Moroccan women find it difficult to cope with sexual harassment at work in the absence of laws to protect them from unwanted advances, especially from male bosses.
A recent case of a bank employee, who dared to break the conspiracy of silence and lodge a complaint with a Rabat court against her boss for sexual harassment, is triggering off angry reactions in the city.
The women's employer had promised her promotion and other benefits if she consented to his advances. The case prompted the resignation of the boss and is still being adjudicated by the court.
Last month, a local women's association called on Moroccan women to speak out about the ordeal they are subjected to at work by male employers who cannot control their sexual desires.
Islam, Morocco’s official and constitutional religion, bans sexual harassment as devious behavior.
“My employer kept me in the office for extra hours in the evening. When all the other workers had left, he closed the door and grabbed me,” said Amina Tazi, an archive officer at a major beverage company. “When I objected, he promised me money and a promotion. Ms. Amina, a married woman of 26, refused the offers and decided to take legal steps against her employer’s behavior. Amina’s husband supported her decision. Most women refuse to speak of sexual harassment they have experienced for fear it might destroy their marriage, or brand them in a shameful way in a society that tends to take rumors - especially those pertaining to "honor" - far too seriously.
Employers who subject their female subordinates to sexual demands usually encounter little or no resistance. Fearful of losing their job, the women end up succumbing to their bosses.
The situation is worsened by the absence of laws punishing sexual harassers.
The Moroccan penal law, which calls for severe sentences against rapists, has no legal provision for sexual harassment.
Mohammed Bensaleh, a Rabat-based lawyer, urged for legislation penalizing sexual harassment and said “harassment is usually the first step towards rape, not to mention the psychological effects that such behavior has on the victims,”.
Sexual harassment is also intrinsically linked to violence against women, which has reached alarming levels, he said.
A 1999 study conducted by the Moroccan independent Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights (AMDDF) showed that 32.24 percent of all cases examined by Rabat courts that year pertained to violence against women.
Bensaleh called on all Moroccan NGOs (non-government organizations) dealing with human rights issues to join forces and lobby for legislation on the issue. “It's the best way to solve this acute problem,” he said.
Abdeslam Naji, member of an Islamist association, blames the deterioration of religious values for the situation in which women employees continue to be harassed with total impunity, especially in the private sector.
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