Hungary, Poland and Morocco, the same battle?

Women’s rights and gender justice

Interview Naima Hamoumi from the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) who joined EuroMed Rights on a mission to Poland and Hungary to monitor the state of anti-gender movements in Eastern Europe

What are your impressions after this week in Warsaw and Budapest?

I knew it was not easy, but what we learned is more serious than I imagined. I am even more surprised because these two countries are part of the European Union. Moreover, both have suffered under the Communist era. You would think that they would aspire to more freedom, more respect for the dignity of human beings.

What has marked you the most?

The women’s adherence to this kind of “anti-Gender”. This rise of hatred against LGBT people, in a European country. And also, the role of the school. It is quite similar in Morocco actually. There is more and more conservative and fundamentalists teachers at school. Normally, at school, we learn about citizenship, we learn about freedom, about respect for others. And here we can see that the school itself propagates ideas of hatred.

You mention some similarities between the gender politics in Hungary, Poland and Morocco, do you see others?

Indeed, in Morocco, conservative movements demonise people working for women’s rights, for individual liberties and so on. They accuse them of seeking to deviate society from the Islam religion and Shariah law. Here, I see that the Church has a great influence on political parties. There are even alliances with the government in Poland.

Another similarity is the creation of fundamentalist, conservative NGOs. In our country, there has been the development at an incredible speed of NGOs that depend on the Conservative Party. And these NGOs continue to be created by the government because it allows them to have an influence on the ground. They can also use these when they want to talk about participatory democracy. It is quite sneaky.

Regarding discriminatory laws, we also share this burden in Morocco. There has been no progress or reform in terms of discrimination. Reforms such as the Family Code have many loopholes and sections which are still discriminatory. As for the Criminal Code the bill presented by the government does not take into account the demands of NGOs and human rights institutions.

The core of the discourse is similar. When the conservative movements and PJD target women’s rights activists, they also talk about us being “foreign agents”, “colonising Morocco with Western values”, bringing “deviancy” etc.

Despite the fact that we are different countries, with different cultures, different religions, we see that religious principles are still being used to discriminate against women.

Do you recognise any radically different elements?

In Eastern Europe the LGBTI issue seems to be more of a problem, especially in Poland. In Morocco, this issue is less discussed. LGBTI activists are minorities and LGBTI people are afraid; homosexuality is punishable by prison. Most of the population is homophobic. That is why we cannot really talk about a LGBTI movement in Morocco, it is more of a free, grassroots movement.

How about the situation of feminist organisations?

We are more numerous. But we have financial problems. Funding has become scarce. NGOs are facing difficulties finding and paying their employees, but also finding volunteers. Even if some NGOs do form coalitions, on the family code, on the reform of the Penal Code, for instance, there is still not enough collaboration. Everyone works a little in their own corner.

What is the cause of the funding issues?

NGOs in general work with external funding and do not ask for public funds, to remain independent. For a few years, this external funding is starting to go to the State departments and to the conservative NGOs that have become more important. All of this means less funding for human rights NGOs.

Is there a dialogue between, for example, the ADFM and these other more conservative organisations?

No, we do not collaborate, we do not engage in dialogue. We do not have the same frame of reference. Their reference system is the Shariah. Ours is based on universal human rights. They call themselves feminists, they say they are in favour of women’s rights, but we do not believe it. We collaborate a lot at the national, regional and international levels, but with partners who also affirm the universal human rights of women.

Do you see any possible strategies to counteract the rise of anti-rights politics?

I think we should focus more on women. Raising awareness of educated, qualified, educated women. These women reproduce patterns and often become disinterested in politics and ignore their rights and duties. There is also a lack of awareness on the discriminations that are conveyed by our laws. Fathers are key as well. More and more want their daughters to have a situation, to be happy, to study, to have rights. These men need to be made aware of the risks. A large part of the educated population no longer votes. We also need to get people interested in politics because the progressive political parties have given up. They’re there for the seats.

So the rise of the PJD is also a sign of the failure of a certain Moroccan left?

Yes, absolutely. Corruption and socio-economic problems have worsened. I know a lot of progressive people who voted for the PJD thinking that at least they would not be corrupt.

Does the present government respond adequately to the issues of corruption and socio-economic inequalities?

They are not immune to corruption. They did not improve the socio-economic living conditions of people either. The mechanisms that were supposed to be put in place by the Constitution, such as the Authority for Parity, have still not been put in place. The Equality Plan is not cross-cutting. This government has botched a lot of things. The other parties have not learned from it either.

Are you taking back some questions, ideas for the movement?

A question that remains for me is how to continue working at the international level. So many countries are now promoting these conservative, “anti-gender” ideas! Can we continue relying on international pressure? But generally, I feel that all these Polish and Hungarian NGOs truly deserve credit for continuing to work under these conditions. They have our support.