Women’s Role in Protecting Land Rights in Morocco
By admin April 12, 2018

Women’s access to and control over land and other productive resources are a cornerstone in ensuring their right to equality and an adequate standard of living. Current policy debates in developing countries have acknowledged that women have different needs from men, and that in many societies there are specific challenges that limit women’s access to and control over land and housing. The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment identifies that the way for women to achieve greater control over their own lives is through full participation in the financial and capital markets. According to Hanmer and Klugman’s empirical report on agency and women’s empowerment, capital assets like land ownership are a defining pillar of obtaining greater agency and decision-making power. However, accessing land rights requires tandem advancements in female political participation.

Rounding a decade since their establishment, a group of Moroccan women, known collectively as the Sulaliyyates Movement, are an illustrative example of the complexities surrounding the fight for women’s land ownership in North Africa and the need for incorporating women into the political and negotiating process. The Sulaliyyates began their protests in 1997 and have since assembled a powerful grass-roots organization fighting not only the fight for the tribal lands against privatization but for equal ownership rights in a country where women, by law, inherit less than men against the backdrop of economic and social change in Morocco.

Setting the stage, while designated as a French protectorate on 1919, land was repartitioned based on proof of title documenting ownership. As a result, according to Jonathan Wyrtzen’s book Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity, the French residency sold much of the untitled tribal land to settlers and designated ownership of the rest to the ministry (known as Sulaliyyate land). The management of the land was transferred to the ministry from tribal authorities, with the idea of discouraging migration from rural areas to the cities. Regarding the present day, about 35 percent of Morocco’s land is designated as Sulaliyyate, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Under this system, while individuals did not own the land, they were given the opportunity to work designated plots and take their share of the harvest. Their share of workable land could only be passed from fathers to sons and according to tribal law, single women, widows, divorcees, and those without sons could not inherit the land, which meant that the state could confiscate it without compensation. This stratification of access to and ownership of land between genders has been heightened with the backdrop of the country’s economic and social transition.

Since the early 2000s, under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, Morocco has liberalized their economy and reduced barriers for foreign investment. As a result, major land developers have bought Sulaliyyate land and started development without consulting local community members. As a result, both women from the Sulaliyyate Movement and men have expressed discontent.

In response to the Sulaliyyate Movement, the Moroccan Ministry of Interior has issued several decrees that women should benefit from selling communal lands and should be a part of the negotiation process. However, enforcement of these decrees is ultimately delegated to the tribes’ residents’ representatives and may be left null and void. Lawmakers in Morocco, a constitutional monarchy, have yet to act on the request. So, the Sulaliyyate Movement protests continue on, pressing for a seat for women at the political and negotiating table regarding communal land rights.

For More Information

Women and the Right to Land in Morocco: The Sulaliyyates Movement

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