In a Fight for Land, a Women’s Movement Shakes Morocco

After King Mohammed VI succeeded his father in 1999, one of his hallmark achievements was the promotion of women’s rights, as the country has tried to position itself as a regional leader. In 2004, a new family code guaranteed women more rights in marriage and divorce, raising the minimum age for marriage and restricting polygamy.

In 2011, after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the country adopted a new Constitution that established gender equality. Even so, women’s rights advocates say, women are significantly absent from the work force and, in legal matters, often at a strong disadvantage to men.

While Morocco has been liberalizing its economy since the 1990s, selling off government assets and reducing barriers to foreign investment, the threat to the communal lands intensified in 2004 when it signed the Morocco Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The agreement increased the economic incentive to privatize and develop traditional lands.

About 35 percent of Morocco’s land is designated as Sulaliyyate, the Interior Ministry says. In 1919, while Morocco was still a French protectorate, management of the land was transferred to the ministry from the tribal authorities, with the idea of discouraging migration from rural areas to the cities.

Under this system, while people did not own the land, they were given the right to work designated plots and take their share of the harvest. Shares in the communal lands could be passed only from fathers to sons older than 16.

Photo

Women in Oulad Sebata demonstrate against the privatization of tribal lands.

Credit
Aida Alami for The New York Times

According to tribal law, single women, widows, divorcées and those without sons could not inherit the land, which meant that the state could confiscate it without compensation. Over the…

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