Moroccan MP Nabila Benomar believes education is the key to changing discrimination against women – and says that despite the king’s strong support for women, much remains to be done in wider society. She encourages other women to enter politics despite the struggles they may face. This is an edited version of an iKNOW politics interview conducted on 5 March 2013.
How did you begin your career in politics? And what motivated you to do so?
The first thing that helped me pursue a career in politics is the political environment in Morocco and the political will prevailing in it as a democratic country, as well as King Mohamed VI’s strong support for Moroccan women.
Secondly, I have been an active member of civil society for almost 35 years. And while civil society has doubtlessly played an important role in the political process of the country and has achieved tangible results, it is not as powerful as the legislative power – parliament.
So I decided to enter political life through this door.
What are the opportunities and challenges you, as a woman, have had to face during your political career?
The foremost opportunity is the quota system which is in force in Morocco, and which gives women a chance to enter the political arena. The second opportunity is that my own party had confidence in me.
As for challenges and obstacles – and there are a lot I believe - the most prominent is the prevalent patriarchal mentality.
There are eight parliamentary groups in the Moroccan parliament and none of these is headed by a woman. There is only one female head of a committee.
Women are still not given the chance to take on positions of leadership.
What are the most important partnerships that you have forged throughout your career in politics and how important were they?
One of the most important partnerships I believe was between the Spanish and the Moroccan parliaments.
This represented an important step towards action in the Moroccan parliament, allowing us to know more about the Spanish experience in gender mainstreaming, and combating all forms of discrimination and violence against women, within the two houses of the legislature.
So our eight Moroccan female MPs formed a working group in order to replicate [the Spanish] model and to establish a permanent committee for women’s affairs coordinators within our parliament.
What is your assessment of the importance of modern information and communication technologies in creating a conducive environment for women in politics?
Without a doubt, there is a need for unified action and communication between women politicians around the world. It is also necessary for Arab women active in politics to come together and to create a framework for this kind of cooperation. I believe that while the internet may help in this process, it is not the only way to do so.
What advice would you give young women who wish to enter politics but are intimidated and reluctant to do so?
It is indeed a difficult and complex area but we must conquer this male-dominated world. Young women at an early age must become part of this world while pursuing their education. Education is key in this respect. I encourage them all to do so. And our role, as older generations, is to work on trying to provide an encouraging and enabling environment for younger women to become involved in politics.
What methods of political financing have you found most effective?
In terms of financial support, the most important contributors were international organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation and UN Women. These are the main sources of finance other than domestic financing.