Moroccan pioneer in women’s rights to speak on aftermath of Arab Spring

Fatima Sadiqi, who founded a women’s NGO working on family law reforms and women’s rights in her native Morocco, will speak on “North African Women’s Rights in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring” as this year’s J. Jobe Soffa and Marguerite Jacqmin Soffa Distinguished International Visitor.

Sadiqi, a professor of linguistics and gender studies at the University of Fes, is a pioneer in women’s rights and continues her activism to include women in the post “Arab Spring” processes of democratization in the region.  She will deliver the Soffa Lecture on Thursday, November 8, at 4 p.m. at Union South. The lecture, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the UW-Madison Division of International Studies.

The J. Jobe Soffa and Marguerite Jacqmin Soffa Distinguished International Visitor Fund supports regular lectures on contemporary issues of global significance. Marguerite Jacqmin Soffa (BA ’46 in L&S) established this fund to bring renowned women from across the globe to lecture. Speakers have included well-known leaders in the struggle for human rights and understanding.

Fatima Sadiqi
Fatima Sadiqi

Through her writing, networking with other Moroccan women and agitating through the press, Fatima Sadiqi helped successfully lobby for important changes in Moroccan Family Law entitling women to a range of civil rights.

These include raising the minimum marriage age from 15 to 18, restricting polygamy, and no longer allowing men to unilaterally “repudiate” (divorce) their wives without compensation.   Last year, she was involved in the latest campaign against early marriage, raising awareness following the suicide of Amina Filali, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl who was forced to marry.

In her work, Sadiqi found that those who speak only Berber—viewed as a “female language” associated with the home and hearth—lack access to information and resources in Morocco, where Arabic, French and English are the dominant languages. Most Berber-only speakers are women, who do not attend school and are illiterate. Largely as a result of her work, in the 2011 new Constitution, Berber has been raised to the status of an official language

“I have always stressed the powerful connections between language and women’s rights. I see the official recognition of Berber as a recognition of Berber women.  I have also struggled for the inclusion of women’s voices in Moroccan education and help democratize our higher education by introducing gender studies…. The moment you gain languages you also gain access to the language of the media, the government, the mosque – and you start speaking the language of authority,” Sadiqi says.

Sadiqi, a former Fulbright Scholar and Harvard Fellowship recipient, founded the first Moroccan Centre for Studies and Research on Women in 1998, the first graduate program on gender studies in 2000 at the University of Fes, and the Isis Centre for Women and Development, an NGO focused on family law reforms and women’s rights in Morocco. She co-founded the International Institute for Languages and Cultures with her husband, Moha Ennaji, and in 2009 she was elected President of the National Union of Women’s Associations, which seeks to promote and sustain women’s rights.

She was appointed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan to the UN Council for Development Policy (E.C.O.S.S.O.C.), and by the king of Morocco to the Administrative Board of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM).

She is author of Women, Gender, and Language in Morocco (Brill, 2003) and co-editor of Women Writing Africa: The Northern Region (The Feminist Press, 2009), Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change, and Gender and Violence in the Middle East (Routledge 2010 and 2011).

Previous speakers in the Soffa lecture series:

  • Thulisile Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, April 13, 2012
  • Luz Maria de la Mora Sanchez, Assistant Minister of Economic Relations and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mexico, November 15, 2010
  • Yakin Erturk, former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, March 18, 2010
  • Radhika Coomaraswamy, Undersecretary-General of the United Nations, October 8, 2009
  • Virginia Vargas, Peruvian activist, September 30, 2008
  • Ana Teresa Bernal Montanez, Commissioner on Colombia’s Commission on Reparations and Reconciliation, October 10, 2007
  • Asha Hagi Elmi, Advocate for women’s political participation in Somalia, October 4, 2006
  • Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, Director of an international women’s organization based in Uganda (Isis-WICCE), October 27, 2005
  • Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, October 15, 2004
  • Mary Burton, Commissioner for South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, November 14, 2002
  • Estela Barnes de Carlotto, President of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, March 22, 2001

— by Kerry G. Hill