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Aid, Women, and Progress in Morocco

While the achievement levels of Moroccan women have increased since the Moudawana reforms, Morocco has stayed roughly in the same place relative to the rest of the countries in the world.

August 11, 2010
Eva Baker, Anne Bernier

While in Morocco this summer, Anne heard a lot about the government’s recent work to improve the status of women. In early 2004, the Moroccan Parliament overhauled the Moudawana, or Moroccan Family Code, giving women greater rights. The new family code removed provisions requiring women to obey their husbands and restricted polygamy. The reforms changed inheritance laws, allowed women freer access to employment and education, permitted Moroccan nationality to pass to children through either men or women, and empowered women to initiate divorce.


As Research Assistants forAidData, we wondered how Morocco’s donors would react to the domestic changes. As Nick Kristof has written, aid to women can have dramatic development effects.Did gender-related aid increase after 2004, perhaps to complement the reforms or as a “reward”? Or, did progress in the domestic legal code cause donors to shift aid away from women’s projects into other areas? For a quick comparison we keyword searched Morocco’s aid for the terms “gender,” “women,” “female,” and “girls” to flag projects with a significant women’s component in addition to those with women as the priority purpose. While the method isn’t perfect, as a first cut, we established a replicable and reliable sample of projects that would allow us to establish variation in allocation over time.


From the data we learned that despite a net increase in total aid to Morocco from 1999-2008, gender- related projects received around 1% of total aid both before and after the 2004 reforms. So, while gender- related aid did increase from $10,698,525 in 1999 to $16,307,016 in 2008 (and the number of projects went from 12 to 71 per year), we don’t see a dramatic change in allocation priorities by Morocco’s donors in either direction. This surprised us—donors had been clamoring for these reforms for years; but when they were passed we observe no obvious response on the part of these donors. This outcome is dissimilar to that noted by Chris Marcoux in the environmental issue area where change in aid is related to change in the domestic institutions of the recipient country.


But while there has been no major shift toward gender-related aid relative to other sectors in Morocco’s aid portfolio, perhaps donors became more targeted in the gender aid they were giving by focusing more directly on women’s rights, rather than traditional development activities thought to benefit women disproportionately. Thus, in our continuing quest to find a donor “response” to the reforms, we instead looked at the composition of projects within gender-related aid:

Here we see some big changes. First, education and employment and, to a lesser extent, business/industry/agriculture decreased dramatically from a combined 67% to only 15%. Government policy and capacity (all sectors) as well as social projects stayed about the same, though we were interested to find a few projects responding directly to the reforms, such as this American project and this Spanish project. The real story lies in aid to women’s empowerment groups, civil society organizations, and gender-related rural development. From 2005-2008, projects in these sectors accounted for $70,873,272 of the total $108,723,601 in gender related aid, with Spain and the International Fund for Agricultural Development as the largest donors.

This shift from education and business to civil society projects is similar to the United Nations Development Fund for Women’s strategy. UNIFEM proposes to politically empower women by increasing political representation and mobilization and improving domestic legislation and its implementation. Domestic and international efforts in Morocco could also be viewed within the larger movement to raise women’s status as a critical component of economic development, as noted by Isobel Coleman in Foreign Affairs.


But these descriptive statistics say little about the actual results for women in Morocco. Other countries and women’s rights groups lauded Morocco for its reforms, but despite instances of progress, change has been slow. In particular, many women’s NGOs despairspotty implementation by conservative judges and the national government. To track the reforms’ results, we used Womanstats to look up the UNDP’s Gender-related Development Index (GDI), which uses literacy, school enrollment, life expectancy, and income levels to calculate the social and economic disparity between men and women. A high GDI shows a higher level of achievement for both men and women and higher gender equality.

Since 2003, Morocco’s GDI has risen steadily, although its rank has bounced around from 100, to 95, to 111. So while the achievement levels of Moroccan women have increased since the Moudawana reforms, Morocco has stayed roughly in the same place relative to the rest of the countries in the world. Although we found that donors reacted to the reforms in 2004, it was in a more nuanced way than we expected, given their sweeping changes. Whether that was appropriate will have to be debated elsewhere.

The following was written by two of our William and Mary research assistants, Anne Bernier ('11) and Eva Baker ('12).