Religion, Women and the Police – OpEd – Eurasia Review
Distrust of police institutions is an international phenomenon. Walking through the streets of Morocco, one can notice the occasional wall with the word ‘ACAB’, an acronym standing for ‘All Cops Are Bastards’, scrawled in graffiti. With the French ACAB movement having roots in the police practice of ethnic profiling and the American position on the movement based on systemic discrimination against people of color, especially black men, raises the question of what the Moroccan ACAB graffiti hint to change. With only 3/100 female survivors of sexual violence seeking help from the police in Morocco today, a culture of normalizing the marginalization of women in public spheres, coupled with only the somewhat constructive religious and political efforts of the Moroccan government, highlights the socio-political issues in Morocco.
Morocco’s gender inequality index being 0.45 in 2019, the physical, psychological and economic violence inflicted on women is affirmed. The negative view of men on women develops in public and family spaces, in which an association between femininity and disgust is formed. Thus, attacking women by verbal or physical means is, according to Violence against women in the public space: the case of Morocco, “a way for men to publicly prove their virility and dominance over women and space”. In public places, women’s movement is suppressed when they face sexual, psychological, verbal and physical abuse outside the home; and from an institutional point of view, women are more likely to be subject to identity checks by the police. This type of oppression allows the normalization of the deprivation of women’s rights. Women feel this cruelty all their lives – when asked a single middle school mother living in Beni-Mellal when she first realized the restriction on her movement in public spaces, especially at night, she replied “Always”.
Despite the apparent omnipresence of the police in Morocco, as evidenced by checkpoints manned across the country by traffic police, only 8 out of 100 women victims of domestic violence report the incidence to the police. This problem of not filing a complaint is twofold: the social shame of being divorced and the fear of being blamed by the police for the incident. Often, the surviving woman is the one charged with the abuse cases. In some cases, the woman is ignored or placed under a travel ban, while in others she is seen as hysterical and may have her job jeopardized. Moreover, due to the #MeToo movement, the defamation of women for protesting has infiltrated the subconscious of Moroccan minds. In fact, only 1/10 of female survivors globally report to police about their abuse, yet many withdraw their reports due to poor police response. Allegations, through the use of policy or power, determine the extent to which a reported incident will be complied with.
Although culture and religion are fundamental tenets of Moroccan society, efforts in the areas of women’s rights advocacy have proven to be of little benefit in the area of gender-based violence. In Article 51 of the Moroccan Family Code, Koranic teachings preach the importance for both spouses to share a number of obligations, including cohabitation, family rights and fidelity. Due to Morocco’s patriarchal society, the religion of Islam is often manipulated by men for their benefit and pleasure – giving up women their rights. Instead of interpreting the text as a sign of mutual respect and collaboration in the private sphere, men tend to believe that, under the pretext of religion, women must have sex with men, regardless of consent or lack of consent. Although parts of the Quran proclaim equality between women and men, as well as retribution for men who oppress or harass women, Muslim scholars today believe that women who attempt to refuse sex with their husbands are cursed.
King Mohammad VI’s response to religious manipulation degrading women’s rights proved only somewhat constructive. In 2004, the King adapted the Family Code, known as Moudawana. This text indicates that women have the right to self-guardianship and divorce, while guaranteeing the legal punishment of those who sexually harass women. In 2018, another law was added that makes the sexual assault and exploitation of women illegal, known as Law 103-13. Despite the apparently favorable nature of the law, the code did not change the Criminal Code provision on rape, including the acceptance of marital rape. In response, the rate of reporting incidents of violence against women remains at 1 in 10.
After the launch of Law 103-13 in 2018, the General Directorate of National Security, with the help of UN Women, planned a program with the aim of preventing, protecting and responding to violence and women’s inequalities . The program, titled “Improving prevention and responses for women victims in Morocco”, restructured police units for women victims of violence in each main police station in Morocco from December 2019 to April 2021. According to the head of the In the Casablanca Prefectural Police Unit for Women Victims of Violence, the hardest part of a woman’s experience of violence is reporting it to the police. Therefore, in this agenda, the partners organized and executed the training of 160 magistrates on Law 103-13, supported 20 non-governmental organizations in sensitization, as well as the training of the police on survivor-centered approaches and taking account of trauma. Police units for women victims of violence have been trained in listening, referring and recording cases in order to make the experience of going to the police for help as beneficial and comfortable as possible. During the COVID pandemic, 24-hour toll-free helplines were set up and online hearings were set up to continue providing services to women facing violence at unique times.
Despite action by the Directorate General of National Security and UN Women, as the COVID pandemic swept through Morocco, many women isolated themselves at home with their oppressor, as 46% of women said the environment home is the most violent space for them. Under these circumstances, gender equality and women’s rights have seriously deteriorated, with 1 in 4 women experiencing physical violence at the height of the pandemic between May 2022 and April 2022.
Although political and religious efforts have been made by the King and members of the government, great strides remain to be made to enable women to finally break out of the cycle of violence and exercise their rights. In 2020, at least 57% of Moroccan women experienced some type of violence, of which 9% were girls aged 12 to 17. Additionally, many women fear reporting to the police after being victims of extramarital rape due to the criminal and taboo nature of extramarital sex. Women continue to be belittled for speaking out on religious and cultural arguments, while police also continue to dismiss cases of violence against women. As evidenced by these statistics, more changes to police conduct are needed to end gender-based violence in Morocco. As coming forward to report violence is the most difficult step for women, building trust in the police is an important area of focus when reforming the police, which would thus contribute to the prevention crime and strengthening community safety. Professionally educating all police officers through intensive training in trauma-informed care and referral to psychosocial services will encourage women to report abuse. Also, the media should be more transparent, providing information on both the triumphs and the exploits of the police in dealing with survivors.
Religion, the police and culture are all factors in Moroccan society that cause women to avoid seeking justice after experiencing violence. Changing cultural stigmas and religious interpretations is difficult to accomplish, but regulations and laws are more malleable. Gender-based violence, coupled with women’s distrust of the police, is not a new phenomenon in Morocco. Aiming for police reform to be more community-driven, and thus building a relationship of trust between institutions and people, is the first step towards possible change in the area of female abuse in Morocco.
Sabine Stratmann is a student at the University of Virginia and an intern at the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.