The Soulaliyate Women's Land-Use Rights Movement, Morocco

The Soulaliyate Women of Morocco are claiming their rightful compensation from the sale or rent of collective land to private entities, demanding that they should benefit from the same rights as men in the face of loss of their homes and livelihood.


The Soulaliyate women’s movement, referring to tribal women in Morocco who live on collective land, is the first grassroots nationwide mobilization for land rights in Morocco. The term became publicized in 2007 when, in the context of intense commodification and privatization of land in Morocco, tribal women began demanding equal rights and shares when their collective land is privatized or divided. Although initially minor, over time the Soulaliyate Movement became a nationwide movement that challenges the gendered nature of laws regulating land tenure in Morocco and fights against patriarchal customs regarding access to land.   Collective land in Morocco, which represented the biggest percentage of available land and natural resource reserves, started being seized by the State, under its strategy of liberalization and privatization of land, and sold to public or private real estate agencies. In effect, thousands of Soulaliyate women were displaced and denied compensation, particularly affecting women who are unmarried, widowed, or divorced. The women were forced to move to urban slums and live under extreme poverty to make ends meet, unlike the men from the villages who were compensated with either land or money.    Despite the contempt and death threats they received from the men in their villages, Soulaliyyate women were able to get recognition of their right to collective land and to influence policy change. Their partnership with civil society, particularly with the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) made the movement cross social divides and create a coalition that is active to this day, reconfiguring power relations between men and women in Morocco.

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Basic Data
NameThe Soulaliyate Women's Land-Use Rights Movement, Morocco
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThere are around 4,563 Soulaliyate communities in Morocco, spread over 55 regions. The total area of these collective lands is approximately 15 million hectares, 85% of which is pastoral land, and the remaining is agricultural land. These lands are usually rich in natural resources, and contain stone and sand quarries. In some places, urban expansion has reached collective land, making them part of urban areas, increasing the real estate value of the lands, while the legal status governing the property rights remained unchanged.

The legal status of collective land in Morocco dates back to the French protectorate, which issued a royal decree in April 27, 1919 to define the status of land that was used collectively by communities (e.g. tribes, villages, ethnic groups), thus allowing the State to interfere in the management of collective land and facilitating the transfer to a capitalist mode of production. Importantly, the 1919 Law does not explicitly state that women cannot benefit from the proceeds of collective land. This decree has since regulated the property rights of such communities over agricultural and pastoral land that they use collectively. These communities are represented by delegates (Na’ib), supervised by the Ministry of Interior (the Directorate of Rural Affairs to be exact) who allocate the land (making a list of rights-holders) and resolve conflicts, mainly according to customs and traditions.

Although the 1919 decree explicitly states that collective land is inalienable (cannot be seized nor sold), various changes were introduced to the law that allowed such land to be rented out or transferred under particular conditions. For example, a law was issued in 19 March, 1951 regarding collective lands within urban premises, stating that they can be sold if the Trusteeship Council approves of the sale price, and on condition that half of the proceeds of the sale be used to buy real estate that will benefit the community or be used to improve agriculture in the remaining of the collective land. Another law issued on 25 July, 1969 changed the way collective land is distributed, establishing an individual form of property distributed to the rights-holders, upon whose death the property is assigned to one heir instead of being distributed to beneficiaries as shares, provided that the rest of the heirs are compensated. With the intense urban expansion of the 70s and 80s, the Ministry of Interior issued Circular No. 333, regulating the protocols of selling collective land to carry out economic or social projects. Despite all these new laws and circulars, the prevailing tradition of excluding women from the right to the proceeds of this land was not affected, and thousands of women continued to be discriminated against when the lands they worked on got sold, while males were compensated with their share. The initial logic behind tribal laws was to preserve the collective ownership of land within the same tribe, fearing that women might marry outside the tribe. It is worth noting that the exclusion of women does not reflect their lack of competence or knowledge in farming, since women’s labor represents 50.6% of agricultural production in Morocco.

The neoliberal trend of the 1990s, mandated by the World Bank, made the predicament of women even worse, where there was a frenzy of large scale land-acquisition, in other words the transfer of collective lands to private or public companies in exchange of compensation to the influenced communities. With the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2004, land acquisition became the means to establish Free Trade Zones, touristic projects, and real state development, and more attention was focused on the abundant communal land. Throughout the years, land was sold to authorities for marginal prices, and consequently sold to developers, who would increase prices and sometimes re-sell the land for 60 times its original price. Of the 15 million hectares of collective land in Morocco, 11,000 hectares were transferred to new owners between the years of 2009 and 2011. This represents land that was sold or rented out via the Directorate of Rural Affairs to public or private companies to use the land for large-scale projects. In exchange, men who were displaced were compensated, while women, especially those who were divorced, widowed, or married to outsiders, were expropriated and forced to move to urban slums.

In some cases the State uses the money earned from such transactions on projects that will benefit the whole community, but in other cases community members are compensated individually for the loss of land in money or plots of land. Community representatives are in charge of deciding who gets compensated by establishing a list of beneficiaries, systematically excluding women, justifying this by saying that custom limits the right of use of the collective land to men, with no opposition by the Ministry of Interior. As such, women suffered dramatic consequences. Not only only did they lose their homes and livelihood, but they were not compensated in any way while their male relatives received substantial amounts of money or equipped plots.
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationMillions of Moroccan Women (the Soulaliyate in general are estimated to be around 10 million people)
Start Date2007
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Interior (Department of Rural Affairs)

Advisory Council for Human Rights

The Ministry of Economic Development, Family, and Solidarity
International and Financial InstitutionsUN Women
Association for Cooperation with the South (ACSUR) from Spain
The Belgian Embassy from Belgium
Global Fund for Women
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersDemocratic Association of Women in Morocco (ADFM):

Association of Soulaliyate Women of Qasbat Mehdia

Union de l’Action Feminine (UAF)

Women Forum for Alternatives Morocco (FMAS)

Association Marocaine des Droits des Femmes (AMDF)

Women's Learning Partnership (WLP)

Ligue Democratique des Droits de la Femme (LDDF)

Joss our

Alternatives Forum in Morocco

Moroccan Association for Human Rights
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Development of AlternativesThe Soulaliyate Women of Morocco are claiming their rightful compensation from the sale or rent of collective land to private entities, demanding that they should benefit from the same rights as men in the face of loss of their homes and livelihood.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.It was a big step in Morocco for the Ministry of Interior to recognise women on equal footing with men, and recognise their right to own and inherit land, and benefit financially from collectively owned land. Now the question is the implementation of the new regulations. Plus, with the national and international attention they received, and the democratic process they engaged in, some have retrospectively considered them the forerunners of the February 20 Movement.
Sources and Materials

Official website of collective land where the texts of the Circulars by the Ministry of Interior are available
[click to view]


Berriane, Y. (2016). Bridging social divides: leadership and the making of an alliance for women’s land-use right in Morroco. Review of African Political Economy, 43, 350-364. DOI: 10.1080/03056244.2016.1214118


Time for Formal Legal Status: An Update on Women’s Rights to Collective Lands in Morocco
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In Morocco, encouraged by success, Soulalyates women make strides in land rights
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Moroccan women build land rights movement
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Interview with Ms. Khadija Ouldemmou, Project Leader, Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM), and advocate for Soulalyates women
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Khmissa Awards Celebrate Soulaliyates Women
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Soulaliyate Movement empowers rural women in Morocco
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Soulaliyate women shocked by the egregious violation of law in Rhaouna – Sidi Yahya Lgherb
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Women and the Right to Land in Morocco: The Sulaliyyates Movement
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Women in Morocco are losing ground to tradition, prejudice and male greed
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The Right of Soulalyates Women to Have Their Share of Land
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Happy News for Women’s Rights in Morocco: Kesbat Mehdia Women Become First-time Landowners!
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Global Fund for Women writes about Rkia Bellot
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Media Links

Moroccan Women on Collective Land, documentary produced by ADFM

Video about Soulaliyate Women
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Dr. Yasmine Berriane on the Soulaliyate Movement
[click to view]

Other Documents

Women of the Kesbat Mehdia Tribe in Kenitra, Morocco celebrate receiving land compensation for the first time. Photo by WLP.
[click to view]

Moroccan women attend a rally during International Women’s Day in Rabat in 2011. The poster reads ‘We are denied the rights to our land’. Image: ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorCatherine Moughalian, Asfari Institute, [email protected]
Last update23/01/2017