Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Bassima Hakkaoui

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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Bassima Hakkaoui11/06/2012By Al-Hussein Idrissi

Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat- Bassima Hakkaoui, Morocco’s Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development and the only female minister in the government of Abdelilah Benkirane, believes that women did not enter the government for many reasons. One of these reasons, she said, is the hegemony of the male culture. Males form the majority in political parties in Morocco; they sacrifice women when the moment comes to select candidates to assume responsibility”. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Hakkaoui addressed fears that social liberties in Morocco are receding because the Islamic Justice and Development Party is leading the government. She said that her party seeks to consolidate the accomplishments that Morocco has made, adding that, “Any one that wishes to defend the sovereignty and reputation of his country and aspires to its stability and economic, political, and cultural development cannot but be righteous; no one should be frightened of him”.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] To begin with, how do you view the fact that there is only one female minister in this government, compared to previous governments?

[Hakkaoui] This is a legitimate question since the current government operates within a new constitutional framework that calls for equality and fairness. No doubt, the fact that there is one woman minister in this government makes us all wonder. I think it is an occasion to explain where the confusion took place that led to this situation. No doubt, there are objective as well as internal reasons related to the circumstances under which the negotiations among the allied parties that form the government took place. This could have been the pressing time or the mismanagement of one side or another that sometimes leads to a disharmonious outcome in the eyes of the other side and even in the visions of all the sides. As for the internal reasons, I believe that the parties participating in the government coalition should have nominated qualified women just as they nominated men for the post of a minister or for any position of responsibility and decision-making. If these parties over the past years worked to train their members – men and women – to assume responsibility but now complain that they are unable to put forward women candidates as ministers, they should review their approach to be able to gain from their exerted efforts in this regard. If there are women leaders with high qualifications but were not nominated, this means that we did not succeed in combating the marginalization and exclusion of women; such a practice is the epitome of discrimination against women. Despite this situation that is criticized for the lack of a balanced representation of women in the government, there is also a political development thanks to the stipulations of the new constitution that gives broad powers to the prime minister from the party that comes first in the ballot boxes. The prime minister should select his team in coordination with the other allies. This does not represent any intervention by any side in the formation of the government outside the will of the allied parties. This is a fresh gain in Morocco’s record in entrenching democracy and educating and promoting political action. Compared with the past, there were seven women ministers in the former government and then this figure dropped to three following the cabinet reshuffle. Three of these did not have any political or clear party affiliation before they became ministers and only one of the remaining two was nominated by her party. I think that we need to ask ourselves the real questions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are these questions that we should raise?

[Hakkaoui] We should ask why such a wrong is committed against women. The constitution acts as a framework so that we do not err democratically in the selection of the ministers. Therefore, we should present Morocco’s glowing face by putting forward highly qualified women that exist in all the Moroccan parties. This government could have made a balance by having women ministers in its formation. In this regard, I can say that the Justice and Development Party followed a democratic approach in selecting its ministers and gave this result that was acceptable to everyone and that no one contested. The approach was firm and gradual and with the broad participation of the party members by merging elected members from the National Assembly with elected members from the party’s general secretariat. How can we avoid such a situation in future stages? Does this depend only on the demands of the women’s movement? Should the women’s sectors of the political parties erupt strongly within the party circles? Is it not high time for the parties to give up their male-dominated mentality when it comes to the legitimate rights of women? We should provide answers to all these questions and other questions in the same vein that are commensurate with the general political context of the historic period through which we are passing.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you believe that the three parties allied with the Justice and Development Party did not adopt a democratic approach in selecting their ministers and thus there were no other women ministers?

[Hakkaoui] I did not mean that; there could have been nominations adopting the positive distinction approach. Qualified women could have been nominated the same way men are selected on the basis of confidence. However, for reasons related to the dominant male culture that gives priority to men in political bodies – because men are also the decision-makers inside these bodies – they thought only of men when it was time to nominate persons for decision-making positions. Thus women instead of men become the victims; this happens often. We are talking about what happens in the Moroccan political arena in general. As a member of the Justice and Development Party, I do not feel any unfairness because the men – and they are the majority in the party – nominated me to several sensitive positions of responsibility before I was selected minister. For instance, I was selected chairwoman of the social sectors committee in parliament, member of the chamber of deputies office in my capacity as secretary of the council, and member of the joint parliamentary committee between Morocco and the European Union. Therefore, I have no right to blame my party and the men in my party. On the contrary, I praise this approach and I salute their fairness toward me and their noble stands.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you work amid an all-male government team?

[Hakkaoui] I can say with all honesty, candor, and transparency that I do not feel anything different than being a member of a team regardless of whether this team is made up of all men or all women or is a mixed team. I absolutely do not feel any difference. Therefore as a member of a government team with responsibility, I feel that we should all work and cooperate together. Each one of us should work well to ensure the success of this experiment.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How has your life changed since becoming a government official?

[Hakkaoui] What has changed is the feeling of responsibility that has doubled and become heavier. When I was a parliament member, my responsibility was only in representing the people and being their deputy. In such a situation, you are independent in your words and moves and in expressing your stands. This helps you in doing your duty, especially if you are in the opposition. However, it is important once you change from this situation to another where you are holding a responsibility confined to specific government commitments. This is important because you are making decisions and contributing to the development of the situation. However, it is uncomfortable to be the target of tendentious people and political adversaries, those that do not want this political and government experiment to succeed, and those that have political agendas waiting for the chance to carry them out even if at the expense of principles and morals.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I sense a reference to the clamor that accompanied the suicide of Aminah Filali, the Moroccan minor who committed suicide after she was forced to marry her rapist.

[Hakkaoui] I do not wish to go back to that controversy. A lot was said about me and a lot was attributed to me that I did not say or believe in, in the first place. They said that I back the idea of the rapist marrying his raped victim. This is not true; it does not even cross my mind. My past statements attest to what I say; I was harsher than anyone else against a rapist. That is why I am amazed at this campaign of rumors and distortions that have nothing to do with the political debate or with a fair and honest opposition. This campaign may be related to other things, but this is not important. The caravan should continue to move forward and the work has to be done. We should succeed in this experiment because it means Morocco’s success on which all the Moroccans pin their hopes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] One of the disturbing social issues in your ministry is about the so-called “children of the streets”. What is the government doing to end this phenomenon?

[Hakkaoui] My specialization in social psychology made me concerned about a number of social phenomena. One of these issues is the children beggars, I mean children on the streets with no families, children outside schools, and children that are subject to exploitation in many different ways, including sexual exploitation. I had the chance to live close to them for six years in the “fortified” public shelters and in places where they could get free food and drink, such as the wholesale fruit and vegetable markets where they fend for themselves on the basis of “the end justifies the means” from here and there. Whenever a campaign was launched against this phenomenon, these children were put in some centers that are not qualified to receive them or even to keep them for a long time. That is why when one of the children would be absent from the street, his companions would think that he was undoubtedly in one of these centers and that they will eventually see him there.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] That is he would return to his familiar grounds?

[Hakkaoui] Yes, he would return but suffering from skin diseases and perhaps from psychological effects resulting from practices that do not respect the sanctity of his body and his innocence. I was strongly drawn to this subject due to humanitarian considerations as well as academic considerations. For me, the issue went beyond preparing and defending a dissertation; I became haunted by these painful phenomena. Moreover, I spent more than nine years in the social committees sector in parliament that made me familiar with the initiatives and actions that were taken in this regard in the past 10 years. I am now in a different position, a position of acting and making decisions based on my powers and my resources to save at least a few of those children on the streets. I recently initiated a program called “towns without children in the street”. This means that the town itself should cooperate to put a stop to its children on the streets. We should encourage the towns, quarters, and all the regions to cooperate on an institutional basis in order to take their children and elderly off the streets. To accomplish these goals, a number of measures should be taken. Centers for awareness should be established to inform about these children or elderly on the streets or to report about deviant practices from, these children or against them or cases of employment of minors in homes or factories. Such centers would help us learn about such cases and situations so w e could treat them. As part of our plan, we will organize days of solidarity throughout Morocco during which all the institutions concerned and all the organizations and activists in the field of child care or volunteers would gather and meet. It would also be a suitable opportunity to gather human and financial resources to rescue these children. A family that has abandoned its child or that the child abandoned it needs someone to play the role of reuniting the family and embracing this child again. A child outside the protection of a family will ultimately become a criminal or a deviant or a social outcast. That is why we should first look after the primary space of a child, which is the family for the sake of the child first.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] But it is noted that the Moroccan family has gone through changes in the past decades; it no longer has the power or the educational influence that it used to have.

[Hakkaoui] Correct, but social upbringing does not rely only on the role of the family. It is also related to other educational institutions, such as the schools. Schools are no longer the place where academic development let alone character development thrives. It is no longer a place to graduate future righteous citizens. In fact, the school milieu and sometimes the core of the educational institution becomes a breeding ground for drug trafficking and a place for sexual exploitation. We should coordinate the efforts among the ministry or education, the public security directorate, and the families. Even the ordinary citizen that lives near the schools and can see what is happening should inform because the school milieu is an extension of the school itself. In the past, books and other things related to education and schools used to be sold in the school milieu; but these days it is threatening the functions of the school.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Aren’t the children of dysfunctional families due to divorce make up a high rate among street children?

[Hakkaoui] Not all the children of divorced families are necessarily part of this phenomenon. There may be a divorced woman who also has custody of her children and who is doubling her efforts so that her children would successfully finish their education. The same thing is also done by the divorced father who may also be involved in looking after the children and in paying alimony. Therefore, divorce should not be viewed on this basis. Family dysfunction can be the result of the absence of sound and strong family ties even if the two parents are not divorced.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Fears exist that social liberties in Morocco may recede under a government led by the Justice and Development Party.

[Hakkaoui] These are mere illusions. The Justice and Development Party is a national political party that cares about its country and that respects the state, the homeland, and society. The Moroccan state enjoys centuries of firm and strong presence in the African and Mediterranean milieus. We are working to strengthen this position and this status. We are working in the government to ensure the success of the Moroccan experiment in entrenching the rules of democracy. I believe that any one that wishes to defend the sovereignty and reputation of his country and aspires to its stability and economic, political, and cultural development cannot but be righteous; no one should be frightened of him. The Justice and Development Party is carrying a big responsibility these days. By leading the government, it is trying to strengthen all the existing accomplishments. It wants to act as a quality supplement and to bring what is new to qualify Morocco to further progress and development. We in the Justice and Development Party may be the source of apprehensions for some people because we came raising the important slogan of “combating corruption and tyranny”. This is what is alarming them because the disease that has prevented Morocco from progressing the way we all want it to progress is corruption. Our government program – I mean the program of the Justice and Development Party with its allies in the government majority -shows that we are determined to proceed with it. These reform workshops should take part of our time, our efforts, and part of the budget from our sectors.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the issue of reforming the government media outlets or the reform tax one of the manifestations of these problems?

[Hakkaoui] Perhaps.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people were angry when your ministry published the names of the civil societies that are benefiting from government support. Was the mistake made in publishing or not publishing?

[Hakkaoui] Very simply, the constitution stipulates that the ordinary citizen has the right to information. As we were submitting the budget of this sector to parliament, a request was made to submit a list of these societies. We responded to the request of the deputies of the nation with full transparency and in implementation of the constitution. The publication of the list of subsidized societies means that we are implementing the constitution. It also means that we respect the citizens and we respond to them positively. We do not think that this publication indicts the societies benefiting from this support in any way because government subsidy is their right. We thought that transparency is very important. The publication of the lists of subsidized societies in the social domain – I mean the ministry, national cooperation, and the social development agency – gave everyone the chance to read and compare the figures and the names and to read between the lines. This is the kind of climate in which reform thrives and in which responsibilities are set to raise the standards of this sector.

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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Bassima Hakkaoui

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