On July 31, 2021, the Moroccan Parliament adopted a reform that did not receive much attention but did represent a big step forward in helping close the country’s gender gap. It involved a new amended law on public limited companies to promote balanced representation of women and men in corporate governance bodies (law 19.20 modifying and completing law 17-95 related to public limited companies). It set mandatory quotas for women on the boards of publicly traded companies, with a target of (at least) 30% female representation by 2024, and 40% by 2027.
This law is the result of exemplary cooperation between the government, the parliament, and civil society, supported by the creation of a task force by UN Women, including women personally involved in gender advocacy, and several representatives of the 'Club des Femmes Administrateurs' in Morocco.
The World Bank, which supports initiatives that promote greater economic inclusion of women and increased female representation in corporate governance bodies, supported this exemplary effort as one of the key objectives of its $450 million Digital and Financial Inclusion II budget support program to the Moroccan government in 2021.
A Bold Move
Mandating women’s participation in top managerial positions is an audacious move that only a few countries (for example France, Norway, Italy, Belgium) have adopted. Morocco is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to do so. The reform is expected to build confidence in women's qualifications, promote their career development, and stimulate economic growth and business performance.
This new law draws lessons from international experience, which shows that quota-based approaches are indeed effective for promoting greater gender diversity in corporate governance bodies and companies' top management over the long term. According to the European Union's 2017 Gender Equality Index, the share of women on boards of directors more than doubled between 2005 and 2015, due mainly to binding gender-based quotas implemented by some European countries, for example France, Norway, Italy, and Belgium. The following table highlights the gap between countries that have adopted quota-based policies and those that have chosen a non-binding approach:
Morocco has overcome its hesitance. Moulay Hafid El Alami, Minister of Industry and Trade of Morocco, from 2013 to 2021, is one such converted supporter of the reform. He said: "My first reaction was not to support. Although convinced of the need to increase gender balance, I didn't understand why we needed to pass binding legislation in this area. Well, I was wrong. Gradually, I discovered that the problem was serious, and deep. It is necessary to legislate in some areas when people won't do it spontaneously."
A Costly Mismatch
In Morocco, despite the parity article of the 2011 Constitution (Article 19, which stipulates that “the State contributes to achieving parity between men and women”), not only do significant gender inequalities persist regarding access to employment, but they have dramatically increased over the past decade: in 2020, Moroccan women accounted for 50.2% of the country’s population but only 23% of the working population versus 27% in 2010, according to a study by the Moroccan national statistical agency, Haut Commissariat de Plan, in 2021 (La femme marocaine en chiffres : 20 ans de progress).
Only 13% of Moroccan businesses were led by women in 2019 (19% in services, 14% in commerce, and 13% in industry). In the public sector, women were only 23% of managers, 20% of members of the Chamber of Representatives, and 21% of regional and local board members.
Yet, on average, Moroccan women perform better than men at school. In 2021, 55% of high school graduates were women, and the proportion of Moroccans 15 and older with higher education was much higher for women (26%) than for men (14%). 60% of management graduates and 50% of science and technology graduates are women.
This mismatch between education and the labor market reflects inequalities in both outcomes and opportunities for women. Social, economic, and cultural factors account for the mismatch, which spills over into other inequalities (wages, autonomy, risk exposure, and political representation).
In 2021, the Kingdom ranked 148th out of 156 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index for economic participation and opportunity. Inequalities between men and women with respect to access to employment and managerial positions create a shortfall of labor and skills in Morocco—and hold back economic and human development.
A beam of hope
In this context, this bold new reform implemented by Morocco is a very positive signal of its willingness to promote greater participation of women in leadership positions. This change in mindset has recently been reflected in the country's 2021 elections, which has resulted in three major Moroccan cities being led by women, a first for the Kingdom. In addition, six women have been appointed to key positions in the Moroccan government, including the Ministry of Finance, where Nadia Fettah, also one of the very founders of the "Club des Femmes Administrateurs”, was appointed the first Moroccan woman Minister of Finance. Through this reform, Morocco has well illustrated the connection that can be made for change from civil society, in partnership with government.