The fight to protect the hard-won rights of Muslim women continues. But women's NGOs feel that pressure must be maintained and stepped up in the wake of the Arab Spring, as salafism makes inroads into the Sahel.
Women's groups from the Sahel and Arab states meeting in Casablanca September 5th-6th were unanimous in calling for people to join international efforts to combat violence against women.
Mohamed Al Jawad, a human rights campaigner, told Magharebia that women's fears were well-grounded: "Indeed, there are no guarantees on this issue, with Islamism storming back into power."
Discussing the subject of "Making societies safe", participants in the international "Women Against Violence" conference in Casablanca were clearly concerned.
Women are still the victims of violence, particularly linked to war and terrorism, explained Mme Khouloud Khreis, who chairs the Women Against Violence association.
Foune Bintou, a Malian lawyer and women's rights campaigner, started her conference presentation with a reminder that Mali is living through the most difficult humanitarian crisis in its history.
"We've never seen anything like this," Bintou said, adding that it is the women and families of Mali who are suffering the most due to the terrorist threat and salafism. She said the extremists have caused the deterioration of health services and food supplies.
The abduction of girls and women, along with rape, are still the most ignoble forms of violence committed against women, Bintou explained. "What is worse, and so hard to understand, is that the people doing these terrible things do them in the name of Sharia law… but the Islamic religion has never preached rape and abduction."
She recalled the case of two girls raped in front of their mother, who was also raped in front of them by salafists: "Because of this violent salafism, many Malian women and families now live with intense moral and psychological pain."
"We want to negotiate and enter into a dialogue, but who can we talk to, and what can we discuss, when we have nothing in common with these people?" she added.
Bintou ended by saying that Malian women live in total confusion: "Our cultural identity is under threat from armed conflict and the establishment of fanatical religious groups in northern Mali."
El Hachmi Yehia from Tunisia explained that friction between different religious groups threatens economic development, stability and the success of the Tunisian revolution.
Speakers at the conference stressed that governments, associations, organisations and civil society all have a duty to work together and make more effort to deal with the problem of violence against women, particularly in the Arab societies of the Sahel.
Moroccan Minister for Solidarity, Women and Families Bassima Hakkaoui underlined the importance of having violence against women seen as one of the major issues in the defence of human rights, in order to guarantee women's right to a dignified existence.
By Hassan Benmehdi, Magharebia