Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, October 11 2011
Snapshot: Fatima Sadiqi, founder, Isis Center for Women and Development
In June, the Moroccan constitution was reformed, giving greater recognition of gender equality. Fatima Sadiqi, professor of linguistics and gender studies, affiliated with Harvard University since 2006, is cautiously optimistic about what this will mean for Moroccan women.
Sadiqi, a Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a Harvard Fellowship, has written extensively on Moroccan languages and women’s issues. She is editor in chief of “Languages and Linguistics” and serves on the editorial board of the Gender and Language journal. She founded the first graduate unit of gender studies in Morocco and also the Centre for Studies and Research on Women at Fes University.
She currently is president and founder of the Isis Center for Women and Development. Sadiqi has initiated many international projects on gender-women studies and has served on a variety of national and international committees. She organized nine international conferences on languages and gender issues.
In 2006, she was nominated by King Mohamed VI to the 11-member board of the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture. Also in 2006, she was nominated by the U.N. secretary-general as one of eight women members of the Committee for Development Policy.
She lives in Fez, Morocco, with her husband and three sons.
Womenetics: We are hearing so much about the Arab Spring, but few Americans know that Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. Why is that?
Fatima Sadiqi: American scholars and anthropologists who are interested in North Africa know it, and some of the finest such scholars dedicated years of research to explore the cultural roots of the Moroccan monarchy. I am sure an increasing number of young American scholars, especially the Fulbrighters, will engage more in this route.
Womenetics: The Moroccan constitution was reformed in June of this year to include a greater recognition of gender equality. Why did that happen now, and what does it mean for Moroccan women?
Sadiqi: Because the terrain was ripe. Morocco started to reform the legal system well before the Arab Spring. This was possible thanks to the successful strategizing between the Moroccan feminist movement and the monarchy. Institutionalizing gender equality was a simple formalization of what was going on for a while.
Womenetics: How will this impact Moroccan society?
Fadiqi: This is a big challenge to Morocco’s credibility. I think more work will be done on the implementation front, and, if successful, this will impact Morocco very positively. It will facilitate more democratic reforms.
Womenetics: In addition to women, the indigenous Berber population has been marginalized in Morocco. How are the two linked?
Fadiqi: Well, there are historical reasons for this. During the Protectorate, very few women in cities and probably none in the rural areas had access to school where they could have learned Arabic and French. After independence, rural areas were marginalized, and women’s issues were certainly not on the agenda. The marginalization of rural areas also meant the marginalization of rural (illiterate) women, and the only languages they spoke were Berber and Moroccan Arabic.
Womenetics: How will these new constitutional reforms be implemented, and what is standing in the way of the implementation?
Fadiqi: Work has already started at the local and national levels. In various instances, the government and civil society are holding meetings with their respective audiences to see ways of implementing the reforms. On the other hand, elections will be organized in November, and all parties are getting prepared.
Womenetics: Is there anything the U.S. government can do to support the implementation of these reforms?
Fadiqi: The relationship between the United States and Morocco has always been good. I guess the United States can do a lot in fostering more cooperation at the level of women’s activism and academic endeavors.
Womenetics: What kinds of women’s groups exist in Morocco?
Fadiqi: Grassroots organizations that work with the population, university centers, and postgraduate units, transnational groups, etc. All of these target the empowerment of women at all levels.
Womenetics: You are known for your interest in women’s issues and language. What is the connection?
Fadiqi: In spite of widespread technology and virtual communication, language is still central in any human activity. The relationship between gender and language is most seen in multilingual countries like those of North Africa. The use of languages in this part of the world is related to social power: The more languages one knows the better she or he is.
Womenetics: Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Fadiqi: My parents and later my husband’s attitudes to my schooling and then my research. Both were very supportive.
Womenetics: As a little girl, what were your interests?
Fadiqi: I loved reading books, going to school, and scoring the best marks.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.