The Contribution of Education to Gender Equality
Perhaps the most significant influence on Jewish-Moroccan women’s gender roles was the establishment of educational networks sponsored by the AIU and other foreign organizations, which began in the 1860s and continued into the 21st century. Some of these schools were sex-segregated, while others were co-educational. They brought literacy to girls, whether they came from rich or poor families. They provided occupational and professional training that enabled Jewish women to become economically independent and improve their social status. Education also exposed Jewish boys and girls to European cultural influences that changed their perceptions of appropriate male and female gender roles and helped them to change gender relations.
Improvements in Education and Employment for Jewish Men and Women during the Protectorate
During the protectorate era (1912-1956), Jewish girls and women had greater opportunities for education and employment. Girls were no longer encouraged to marry at a young age. Pressure from the AIU led the rabbinical court to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls from 12 in 1934 to 15 in 1948. The educational system expanded to elementary, secondary and professional education, allowing more Jewish girls to attend and stay longer in school. In contrast, educational opportunities for Muslim Arab and Amazigh Moroccans developed more slowly, especially in the rural areas. Literacy for Moroccan Muslim women in the rural areas was practically nonexistent.
In addition, a large number of Jewish families moved from the mellah (Jewish quarter) to the new, European city, giving them access to new employment and cultural activities. Jewish women living in the new city increased their participation in the work force. While poor Jewish women from the mellah often worked in the food and textile industries or became teachers, better-off women with more education often worked in administrative, banking and commercial jobs. Many women living in the new cities adopted French or Spanish rather than Jewish names, spoke French or Spanish rather than Judeo-Arabic or Judeo-Amazigh at home, wore European dresses and maintained a bourgeois lifestyle.
In response to changes in society, the Moroccan rabbinical courts issued some rulings that provided increased flexibility for married couples. A rabbinical decree pronounced in 1952 permitted young couples to live away from their parents-in-law. To deal with husbands who refused to divorce their wives using the Jewish courts, thus stopping their wives from remarrying, a rabbinical decree in 1953 agreed to include language in a pre-nuptial agreement that prevented this problem from occurring.
Increased Equality of Gender Relations in Independent Morocco
Under independent Morocco since 1956, many Jewish boys, girls, men and women, particularly those living in the new city, benefitted from their higher socio-economic status and the departure of many French and Spanish workers. Their advantages diminished as the economy improved and educational opportunities increased for Muslim Moroccans, especially in the urban areas. Jewish women, regardless of their employment status, were expected by their husbands to assure that their homes met Jewish standards, such as keeping food and dishes kosher. To allow adequate time for outside employment and community affairs, many of these women hired Muslim women for cooking, cleaning and childcare.
Muslim and Jewish Women of Tetouan Collecting Money for the Victims of the Agadir Earthquake, 1960
From Beth Hatfutsot Photo Archive, courtesy of Avraham Zarfati, Netania
Due to the separation of family courts on the basis of religion, Jewish women have not benefitted from the legislative progress in family law made in the 21st century by Moroccan Muslim women under King Mohammed VI. Instead, they continue under the jurisdiction of Jewish law. However, Jewish women, like their Muslim counterparts, are now protected by a relatively progressive violence against women law approved in 2018. It criminalizes some forms of domestic violence (not including marital rape), establishes prevention measures, and increases protections for survivors.
The Status of LGBTQ Rights
While little information is available on the status of LGBTQ persons in the Jewish community, the rabbinical courts use Jewish law to address family law issues associated with them. In particular, the courts prohibit same-sex marriage. Jewish law prohibits sexual relationships between individuals of the same gender and bases its approach to gender roles on birth biology. Sex between men and particularly anal intercourse is deemed a violation of the Bible. Lesbian relations are not mentioned in the Bible and are prohibited explicitly only by rabbinic authorities.
It was easier for LGBTQ persons to be “out” during the protectorate than today, when the threat of criminal prosecution and violence against them has increased. Article 489 of Morocco’s penal code criminalizes same-sex relations, making it punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $120. A 2019 survey of 400 persons in the LGBTQ communities of Marrakesh, Tangier, Rabat and Agadir found that 29% faced arrest or imprisonment for reasons related to their sexuality. About 70% reported that they were victimized by violence due to their sexual orientation. Only 14% filed a complaint, due to their lack of confidence in the legal system’s protection of LGBTQ violence victims.
Moroccan Jewish Gender Roles Today
In 2020, with only about 2,500 Jews left in Morocco, Jewish women are well integrated into Moroccan society, especially the Jewish community. Still, they lag behind Jewish men in leadership positions, particularly those associated with religious institutions. Like Jewish men, they play limited roles in the Moroccan political system.