Moroccan women judges strive for equal rights

Sunday 25/09/2016
A February 2014 file photo shows men and women judges taking part in a protest called by the Judges’ Club, an independent organisation of Moroccan magistrates, in Rabat.

Rabat - Moroccan female judg­es have proven to be efficient in handling cases with as much impartiality and in­tegrity as their male counterparts. Their work has turned them into key players within the Moroccan judiciary. From the early 1960s to the late 1970s, the number of women judges did not exceed ten; by late 2015, there were hundreds of women judges working in the Moroccan court system.

“Women today represent one-third of the Moroccan judicial body and, although we have not reached the parity goal stipulated by the constitution, we can acknowledge that there has been an important development,” said Abdellatif Chentof, president of the Judges’ Club in Morocco.

The rate of women’s participa­tion in the judiciary is based on merit and competency in contrast with the quota system used, for in­stance, in parliament. Women pass an examination to join the Higher Judiciary Institute just as their male colleagues do. They then go through the same training as men, Chentof said.

In 1961, Morocco became one of the first Muslim-majority countries to appoint female judges. Accord­ing to the Ministry of Justice and Freedoms, there were 940 women judges out of 4,001 sitting judges in 2014. That number had risen to 1,004 by September 15th, 2015.

“Female judges work in courts and in various disciplines. They occupy several administrative and judicial positions at the Ministry of Justice, Court of Cassation and the different courts,” Chentof said. “Some of them are giving lectures at the Higher Judiciary Institute. They also contribute to the es­sential and permanent training of judges and the various seminars in Morocco and abroad.”

Aisha Nasseri, the king’s repre­sentative at the Civil Court of First Instance in Casablanca and presi­dent of the Moroccan Association of Women Judges, said: “The expe­rience of female judges in Morocco is quite exceptional.”

She pointed out that women judges had contributed to the de­velopment of the judiciary system, despite ongoing discrimination.

“Despite the achievements of female judges, the 50-50 goal, as stipulated by the Moroccan consti­tution, was not reached,” Chentof said. “The participation of women in positions of authority is not as strong as their participation in the sitting judiciary. Some positions of authority are still dominated by men, such as the public prosecu­tion and positions at the criminal division.”

Malika Hafedh, president of a chamber at the Court of Cassa­tion, said: “The Moroccan judici­ary model is internationally rec­ognised. Yet, there must be an agreement on the participation of men and women.

“It should be said that there is an obvious imbalance as female judges are only assigned to some simple cases and left out when it comes to major criminal cases. Women are totally absent from the Military Court and female judges have spent years before holding a position in the management of the Moroccan courts.”

The 2011 constitution set a quota for women at the Supreme Council of the Judiciary. During elections last July, the quota came into play and three seats were given to wom­en, about one-third of the number of elected judges, Chentof said.

Nasseri said Moroccan female judges remain “quite optimistic as a bill by the judicial authority clearly stipulates that the Supreme Council of the Judiciary is seeking parity”.

But according to Nasseri, there are only ten women among the 200 officials who hold top positions in the judiciary. A woman has never been the king’s representative at the restraining courts, attorney general or held top positions at di­rectorates.