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Legal Empowerment of Unwed Mothers: Experiences of Moroccan NGOs

By: Stephanie Willman Bordat, Saida Kouzzi

This is a part of the International Development Law Organization’s Working Paper Series.

This resources examines Moroccan non-governmental organization (NGO) initiatives that promote the rights of unwed mothers with children born out of wedlock.  Social stigmatization, criminal repression and legal discrimination marginalize these women and their children, and impact on their ability to obtain official identity papers. Without such legal identity, they cannot access a host of other fundamental rights, and legal empowerment can be impossible.

In focusing on child registration and Family Booklet unwed mothers, this chapter argues that law and development initiatives should take into account complex, intimidating legal realities that disadvantaged populations such as these women and children face, including: existing laws that may not be applied in reality, that are discriminatory on their face, that are unclear and open to disparities in their interpretation or that are silent on an issue and thereby create legal voids.

Four youth-led local women’s rights NGOs created in the past five to eight years in diverse regions across Morocco, in collaboration with an international human rights capacity-building organization, currently implement grassroots-level human and legal rights education and launched a pilot Court Accompaniment Program in 2006 primarily for illiterate women in their respective communities. Initial indicators of impact of these two initiatives hint at shifts in attitudes and behavior among unwed mothers and local authorities charged with helping them access their legal rights.

The popular discourse in Morocco claims that the main obstacle to people making use of their rights is their ignorance of the laws and their rights; this could be remedied by legal education campaigns. The experience of these NGOs working with unwed mothers illustrates how knowledge of the laws alone is not sufficient.  In order to access their rights, people need concrete help in navigating government services and bureaucracies that are often indifferent, intimidating or even hostile.

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Uploaded on: Dec 16, 2015
Last Updated: Dec 17, 2015
Year Published: 2010
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