Counting women in

Putting gender equality at the heart of governance in Morocco

Mohamed Chafiki, of Morocco’s Ministry of Economy and Finance
Photo: UN Women/Hassane Ouazzani Chahdi

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“Budgeting is not technical – it is political.”

When Mohamed Chafiki, a senior official in the Moroccan finance ministry, speaks about gender equality, the passion in his voice is unmistakable. Ensuring every government decision is assessed for its gender impact has been a defining feature of his career. And by working hand-in-hand with key partner organizations from the world of gender and human rights, he has helped Morocco become one of the leading lights in the region.

“I have always thought that gender equality was at the heart of democracy, both for my country and around the world,” he says from his office in Rabat. “I don’t think we can have balance in life, or achieve happiness if there is not equality between the sexes.”

Gender responsive budgeting - or GRB - can have a profound effect on women’s lives and a country’s development, explains Mohamed. “Morocco, like many countries in the region, suffers from widespread inequality,” he says. “And in each instance it is women who pay the biggest price - in terms of poverty, exclusion and marginalization. Addressing these inequalities is also absolutely central to questions of democracy and human rights.”

Photo: UN Women/Hassane Ouazzani Chahdi

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First grade student at an elementary school in a Moroccan village
Photo: World Bank

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“You can’t have an effective budget, and effective use of the public purse if you do not identify targets and consider the gender impact from the moment of policy conception”

In Morocco the gender impact of any policy is not an afterthought - it is considered right from the word go. Which means that when it comes to crucial policies such as universal education, targets are set for both sexes and the barriers which could prevent girls going to school are factored into the budgeting process. For example when a school is planned, money is put aside to ensure that there are adequate toilets that can be used by girls. Not only that, but in its efforts to improve access to running water, the government also collects information on the number of girls who have to collect water in rural areas, a burden that can prevent them from attending school.

“You can’t have an effective budget, and an effective use of the public purse if you do not identify targets and consider the gender impact from the moment of policy conception,” says Mohamed.

The road to becoming fully gender responsive has been long. Morocco began looking at the impact of gender in budgets in 2002, outlining a strategy, training public servants and creating technical tools. Since 2005 Morocco has produced a gender report providing a vital tool to ensure accountability and in 2007 the Prime Minister of Morocco sent a letter to all departments urging them to take up GRB.

Currently, a total of 27 departments, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the government’s budget, have adopted the tool.

A new landmark was reached in 2014, with the passing of a new finance law, which legally obliges the government to consider gender throughout the budget process.

“Since 2002 we have seen a pragmatic move forward - there have been constraints, there have been those who have attempted to take us backwards, but whereas GRB was informal before, now it is enshrined in law,” says Mohamed.

From a legal perspective, huge progress in women’s rights has also been made. A major advance was achieved in 2004 with the passing of a new family law which guaranteed equality of the sexes in marriage. In the same year, Morocco’s new labour code spelt out women’s rights to maternity leave. Meanwhile, the confederation of Moroccan businesses (CGEM) has produced guidance to its members to make crèches available in workplaces to support working mothers.

“We have to reflect on every serious measure to make sure women can access work, while at the same time making sure there is a balance between family and professional life,” Mohamed said.

In 2011, the country passed a new constitution guaranteeing gender equality in civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. In the same year, Morocco removed several of its reservations to CEDAW, in relation to women’s rights to nationality and to rights within marriage and the family.

Mohamed is quick to point out that this progress is not down to the work of government technocrats, but women’s rights campaigners who have been a formidable force. “Everything I personally did, and we achieved in government was a homage to the groups fighting for women’s rights.”

Rabéa Naciri, former president of the Association Démocratique du Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), explains that women’s rights groups were central to introducing the concept of GRB.

“Women’s groups have been behind practically every reform made in Morocco. We didn’t just demand - we came up with solutions - and after, we mobilized in order to get reforms,” she says.

Rabéa urges other women’s groups around the world to focus on GRB as a tool for promoting gender equality. “Budgeting is not technical - it is political,” she says. “People make you think it’s too complicated - that’s not true. It’s a mechanism for holding governments to account - so it is incredibly important.”

The next frontier for Morocco is to measure how time is spent in each household, so women’s unpaid work can be taken into account in policymaking. “It’s a fundamental problem that part of society is working and yet not being paid,” says Mohamed.

In Morocco women form only 27 per cent of the labour force. “That’s not to say they don’t work, but their work is not recognized. How can we hope to catch up with developed nations? Only by unleashing the earning and economic potential of those women.”

Story: Alexandra Topping. For more information on Gender responsive budgeting in Morocco see UN Women 2014c.