Women's equitable participation and leadership in political and public life is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Yet data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making around the world, and that gender parity is still far from being achieved in political life. Minister Nouzha Bouchareb, in charge of National Land Use Planning, Housing and Urban Policy in Morocco, represents the global minority of women leaders in political life. Interview.

"IN MOROCCO, THE STATUS OF WOMEN HAS EVOLVED A LOT".

Interview: Nouzha Bouchareb, Ministry of National Territorial Planning, Urban Development, Housing and Urban Policy

Women's equitable participation and leadership in political and public life is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Yet data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making around the world, and that gender parity is still far from being achieved in political life. Minister Nouzha Bouchareb, in charge of National Land Use Planning, Housing and Urban Policy in Morocco, represents the global minority of women leaders in political life. Interview.

54 ETATS: You are one of the few women to hold a position of high responsibility in the State in Morocco, you are in charge of the National Territory Planning, Urbanism, and Housing. How do you assess Morocco's efforts to empower women in politics?

Nouzha Bouchareb: In Morocco, the status of women has evolved a lot, thanks to the will of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God assist him, who announced the day after his accession to the Throne, the imperative "to do justice to Moroccan women and to free them from any form of injustice that weighs on them.

In this sense, the Kingdom has been committed since the early 2000s to a series of legal, institutional and constitutional reforms in favor of gender equality. This commitment is reflected in the 2011 Constitution, which stipulates in its Article 19 the effective equality between the sexes in terms of rights and practices.

This commitment is also reflected in several regulatory projects and initiatives aimed at improving the situation of women and strengthening their empowerment. It is worth mentioning, in particular, the amendment of the Moudawana or Family Code in 2004, which improved women's rights, as well as the implementation of Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) as early as 2002, which is a budgetary approach aiming at reducing inequalities between women and men through the integration of a gender perspective in public budgetary programming thanks to the organic law related to the Finance Law in 2015. In addition, the promulgation of law n° 103-13 on the fight against violence against women.

And this, without forgetting, the second Governmental Plan for Equality 2017-2021 (ICRAM 2) (Concerted Initiative for the Reinforcement of Moroccan Women's Achievements), which continues the work of the Governmental Agenda for Equality 2011-2015 (ICRAME 1), which is a framework of reference for all the initiatives of the Departments in the promotion of equality between women and men

Another important project is the Integrated National Program for Women's Economic Empowerment, which aims to ensure the defense of women's rights in economic life and to achieve the strategic objectives of sustainable development by 2030. In addition, the last three organic laws relating to the House of Representatives, the House of Councillors and the election of members of local government councils aim to improve the effective participation of women in the management of public affairs and socio-economic development. These reforms will ensure representativeness and increase the number of seats reserved for women.

54 ETATS: Do you feel that being a woman changes the nature of your relationships with your counterparts, with members of your cabinet and with the outside world?

Nouzha Bouchareb: Your question is very important because it clears up a lot of confusion about fighting for women's rights and defending the values of equality and parity. Indeed, to fight for women's rights does not mean to fall into the error of any kind of discrimination against men. In the end, it is essentially about convictions based on justice and equity, which many men share with the women's rights movement.

Personally, as a woman, I received in my family environment an education based on these values, which later contributed to direct my path while having a deep conviction. Indeed, what defines the status and true value of a person, regardless of gender, is his or her skills, productivity and ability to innovate. Thus, my commitment to the rights of women to participate in public life stems from my belief that their abilities are equal to those of men.

What defines a person's status and true value, regardless of gender, is their skills, productivity and ability to innovate.

As for my attitude towards this issue, it is based on a deep conviction. Thus, any form of discrimination disappears systematically and voluntarily, and this is what I have made sure to respect throughout my career, even after I was appointed Minister. 

Throughout my professional career, I have made sure that my team includes competencies from both sexes. The choice is always based essentially on the criteria of competence, integrity and the sharing of values to which I adhere. These are the same considerations that govern my relations with my colleagues in the Government, with the different components of the Ministry, and with the rest of my entourage.

54 ETATS: Has the health crisis highlighted the difficulties women face in obtaining housing?

Nouzha Bouchareb: The health crisis has revealed several weaknesses and limitations in the functioning of current systems, and it has highlighted several challenges and vulnerabilities, particularly in housing, this crisis has highlighted the problem of housing affordability as well as the share of household expenditures allocated to housing and which are high in relation to their income.

And as you know, several countries have been forced to put in place emergency measures to support the housing sector, including rent freezes, protection of tenants against eviction and deferral of mortgage payments.

When we know that women heads of household represent 16.2% (that is to say nearly one household out of 6), and that they are poorly integrated in the labor market with an activity rate which is 30% against 81% for men.  

It should also be remembered that the rate of active women working in the informal sector is 73.9% and that women's jobs, activities and income are more exposed to the economic effects of the crisis.

In other words, the crisis has exacerbated the difficulties -already existing- that women face in accessing affordable housing.  

54 ETATS: Can you give us examples of (urban planning, housing or city policy projects) that you are currently carrying out that contribute to improving the living conditions of women?

Nouzha Bouchareb: The Ministry has undertaken a series of measures aimed at integrating the dimension of improving women's conditions in its planning, implementation and monitoring of its programs.

At the planning level, through the elaboration of urban planning documents and in particular development plans, the Ministry ensures the programming of socio-educational facilities and spaces dedicated to women and children in order to meet the needs of local communities.

At the operational level, several projects and programs currently being carried out by the Ministry contribute directly or indirectly to the improvement of women's conditions. Indeed, the slum clearance and slum prevention programs in Moroccan cities have led to significant progress in slum clearance and the improvement of housing conditions for vulnerable and low-income households. The beneficiaries of these programs are the heads of households, whether they are women or men, and they are treated equally. It is worth noting that, for the first time, gender-disaggregated data have been collected to shed light on the differences generated by access to property, finance, employment and education.

In addition, social housing programs have improved the homeownership rate of households, including women. The city policy, notably the urban upgrading, the upgrading of emerging centers and the intervention in old fabrics, is also part of a contractual approach with local actors and partners in order to act on dysfunctions at the level of the territories and to reduce the deficits in terms of services and local equipment. Within the framework of this policy, the Ministry is increasingly considering gender-related concerns.

In this regard, the Ministry has developed, in partnership with UN-Women, a reference guide entitled "For public spaces more accessible to women and girls", which aims to raise awareness and support urban planners in general and local actors in particular, to take into account the gender aspect from the design to the implementation of urban development projects for safe cities accessible to women and girls.

We are currently working with Urban Agencies to integrate the guidelines contained in this guide into urban planning documents that are able to guarantee their implementation.

54 ETATS: And the final word?

Nouzha Bouchareb: Through this forum, we want to give a strong signal on the importance of gender equality in the urgent action for a sustainable post-Covid recovery which coincides with an important and historic moment related to the renovation of the development model which constitutes a new stage in the consolidation of the society project led by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, May God Assist Him.

It goes without saying that Moroccan women, like their counterparts in the rest of the world, have demonstrated, more than ever, their ability to be resilient and adapt to various changes. They have played a key role in managing the crisis and continue to do so. It represents 57% of the medical staff, 66% of the paramedical staff and 64% of the civil servants in the social sector.

Once again, we take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to all women, especially those who were in the front lines and who work day and night to ensure our safety, preserve our health and ensure the education of our children. And of course, we must not forget all the housewives for their patience and perseverance in making their homes not only a family home but also a place to live, work, educate and learn.

Priscilla Wolmer
Directrice de la rédaction