Over one hundred women gathered outside Morocco’s parliament on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane after he told women to stay at home in a speech last week. In response to the negative publicity, Benkirane called on Morocco’s popular news news channel 2M TV to fire its head news director, Samira Sitail, who later joined the protesters.
“For a man who dreams of seeing the Moroccan women locked up in their kitchen, it is not surprising that he wants me to stay home,” responded Sitail in a Facebook post. “It seems that he does not understand that, like millions of Moroccan women, I work to earn a living, and I’m not the only woman to live on her own salary,” she added. Women make up 20 percent of the urban workforce and nearly 40 percent of rural workers in the North African country.
Morocco’s 2011 constitution states that “men and women have equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and freedoms,” although Prime Minister Benkirane seemed to have forgotten about this clause during his address to parliament last week. In the speech, he compared women to “lanterns” and lamented “don’t you realize that when women went to work outside, the light went out of their homes?” The Prime Minister’s remarks triggered an onslaught of critical tweets with the hashtag #AnaMachiTria (“I am not a chandelier“). In recent years, an increasing number of Moroccan women have entered professional fields formerly closed to them.
Benkirane continued by complaining that the “sacred status God gave” to mothers who stay at home was being disrespected. “We will continue to defend our position against this modernity that is trying to eliminate family in our lives by reversing the roles of men and women,” he said. Opposition parties and women’s rights groups accuse him of using working women and the “deterioration in moral values” he claims they are causing as a scapegoat for the country’s social and economic problems. The fact that Benkirane’s wife has a career working in a private school suggests that his outrage over women in the workplace may have been a ploy to motivate political support.
Women protesting outside parliament on Tuesday called out Benkirane for rewriting Moroccan history. “Women have been working in Morocco for hundreds of years.” said Amina Benameir, a working mother of two. “He’s completely out of touch.” Despite increasing employment rates over the past few years, Moroccan women continue to confront inequality in the workplace, like women in nearly all parts of the world. Women made up 60 percent of workers laid off when the global recession hit Morocco in 2009, and those in the private sector continue to earn 40 percent less than men.
Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.