In Morocco, a new feminist scene takes over the debate on the family code

That day, Ghizlane Mamouni was stunned

In Morocco, a new feminist scene takes over the debate on the family code

That day, Ghizlane Mamouni was stunned. She, a thirty-year-old business lawyer who had frequented prestigious firms between Paris and Casablanca, familiar with the most complex legal and financial arrangements, found herself brutally reduced to her status as a subordinate woman. In the summer of 2018, she discovered that her two boys – of whom she had custody following her divorce – were at risk of missing their return to school due to lack of the father's signature on the registration forms. Ghizlane Mamouni's initials alone were not enough.

“I was revolted but powerless,” she remembers. I had a wall in front of me. » Under article 231 of the Moroccan Moudawana (family code), the father in fact holds primacy in legal guardianship of the child. A divorce under which the mother obtains custody changes nothing. School, leisure, travel: the father, even if distant, is the only one capable of validating documents, creating absurd administrative imbroglios. “And I’m ultra-privileged,” she admits. I am a lawyer, I know how to defend myself. I imagine what mothers who are not so lucky can go through. »

This is how Ghizlane Mamouni entered militant feminism. From her revolt was born in 2021 Kif Mama Kif Baba, a movement defending “equality and gender justice”. A rather unique project, designed as an “incubator” or “nursery” of associative initiatives. Well versed in communication techniques, particularly in the digital sphere, Kif Mama Kif Baba is one of the most emblematic manifestations of the renewal of the feminist scene in Morocco at a time when the Moudawana reform is being relaunched in the kingdom.


During his speech from the throne in July 2022, a traditional annual address, King Mohammed VI called for the reopening of the Moudawana project, a first reform from 2004 intended to promote women's rights having revealed, according to him, "deficiencies". At the end of March, a commission appointed by the government is expected to produce a report proposing a new set of amendments.

Feminist associations have already been warning for years about the unfinished nature of this 2004 reform. Thus the erosion of the provisions prohibiting the marriage of minors or restricting polygamy, with judges tending to make the exceptions provided for by the Moudawana a rule. Or discrimination persists to the detriment of women regarding guardianship of children, or even custody itself after a divorce, reverting to the father in the event of the mother's remarriage. Or the rules of inheritance under which the daughter is disadvantaged compared to the son, or even male collaterals. Not to mention the discretionary power left to judges, invited by the Moudawana to draw inspiration from the “Malekite rite” – one of the four legal schools of Islam – to resolve the uncertainties of the law.

So many “inconsistencies”, deplore feminists, with regard to the principle of “equality” between men and women enshrined in the Constitution revised in 2011. While Moroccan society has continued to change over the last two decades (generalization of the nuclear family, the rise in divorce, etc.), it was more than urgent in their eyes to adjust the law to new realities. “We want an overhaul of the family code and not just reforms,” says Amina Lotfi, president of the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM), a historic organization in the feminist struggle. “It was time to harmonize the Moudawana with the evolution of society,” says Amina Zioual, president of La Voix de la femme amazighe.

This great return of the debate on the family code is taking place on an activist scene in full reconfiguration. Pioneering organizations born in the 1980s or 1990s – such as the ADFM, the Union of Women's Action (UAF), the Moroccan Association for Women's Rights (AMDF) or the Federation of Women's Rights Leagues ( FLDF) – came from left-wing or far-left political parties, a matrix from which they became autonomous after realizing that the “revolutionary” fight of the time neglected the issue of women.

“Reclaim public space”

Followers of institutional advocacy and dialogue with the authorities, but above all marked by the violent conflict with the Islamists, these feminists supported the first reform of the Moudawana in 2004. “We were treated as unbelievers and traitors,” recalls Amina Lotfi of the ADFM. We had to adjust, be more strategic. The priority was to anchor progress in the law and not to hold sit-ins. » Especially since the street in the early 2000s was mostly occupied by political Islam activists.

Such a past is little known to the new generation of activists who have emerged over the past decade. Aïcha Sakhri, journalist for the monthly Femmes du Maroc, was keen to bridge the gap by organizing the first Feminism Conference in December 2023 in Rabat. The event hosted a unique intergenerational meeting. “Young people sometimes seem to think that nothing has been done and that they are going to invent everything,” underlines Ms. Sakhri. It was really important to pay homage to historical feminist movements so that young people could take hold of them. »

This new generation is certainly more impatient, daughters of social networks. “Today, we no longer create associations, we create Instagram pages,” quips Chama Tahiri, feminist journalist who opened a vegan restaurant in Casablanca. She runs a cultural café where she has welcomed Christiane Taubira, Alice Coffin and Rokhaya Diallo. Ghizlane Mamouni, the figure of Kif Mama Kif Baba, immediately understood the limits of digital “like” activism. “Our challenge today,” she proclaims, “is to say: “From Instagram to the streets!” We want to reclaim public space. »

Kif Mama Kif Baba and his comrades in the struggle appear without complexes, placards displayed, on the United Nations Square in Casablanca or in front of Parliament or the Court of Appeal in Rabat depending on the news. “The new feminist wave is not bothered by the fact that the Islamists mobilize more than us,” she emphasizes.

Moving the lines, exploring new paths: the new generation is freeing itself from many cautions. Three inflections seem to distinguish it from the previous one. The first is to have taken up, beyond the Moudawana, the question of “individual freedoms” and the relationship with the body. With the aim of removing the dust from a penal code criminalizing “sexual relations outside of marriage”, homosexuality and abortion, which remains prohibited except in cases of danger to the health of the mother.

Betting on a new masculinity

The second is to bet on the emergence of a new masculinity among young men, some of whom may join feminists in criticizing patriarchy. Kif Mama Kif Baba, for example, shares its association premises in Mohammedia (near Casablanca) with the Médias et Cultures association founded by Abdelmadjid Moudni. “Cultural expectations of stereotypical masculinity inflict real pressure on men,” underlines Mr. Moudni, who is part of the movement, albeit in its infancy, of “positive masculinity” fighting against “toxic masculinities”.

Finally, this new generation, which displays its “pragmatism” and its refusal of “ideological blocs” (Islamists versus secularists) having divided past debates, no longer rejects dialogue with the proponents of political Islam – themselves less radical than before – in order to undermine some of their theological arguments. “We are not going to get there by refusing discussion with them,” warns Ghizlaine Mamouni who, with supporting texts, strives to convince her conservative interlocutors that the Koran does not necessarily state all the prohibitions that we lends it to him. “Feminists need to pull the rug out from under the Islamists by showing that Islam has been historically progressive,” says Yasmine Chami, novelist and anthropologist.

If the room for maneuver of feminism in Morocco will inevitably remain limited by the limits assigned to it in 2003 by King Mohammed VI in his capacity as “Commander of the Faithful” – “I cannot authorize what God has prohibited, nor prohibit what the Most High has authorized” – new themes inexorably dig their furrows into the heart of society. Feminism in Morocco can no longer be reduced to the importation of Western ideas. “From being exogenous, the debate has become endogenous,” summarizes Yasmine Chami.