The influence of the protest movement of Soulaliyate women on the adoption of egalitarian land policies in Morocco (1/2)

04.19.2021

Written by Coline Real

Translated by Kaouther Bouhi

In Morocco, the Soulaliyates women, natives of the rural collective lands, have only ever known discrimination. Because they are women, they do not have the right to manage the lands, to enjoy them and to inherit them. Yet, they live on these lands, and they exploit them in the same way as men. In 2008, for the first time, these women, until then invisible, raised against these discriminations and seized the public space to claim their rights and call for equality. Eleven years later, in 2019, they obtained the adoption of a law that recognizes their right to use the collective lands just like the men.

This series of articles will analyze how an association of rural women managed to impose itself on the Moroccan political scene as a legitimate and audible stakeholder, and to transform the public prosecution in favor of gender equality in the collective lands.

The emergence of a favorable context to the recognition of women’s rights in the 2000’s

At the dawn of the second millennium, Morocco undertook a determined transition toward political liberalism. In this context, a series of legal reforms has been initiated in order to eliminate some discriminatory norms toward women. The first advances were brought by the Moudawana reform, or Personal Status Code, in 2004, by the Labor Code, in 2004, as well as by the Nationality Code in 2007. The new texts have consecrated equality between the spouses by giving them the same rights and responsibilities, acknowledged the right to divorce and to the custody of children to women, raised the age of marriage from 15 to 18 years old1]In reality, this reform was not enough to put an end to child marriage due to persistent legal loopholes and the way too important discretionary power left to the judges. In 2018, 40 000 underage girls were married according to the president of the National Human Rights Council, Amina Bouayach., elevated sexual harassment in the workplace to serious misconduct, and finally, granted to women the right to pass their nationality to their children.

The culmination of this egalitarian dynamic was reached in 2011 with the adoption of a new Constitution that explicitly consecrates, in its article 19, the equality between women and men2]Even though major progress has been made for several decades, equality in law and practice still remains an aspiration. Among the most notable discriminations we can found the ban on abortion, the criminalization of sexual relations outside of marriage (more prejudicial to women given the existence of a cult about their virginity before marriage), the absence of criminalization of marital rape, inequalities that exist between men and women in matters of inheritance, the persistence of child marriages, the authorization of polygamy, the political under-representation of women, their over-representation in their most precarious or unpaid jobs, the inequality of access to land.. The inclusion of the principle of equality between women and men in the supreme law of the Moroccan State takes on a strong symbolic dimension but also carries significant practical consequences. The Constitution is ranked above all the other legal standards, and they must comply to it. Consequently, any legal standard that would be discriminating against women is contrary to the Constitution and could be overturned, to this end, by the Constitutional Court.

This gradual recognition of women’s rights was favored by the evolution of the Moroccan socio-political context in the 1990s. The Moroccan movement for women’s rights, which occasionally accompanied the twentieth century, has finally become « a new actor with a coherent and ambitious political and social project, that is to say to re-establish the rights and dignity of women »3]Rabéa Naciri, « Le mouvement des femmes au Maroc », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2014, p.43.. After many years, even decades, of militancy, the feminists who reunited in organizations since 1980’s have succeeded in incorporating women’s rights in the political and social agenda. Their claims have obtained a real echo since the accession to the throne of the King Mohammed VI, in 1999, who displayed the will to break from the authoritarianism of its predecessor and father, the King Hassan II. 

Rural women, at the intersection of gender and class discriminations

This political opening has enabled Moroccan women to acquire and to enjoy new rights. However, urban women are the ones who have mainly benefited from these advances. The indicators of the Higher Planning Commission4]The Higher Planning Commission is a ministerial structure responsible for producing economic, demographical and social statistical information. for the social and economic situation of women in Morocco demonstrated the existence of inequalities between women and men which are higher in rural environment, but also the existence of inequalities between women themselves according to their place of residence. It appears that rural women are disadvantaged throughout their lives5]Higher Planning Commission, « A propos de la femme rurale au Maroc », Les Brefs du Plan, n°10, October 25th 2019.. They have a very restricted access to education. Only 40% of them are sent to school in general secondary education, against 81% of urban girls, and 13% in vocational secondary education, against 58% of urban girls. In 2014, 60% of rural women were illiterate, twice as much as urban women.

Additionally, women living in rural environment benefit from less opportunities to participate to the economic life. They are concentrated in the agricultural sector, where jobs are undervalued, and in the status of live-in caregiver, which is not always paid. This segregation both horizontal and vertical of the job market contributes to the increase of the precariousness and vulnerability of rural women. They also have to face inadequate access to health care. This is impacting their life expectancy which is 4,3 years lower than the one of urban women (75,3 against 79,6 years old) and on their maternal mortality rate which is twice as high as the one of urban women (111,1 deaths for 100 000 births against 44,6).

These disparities, present in all areas, can be analyzed in the light of the nature of the women’s movement whose claims have significantly shaped as much the legal reforms as the public policies promoting gender equality. This movement was constituted of an « urban, well-educated and economically active elite »6]Rabéa Naciri, « Le mouvement des femmes au Maroc », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2014. and was therefore distant, in every way, of rural women, of their realities and their specific needs. 

The year 2007 marked a turning point in the history of the women’s movement in Morocco. It is the date in which hundreds of rural women came together in the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women and took over the public and political space. Their claims : obtaining the respect of their right to access the land, to exploit it and to benefit from it.

The exclusion of women of the right to enjoy collective lands

Soulaliyate women are called this way in honor of the soulala, the genealogical connection that unites the members of a community. They are members of tribes that live in the lands managed by collective ownership. The peculiarity of these lands is their management mode. It is based on a sharing system. Their property right belongs to the community, which is possesses the legal personality, whereas the members that compose it only have a right of use. Collective ownership is not a Moroccan peculiarity. Similar models exist in Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Guinea, Rwanda, Burundi and Laos7]Najib Bouderbala, « L’État et la modernisation des terres collectives » in Rubino R. et Morand-Fehr P. (ed.), Systems of sheep and goat production : Organization of husbandry and role of extension services, Zaragoza : CIHEAM, 1999, p.339-344 (Options Méditerranéennes : Série A. Séminaires Méditerranéens ; n.38)..

In Morocco, collective lands represent an important percentage of the national territory. Spread over 15 million hectares, they are believed to occupy nearly a third of the whole territory. Furthermore, they would regroup 10 million inhabitants, that is to say almost a quarter of the total population.

This traditional organization of ownership was durably dismantled under the French Protectorate (1912-1956). With a view to monopolize the lands subjected to this status, the French administration has, by the dahir (decree) of April 27th 1919, confiscated the property right to the community and granted it to the State, therefore putting the collective lands under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. Moreover, this text stipulates that the decisions regarding the lands can only be adopted with the authorization of the Guardianship Council. This body, a complete fabrication of the colonial rule, is composed of nouabs (representatives of the Jmaâ, that is to say the community), but also of representatives of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Water and Forestry. In other words, the communities are dispossessed and their members are deprived of their decision-making power regarding the lands they live on.

The dahir of 1919 also establishes a hierarchy between the different members of the community. It states that the right of use of the collective lands is reserved for the heads of household. The contours of this expression were not defined. However, these words, which are those of the French central government, take on their full meaning in the light of the situation of women in France at this same time. Pursuant to the Napoleonic Code, adopted in 1804 and still in force in 1919 in France, « the husband [had to] protect the woman, the woman [had to] obey to her husband » and married women were legally incapable. In the writings of the French colonist, « heads of household » was surely synonymous with « men ».

The French administration was not the first to deprive Moroccan women from their right of use on the collective lands. During the pre-colonial era, some customs, that is to say usages and practices having acquired the value of law, were already discriminatory against women8]Jean Le Coz, Le Rharb, fellahs et colons : étude de géographie régionale, Volume 1, Centre universitaire de la recherche scientifique, 1964, p.263.. The raised argument by men to justify this exclusion was the fear of seeing women who were legally incapable, passing, by marriage, their right of use to another man from another community. These customary laws varied from one community to another and were fluid considering they were unwritten. It is therefore the introduction of a positivist legal framework through the dahir of 1919 that established the exclusion of women in principle by freezing this rule and by generalizing it to all the communities(Yasmine Berriane et Karen Rignall, « La fabrique de la coutume au Maroc : Le droit des femmes aux terres collectives », Cahiers du Genre, 2017/1, n°62, pp. 97-118.)).

The dahir of 1919, even though remnant of the colonization, was maintained at the independence of Morocco in 1956. It is still today the reference text for collective lands. Nevertheless, it was completed and specified by subsequent legislative acts and circulars. In particular, a circular which was adopted in 1957 clarified the contours of the expression « heads of household ». Under its provisions, the « heads of household » are the « married men, for at least 6 months, or [the] widows of the communities with at least one child ». The explication of the exclusion of women takes away, in principle, the inability for them to exploit the lands, to benefit from agricultural yields, and to manage them. However, it appears that in practice women work on the lands, exactly as men do.

Women are also disadvantaged at the time of inheritance from which they are excluded. The right of use of the collective lands disappears with the last male member of the family. In the absence of male descendant, the deceased’s share is distributed to the community then assigned to new beneficiaries9]Bensouda Korachi Taleb, Vers la privatisation des terres : le rôle de l’État dans la modernisation des régimes fonciers au Maroc, 1998, site de la FAO..

Also, the collective lands are not only administered by the dahir of 1919, that simply fixes the common principles to all of them. They are also managed by the orfs, rules that are elaborated by each community and reporting to customary law. These orfs take priority over the law and can go against it, whether in a more or less favourable sense. For example, in the community of Mehdawa of the city of Mehdia, it is expected, by the orfs, that the widow of a beneficiary can exploit the share of her son until he comes of age10]Yasmine Berriane, « Inclure les « n’ayants pas droit » : Terres collectives et inégalités de genre au Maroc », L’Année du Maghreb, n°13, 2015, pp.61-78..

If the exclusion of women is the rule, there are exceptions that are not specified by a text but that are sometimes observed in practice. Women who are independent from men, that is to say single, divorced or widow, and who therefore cannot indirectly benefit from the right of use of a spouse, can sometimes benefit from an indirect share of agricultural yields through a male member of the community (father, brother, uncle). However, this intra-family solidarity remains dependent on the goodwill of family members, and especially men who, by granting this privilege to their daughter, mother or niece, lose some of their own.

The melkisation11]Moroccan neologism meaning the transformation of a collective land, or of a guich land, a land conceded by the Makhzenian State to tribes in return for a service, in a melk land, whose regime is assimilated to that of private property under Roman law. des terres collectives : accélérateur des inégalités de genre of collective lands: an accelerator of gender inequalities

The dahir of 1919, that declared the collective lands « inalienable, unseizable and imprescriptible » has, at the same time, provided the possibility to yield them to a state institution or a municipality, either by mutual agreement between the communities and the Guardianship Council, or by a forced expropriation. Many laws adopted after 1919 facilitate the handover of collective lands. This is particularly the case for the law of March 19th 1951, that introduced the possibility to yield the collective lands located in urban territories or in in the outskirts of cities12]The handover is authorized under two conditions: the approval of the Guardianship Council regarding the price of the handover must be received and half of the revenues generated by the handover must be invested to respond to the needs in infrastructures or to make agricultural work on the remaining lands. and the law of July 25th 1969, which transformed the collective lands located in irrigation area in melk undivided lands.

The handover transactions of the collective lands have accelerated at the end of the 20th century as part of structural adjustment. The Moroccan economy, which was based on the foreign market and on interventionism, was not spared from the economic and financial crisis of the 1980’s. The fall in the price of phosphates, the basis of the economic health of the country, combined with the intensification of the onerous war of the Occidental Sahara, undermined the balanced budget and the trade balance of Morocco13]Michel Labonne, “Ajustement structurel au Maroc : le secteur agricole en transition”, in M. Allaya (ed.), Options Méditerranéennes : Série B. Etudes et Recherches, n°14, Les agricultures maghrébines à l’aube de l’an 2000, 1995, p. 298.. It is in this context that Morocco negotiated the rescheduling of its external debt with the institutions of Bretton Woods. In exchange, the country has agreed to lead, from 1983, a structural adjustment policy which translated by a massive disengagement of the State and by a conversion to market logic. In particular, it was decided to modernize and improve the productivity of the agricultural sector by reforming the land tenure. The collective lands, that represent 18% of the utilized agricultural area14]Hassania Chalbi-Drissi, “Le genre dans les nouvelles politiques foncières au Maroc”, in Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua et Abdourahmane Ndiaye (dir.), Réponses radicales aux crises agraires et rurales africaines : Agriculture paysanne et démocratisation des sociétés rurales et souveraineté alimentaire, CODESRIA, Dakar, 2012, p. 61., that is to say the territory dedicated to the agricultural production, do not attract the investors due to the non-registration and the discontinuity of the right of use15]For the record, the right of use is lost with the disappearance of the last men of the family and is re distributed to new members of the community. In the case where the new beneficiaries were indebted, the creditors would expose themselves to non-repayment of loans granted to the deceased..

Melk lands, which system is similar to the one of private property under Roman law, offer more security to investors and are therefore conducive to agricultural development. For this reason, the State accelerated the process of melkization of collective lands in the 1990’s.

Rental transactions or transfer of lands undertaken in the framework of the phenomenon of melkisation have given rise to significant conflicts within the communities. The compensations received in return of these transactions could take the form of financial compensations or equipped patches of land. The division of the benefits between the members of the community was made following the list of beneficiaries established by the nouabs. In many communities, women were not enrolled on these lists, in accordance with the applicable legal and customary rules, and have therefore been considerably wronged. Women who are independent from men were disadvantaged and were put into a great precariousness, constraining some of them to live on the street.

The legitimization by the State, gender-based discriminations to access the lands

The lists of beneficiaries exclusively composed of men’s names have been massively accepted and therefore validated by the Ministry of the Interior, thereby becoming complicit in serious gender-based discriminations.

Some women have protested and called for their right to benefit, just like men, from the fruit of the handover or the renting of the lands that they farmed. Yet, the Ministry of the Interior released himself from his tutorship responsibilities by referring, systematically, to the dahir of 1919, according to which the management of intra-community conflicts depends on the nouabs, that is to say those same men who were at the origin of the discriminatory lists.

Until then observer and passive, the Ministry of Interior has rapidly assumed an active role in the exclusion of women by issuing, in 2007, a circular regulating the modalities for drafting the lists of beneficiaries. This text states that the lists of beneficiaries need to be established based on criteria previously defined by the nouabs. Gender appears among the examples of criteria given16]Yasmine Berriane, « Inclure les « n’ayants pas droit » : Terres collectives et inégalités de genre au Maroc », L’Année du Maghreb, n°13, 2015, pp.61-78.. In other words, the Ministry of Interior authorizes the discrimination based on gender in the definition of the beneficiaries.

Conclusion

The adoption of this circular awakened the anger of the Soulaliyate women and triggered their mobilization. They rapidly gathered their power within a protest movement that made some noise one the public and political scene, to such an extent that it succeeded in changing the public policies.

To read the second part of this article : here

References   [ + ]

1. In reality, this reform was not enough to put an end to child marriage due to persistent legal loopholes and the way too important discretionary power left to the judges. In 2018, 40 000 underage girls were married according to the president of the National Human Rights Council, Amina Bouayach.
2. Even though major progress has been made for several decades, equality in law and practice still remains an aspiration. Among the most notable discriminations we can found the ban on abortion, the criminalization of sexual relations outside of marriage (more prejudicial to women given the existence of a cult about their virginity before marriage), the absence of criminalization of marital rape, inequalities that exist between men and women in matters of inheritance, the persistence of child marriages, the authorization of polygamy, the political under-representation of women, their over-representation in their most precarious or unpaid jobs, the inequality of access to land.
3. Rabéa Naciri, « Le mouvement des femmes au Maroc », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2014, p.43.
4. The Higher Planning Commission is a ministerial structure responsible for producing economic, demographical and social statistical information.
5. Higher Planning Commission, « A propos de la femme rurale au Maroc », Les Brefs du Plan, n°10, October 25th 2019.
6. Rabéa Naciri, « Le mouvement des femmes au Maroc », Nouvelles Questions Féministes, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2014.
7. Najib Bouderbala, « L’État et la modernisation des terres collectives » in Rubino R. et Morand-Fehr P. (ed.), Systems of sheep and goat production : Organization of husbandry and role of extension services, Zaragoza : CIHEAM, 1999, p.339-344 (Options Méditerranéennes : Série A. Séminaires Méditerranéens ; n.38).
8. Jean Le Coz, Le Rharb, fellahs et colons : étude de géographie régionale, Volume 1, Centre universitaire de la recherche scientifique, 1964, p.263.
9. Bensouda Korachi Taleb, Vers la privatisation des terres : le rôle de l’État dans la modernisation des régimes fonciers au Maroc, 1998, site de la FAO.
10, 16. Yasmine Berriane, « Inclure les « n’ayants pas droit » : Terres collectives et inégalités de genre au Maroc », L’Année du Maghreb, n°13, 2015, pp.61-78.
11. Moroccan neologism meaning the transformation of a collective land, or of a guich land, a land conceded by the Makhzenian State to tribes in return for a service, in a melk land, whose regime is assimilated to that of private property under Roman law.
12. The handover is authorized under two conditions: the approval of the Guardianship Council regarding the price of the handover must be received and half of the revenues generated by the handover must be invested to respond to the needs in infrastructures or to make agricultural work on the remaining lands.
13. Michel Labonne, “Ajustement structurel au Maroc : le secteur agricole en transition”, in M. Allaya (ed.), Options Méditerranéennes : Série B. Etudes et Recherches, n°14, Les agricultures maghrébines à l’aube de l’an 2000, 1995, p. 298.
14. Hassania Chalbi-Drissi, “Le genre dans les nouvelles politiques foncières au Maroc”, in Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua et Abdourahmane Ndiaye (dir.), Réponses radicales aux crises agraires et rurales africaines : Agriculture paysanne et démocratisation des sociétés rurales et souveraineté alimentaire, CODESRIA, Dakar, 2012, p. 61.
15. For the record, the right of use is lost with the disappearance of the last men of the family and is re distributed to new members of the community. In the case where the new beneficiaries were indebted, the creditors would expose themselves to non-repayment of loans granted to the deceased.

To cite this article: Coline REAL, “The influence of the protest movement of Soulalyate women on the adoption of egalitarian land policies in Morocco (1/2)”, 04.19.2021, Gender in Geopolitics Institute

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