alive and well in Morocco,” she adds.

Eman al-Yaacoubi, a member of Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (PJD) that heads the 30th Moroccan government, claims that the party “democratically elects its ministers,” pointing out that “the women of the party participate in these procedures and the appointment of one female minister from our ranks was a democratic choice made by all the members of the party, regardless of gender.”

“For years our party has had the most female representation in parliament which shows the explicit trust the party has in women, but choosing the ministers has to take into account the ministries the party won and not their gender,” al-Yaacoubi added.

“The party’s women can take advantage of party democracy and try to improve the position of women, but all this does not mean we approve of the low level of female representation in the new government.”

Meryem Demnati, an Amazigh (Berber) activist, confirmed that the virtual absence of female ministers “was predictable, because this government is an alliance between two conservative parties: the Independence Party and the Justice and Development Party.”

“We were not shocked or even surprised by this result that undermines all the progress made by women in government and politics in the past few years under intense local and international pressure,” Demnati said.

“It ignores modifications to the constitution that specifically call for equal representation of women, for strengthening the role of women and opening up opportunities for them inside the parliament, government, and many other organizations, including calls for positive discrimination of women in order to allow them to reach positions of responsibility and power,” she added.

Demnati pointed out that “the mentality of political parties with respect to women in Morocco is very weak. Had there not been pressure on the regime to force some standards for political parties, there would not have been any change at all.”

“The chauvinistic mentality is dominant and party leaders seek only to appease family, friends, relatives, and direct supporters. With this mentality, it is impossible to advance women’s participation,” she continued.

For her part, Bassima Hakkaoui expressed her disappointment at being the sole female minister in the new government, saying that she is “annoyed at the decreasing number of women in the Cabinet and wishes it were more,” adding that “political parties did not expend much effort to introduce new female faces who could take responsibility” inside the new government.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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