It is no longer unusual to see Moroccan women working in various professions in defiance of a set of traditions and societal customs that dictate that some jobs are not suited to them. The sight of women serving in a coffee shop or guarding a parking lot, which was previously rare or even prohibited, is now common. Once King Mohammed VI came to power, succeeding his late father, Hassan II, he tried to open a new chapter for women in the country. He dedicated part of some of his first speeches to women. In his famous 1999 speech, he said, “How can a society achieve social progress and prosperity, while women are not given their rights granted to them by the religion?”
The king was aware that women were being marginalized and were losing their rights. Official statistics indicate that women who actively work amount to almost 20 percent of the workforce in urban areas, while this percentage increases to about 37 percent in rural parts of the kingdom. However, in the cities, women are starting to work in professions they could not enter before. They are no longer embarrassed to work as waitresses in cafes or to pick up waste in the streets. They now feel they can take on professions that were long dominated by men. Some people believe this is a positive step and reflects the change that has taken place in Moroccan society during the past decade. Others differ saying that such change is only due to these women's poverty and the widespread need for money in Morocco, which pushes women to accept some jobs they would not have accepted before.
Zahra, a woman in her 50s, believes it is not logical for women to work in masculine professions and feels surprised when she sees a woman standing in the street wearing the costume of a policewoman controlling traffic, or when she finds a young woman selling bus tickets. On the other hand, Fatima al-Ghaliya al-Laily believes that the community entered a period of modernization and urbanization, and women cannot be excluded from this challenge. However, Al-Laily, an activist in feminist social work, insists on the need to ensure the rights of women and to protect them from being exploited at work. The Ministry of Social Development, Family and Solidarity, which works on improving women's status in general, believes that Morocco has witnessed much progress in this regard and that the rights of employed women are a priority for the government.
Sources at the ministry said that the need to improve the working conditions of women and ensure their integration in the job market equally with men is among the goals aimed at promoting the women's position and improving their participation in economic decision making. Moroccan women have responded positively to a program proposed by the government to revive employment through the establishment of private income-generating projects. Women enrolled in the program with great enthusiasm, amounting to 30 percent of the economic projects. Statistics show that the unemployment rate has declined among women by 25 percent in the past 10 years. Women also account for at least 24 percent of the total active labor force.
Besides the simple jobs, women entered the business world including the real estate business. Ali Lutfi, head of the Democratic Employment Union, believes that women employees in Morocco face many challenges. Despite the ratification of a number of conventions to protect their rights and to include some of these rights in the Labor Code, in reality women employees still suffer from discrimination, injustice and denial of economic, social and cultural rights.
This fact is reflected in the practices affecting women workers such as exploitation and injustice at work, especially in the private sector, the agricultural field and in the textile, tourism and services sectors where “the absence of an enforced law and short-term contracts which lack the basic rights such as minimum wage or social protection” prevails, says Lutfi. He adds that more than 60 percent of women earn less than the minimum wage and have no social or medical insurance. Women working in companies, laboratories and construction companies face such problems and more and they do not have the right to maternity leave. A large number of women work at night for more than 10 hours a day in more difficult circumstances than those authorized by the National Fund of Social Security.
Moreover, women are paid 40 percent less than men in the private sector, Lutfi adds, another obstacle which those working in the public sector do not face.Women have also faced many layoffs in recent years due to the global financial crisis. Around 60 percent of those who were laid off in the kingdom in 2009 were women.
Nouzha Skalli, the Minister of Social Development, Family and Solidarity always repeats the need of women to be protected through enforcing laws against discrimination and exploitation of women employees as well as laws that ensure the integrity of the workplace. Yet, the ministry needs to intensify its efforts and develop a plan to effectively monitor and evaluate measures taken to protect women's rights across the country where women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners in many families.