Women's rights activists in Morocco have criticised the Islamist-led government for excluding them from drafting a proposed legislation to combat violence against women and for seeking to dilute the bill through changes.
The long-awaited bill is currently under study in Morocco.It comes after the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it.
A preliminary version of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage, threatens prison sentences of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women.
In addition, the bill would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, risking possible three-year prison terms for suspects.
"We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content," said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women's Rights, speaking at a meeting in Casablanca, to discuss the bill, according to AFP news agency.
Sara Soujar, another activist speaking at the meeting, argued that the bill fails to include provisions relating to single women.
"This category is totally absent... Reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed," she said.
"Young women who work in factories or as housemaids, many of whom are minors, are no less exposed."
Government committee set up
In the face of these objections, the government has been forced to establish a committee, headed by Abdelilah Benkirane, the country's prime minister from the Islamist Party of Justice and Development, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.
Progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of a kind that the proposed legislation is designed to deter.
Rights groups’ concerns resonate with the findings of a study recently published by the state planning commission (HCP).
The research says around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence during the year that it was carried out.
According to the study, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once.
Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.