The influence of the protest movement of Soulaliyate women on the adoption of egalitarian land policies in Morocco (2/2)
Source: Mahjouba Mhamda et Cherkauia Mhamda.
Photo: UNWomen/Hassan Chabbi
Written by Coline Réal
Translated by Kaouther Bouhi
Discover the first part of this article here
Soulaliyate women are called this way in honor of the soulala, the genealogical connection that unites the members of a community. For decades they have been victims of discriminations in regards to their right to access the land, just because they are women. Ratified by the colonial rule, this rule of exclusion was consolidated during the independence of Morocco in 1956 and was even reinforced by circulars adopted later on. The phenomenon of melkization, that is to say the privatization of the collective lands which characterized the end of the 1990’s was an accelerator of gender inequalities. Women were excluded and couldn’t benefit from the land transactions realized on their lands and ended up in very precarious situations. Rather than condemning this exclusion, the Ministry of the Interior, who is also the Ministry of Collective Lands, legitimized this gender-based discrimination, which awakened the anger of the Soulaliyate women and provoked their mobilization.
The birth and the structuring of the protest movement of the Soulalyate women
In 2007, Rkia Bellot, a Soulaliyate woman from the community of Haddada, in the Kénitra region, requested, on behalf of many women from her community, the support of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), the first Moroccan feminist non-profit organization which was founded in 1985, based in Rabat. Since its creation, the ADFM focuses on the promotion of women’s rights and equality through public policies and laws, answered positively to the call of these women. In the mid-2000’s, the discriminations experienced by the Soulaliyate women in the collective lands were unknown, including by women’s rights organizations, this is the reason why they first chose to document them. To measure the extend of the phenomenon at a national level, the ADFM visited many communities and reached out to community groups from several regions.
With the substantive support of this organization, Soulaliyate women rapidly organized themselves to form a protest movement. Many organizations of civil society provided an ad-hoc support to this movement, in particular the Forum des Alternatives du Maroc, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, the Association Troisième Millénaire pour le Développement de l’Action associative du Sud-Est – Errachidia, and the Anaruz National Network of Listening CentersInterview with Rabéa Naciri, founder of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc, member of the International Network’s Advisory Council Women’s Learning Partnership, August … Continue reading.
Initially, the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women was structured around the aim to put an end to discriminations of which they were victims and to see their right of use re-established. However, they saw further ahead. Their ambition, long-term, was to obtain the adoption of a law acknowledging that they were equal to men.
The strategy mobilized to reach these goals was to challenge the public authorities, in particular the Directorate for Rural Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior. Facing their refractory discourse, it was necessary to change direction. It was then decided to conduct a broad public awareness campaign by occupying on the one hand the public space, and on the other the media space.
The first action initiated by the protest movement of Soulaliyate women has therefore logically been the holding of a press conference in the course of which women concerned expressed their views. Subsequently, many sit-ins were organized in front of the Parliament, in particular in 2008 and 2009. For the first time, rural women were protesting to claim their rights. Many national media, but also international, covered these public outcries, offering a forum of choice to Soulaliyate women.
Moreover, the pressure was brought to bear on the public authorities by legal proceedings. In march 2009, six Soulaliyate women went to the administrative court of Rabat to challenge the prime minister and the ministry of the interior with the aim of demanding the suspension of the handovers of the collective lands as long as the women would be excluded from them.
In 2012, while the public authorities started to cede territory, the coalition of the protest movement of the Soulalyate women – ADFM has issued a petition asking the promulgation of a law sanctionning equality between women and men in terms of access to the ownership of the collective lands, with usufruct and compensation in case of a handover of these landshttps://euromedrights.org/fr/publication/petition-citoyenne-pour-la-reconnaissance-des-femmes-soulaliyates-comme-des-ayants-droit-aux-terres-collectives/. From October 24th to December 15th 2017, a trailer with 660 women travelled across the regions of Fez, Daraa-Tafilalt and Rabat-Salé where they met policy makers and held awareness-raising workshops in several cities.
To raise awareness of the injustice they suffered from, the Soulaliyate women raised several arguments. Firstly, the soulala makes them full members of the community and, consequently, lawful beneficiariesFadma Ait Mous, « Terres collectives et inégalités : le combat des Soulaliyates », Economia (site).. Secondly, men are as much « heads of household » as they are. The women exploit the land and provide for their families, and hence for their community.
The protest movement of the Soulaliyate women rose very quickly thanks to the coalition created between the Soulaliyate women, that devoted themselves to convince the members of the communities and to provide feedback from the field, and the ADFM which benefited from an access to policy makers, national and international media and a successful experience in terms of advocacy and awareness-raising.
From a timid administrative recognition to a legal recognition: the long path toward equality
After having been an accomplice and then guilty of the exclusion of women, the Ministry of the Interior issued three circulars between 2009 and 2012, along the lines of the recognition of equality between women and men on collective lands.
On July 23rd 2009, the Ministry of the interior issued the circular n°2620 for the wali of the region of El Gharb-Charda-Béni Hssen and of the governor of the province of Kénitra. This is a pilot text: it grants to women of the sole province of Kénitra the right to benefit from, just like the men, financial compensations from the handovers. This turnaround can be explained by the incompatibility between the « habits and customs » that regulate the collective lands and the « evolution of the national and international context and the gains of women in all areas ». Furthermore, the choice of the province of Kénitra is justified, by the circular, by the big concentration of mobilizations in this area. Following the adoption of this circular, 800 women were registered on the lists of beneficiaries and have been able, for the first time, to benefit from the compensations regarding the handover of the lands.
In view of the urgent request of the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women, this particular measure has been extended to all the other provinces of Morocco by a circular of October 25th 2010. The extension of the circular of 2009 was not justified by the proper functioning of the pilot project, but by the non-compliance of the orfs to the Islamic precepts. In Islamic law, a person who cultivates a plot of land or lives on it for an uninterrupted period of 15 years benefits from a rig
ht of use called hyazat which can be officialized by the adoul, that is to say the Islamic law notary. Women can benefit from it; however, they would need the double of number of witnesses compared to men (24 against 12)Gender and Land Rights Database, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).). The Ministry of the Interior relied on an opinion presented in June 2010 by the Higher Ulema Council, … Continue reading and recognizes the primacy of international conventions that it ratified on its domestic law.
In other words, Morocco is required to harmonize its domestic law with the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified in 1979, and those of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified in 1993, and in particular the article 14 concerning the rights of rural women. This major progress created a very favorable context to the realization of the claims of the Soulaliyate women’s movement.
In accordance with the circular adopted in 2011, the Ministry of the Interior has not been accepting exclusively masculine lists of beneficiaries since 2012. This same year, a website dedicated to the collective lands was created by the government and a new circular was adopted. A further step was taken. It provides that women can now benefit from the distribution of plots of land, agricultural lands, and can inherit from a deceased beneficiary. This time, the circular is justified by the necessity for Morocco to conform to international conventions that it ratified and to its new Constitution. Also, the circular refers to the struggle of the Soulaliyate women and women’s rights organizations.
If the three circulars initiated a dynamic in favor of equality between Soulaliyate women and men, the progress were, in practice, limited. The circulars are documents issued by the central authority, the Ministry of the interior, to decentralized services, the walis and governorsThe walis and governors are the representatives of the State, each to a regional and provincial level. Their main mission is to provide for the supervision of the Ministry of the interior on the … Continue reading. These texts are above all a mean of internal communication. They do not have the legal force of a law and can be comfortably revoked. Consequently, the circulars were poorly implemented and were interpreted in the wrong way by the reluctant Nouabs. Some women were constrained to draw this matter to the attention of authorities to uphold their rights which had already received an administrative recognition.
In 2013, a new step was taken. On October 10th, in a historic decision, the administrative court of Rabat has consecrated the right of the Soulaliyate women to inherit, in the respect of the precepts of the Islamic Shariah according to which the woman inherit half of the share of the manA decision of the Guardianship Council of June 18th 2013 recognized this possibility and was rapidly the subject of an appeal for annulment filed by three Soulaliyate men at the administrative court … Continue reading.
The mobilization of the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women did not stop at these timid administrative and legal recognitions, the final aim being to obtain a text with a strong legal value: a law.
In a speech from October 12th 2018, the King Mohammed VI shared his will to start a major reform project of the legal arsenal regulating the collective lands. The context becoming more favorable to the legal recognition of equality between women and men in the Soulaliyate lands, the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women and ADFM intensified their advocacy with the public authorities. In February 2019, the Council of the government adopted three billsThe bill n°62.17 concerning the administrative guardianship of the Soulaliyate communities and the management of their properties, the bill n°63.17 concerning the administrative delimitation of the … Continue reading that were submitted to the Parliament. The bill n°62.17 regarding the administrative guardianship on the Soulaliyate communities and the management of their properties included, in its article 6, that « the members of the Soulaliyate communities, men and women, enjoy collective ownership, in accordance with the division realized by the Nouabs (…) ». The article 9 included that « the Soulaliya community chooses within its members who enjoy their civil rights, men and women, its Nouabs that would form the Nouabs body (…) ». Thereby, the election replaces the appointment and women can become Naiba, that is to say representative.
For the first time, women are mentioned and their rights of use of collective lands and to participate to the political life of the community are recognized. However, this text does not meet the expectations of the protest movement of Soulaliyate women. No mention of equality is made and this omission is not anecdotal. This text does not offer to women the guarantee to access, in equal proportions to men, to lands and responsabilities. In addition, the bill states, in its article 4, that « the Soulaliyate communities have their own properties according to the customary practices (orfs) in force (…) », orfs which until now were discriminating and reduce the power of the 6th article.
For these reasons, the protest movement of the Soulaliyate women and ADFM have maintained the intensity of their advocacy with parliamentarians with a view to obtaining both the registration of the principle of equality between women and men and the removal of the reference to the orfs.
The bill was finally adopted unanimously on July 23rd 2019. If the claims of the Soulaliyate women have not been integrated to the final version of the law, women have now the possibility to go to court in case of dispute.
A first positive spin-off was observed some months after the adoption of the law n°62.17. On December 21 2019, Rabia Assoul was elected naiba of the community of Ouled Ahmed, becoming the first woman to hold this title« Première au Maroc : Une femme à la tête d’une communauté Soulaliyate », Médias 24, 27 décembre 2019..
However, the decree implementing the law n°62.17Decree no. 2.19.973., adopted on December 2019, rapidly disillusioned the Soulaliyate women. Under its provisions, the recognition of the status of beneficiary is conditioned to the actual residence of the member in the community. This criterion is problematic for several reasons: on the one hand, the « residence » is not defined, and, on the other hand, many women belonging to
these tribes were constrained to leave their lands due to economic and social or even matrimonial change.
The provisions of the law n°62.17 were subsequently also limited by the adoption of the circular n°6303 of May 13th 2020 concerning the privatization of the collective lands in the non-irrigated areas. According to this text, the acquisition of private property of the land is conditioned to the status of beneficiary, to the permanent residence on said land, to the exercising of an agricultural activity and to the full enjoyment of community parcels. By not taking into account historical injustices to which women were subjected to, this provision becomes discriminatory. Until very recently, women were not considered as beneficiaries of the land. They could not benefit from the full enjoyment of community parcels.
A strong advocacy coalition born form the joint action of the protest movement of Soulaliyate women on the one hand, and of the ADFM on the other, was structured around their shared conviction of the injustice of the exclusion of women from their right to use of the collective lands. This coalition benefited from opportunities, in particular from a political opening, the adoption of a Constitution acknowledging the equality between women and men, and the support of the public opinion. The actions led by the coalition and the support from national and international media have enabled the Soulaliyate women to obtain, firstly, a shy administrative recognition, through the adoption of three circulars, then a legal recognition. After more than ten years of struggle, the Soulaliyate women have won a battle: formal equality is implicitly enshrined by the law n°62.17. However, their fight continues to obtain real equality in the process for allocating shares to the beneficiaries.
To cite this article: Coline REAL, “The influence of the protest movement of Soulalyate women on the adoption of egalitarian land policies in Morocco (2/2)”, 04.19.2021, Gender in Geopolitics Institute.
|↑1||Interview with Rabéa Naciri, founder of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc, member of the International Network’s Advisory Council Women’s Learning Partnership, August 26th 2020.|
|↑3||Fadma Ait Mous, « Terres collectives et inégalités : le combat des Soulaliyates », Economia (site).|
|↑4||Gender and Land Rights Database, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).).
The Ministry of the Interior relied on an opinion presented in June 2010 by the Higher Ulema Council, an institution whose mission is to enforce the religious policy, which states that the Islamic Shariah can not justify the fact that women are not benefiting from the incomes generated from the transfers of lands, as men do.
From February 2011, Morocco was touched by the wave of revolt that started in Tunisia since January. Inspired by their neighbors, Moroccan started the protest movement of the 20th February to demand a new Constitution that would guarantee a fairer and more democratic system. On March 9th 2011, the King Mohammed VI announced a constitutional reform, to de-escalate the protest, and appointed an advisory committee in charge of elaborating the reform. The new Constitution, adopted on July 1st, offered a democratic opening and enabled a major step forward: equality between women and men was added to its article 19. In addition, in the preamble, the Kingdom of Morocco « affirms its attachment to the Rights of Man such as they are universally recognized »((Translation by Jefri J. Ruchti, from constituteproject.org © 2012 by William S. Hein & Co., Inc. All rights reserved. In French: “réaffirme son attachement aux droits de l’Homme tels qu’ils sont universellement reconnus”
|↑5||The walis and governors are the representatives of the State, each to a regional and provincial level. Their main mission is to provide for the supervision of the Ministry of the interior on the collective lands.|
|↑6||A decision of the Guardianship Council of June 18th 2013 recognized this possibility and was rapidly the subject of an appeal for annulment filed by three Soulaliyate men at the administrative court of Rabat.|
|↑7||The bill n°62.17 concerning the administrative guardianship of the Soulaliyate communities and the management of their properties, the bill n°63.17 concerning the administrative delimitation of the Soulaliyate lands and the bill n°64.17 on the Soulaliyate lands located in the irrigated areas.|
|↑8||« Première au Maroc : Une femme à la tête d’une communauté Soulaliyate », Médias 24, 27 décembre 2019.|
|↑9||Decree no. 2.19.973.|