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


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.

 The women were initially largely ignored by the State, which preferred not to face the resentment of communities still entrenched in patriarchal values, and claimed that it had no legal capacity to act considering the issue was community based and therefore subject to local customs. This discourse was in response to the many complaint letters written by women of different communities to local authorities, referring to their economic situation and intra-familial disputes over collective land. The right to land use is limited to men who are heads of households and have a patrilineal link to the community, directly eliminating women, especially those who are married to men outside the community. While women have indirectly benefited from collective land through male relatives, their access was always dependent on the goodwill of male family members. Although such practices were only based on customs and traditions before French colonial rule, the rigid rules established during their mandate indirectly reinforced gender inequalities, such as when a 1919 decree stated that beneficiaries of collective land are “heads of family”.    At first, Soulaliyate women in Western Morocco protested through sit-ins and demonstrations in front of their local authorities, demanding equality in compensation during the sale of collective lands. However, after seeing no results, one of the Soulaliyate women, Rkia Bellot, got fed up with her situation and referred to the ADFM, complaining to them that while her 8 brothers had received compensation for collective land that was sold to real estate companies, she and the other women had received nothing. This was the start of an alliance between the Soulaliyate women and the ADFM, who immediately took up the case, considering it a blatant form of gender discrimination. The first public action of the alliance was a protest of 500 women in front of the Parliament in 2007, which came as a surprise to most Moroccans who knew nothing about the Soulaliayte, let alone their inheritance laws and customs. Their next demonstration, however, drew out thousands of women all over Morocco, despite the king having made a speech promising reforms.    Women from different regions suffered from different problems, depending on the norms and customs of each community, as well differences in the value of land depending on the region. As Dr. Berriane explains, the city of Kenitra for example has undergone intense urbanization and land surrounding the city has attracted investors, meanwhile land owned by the community of Errachidia has not attracted any investors. The women of the latter community are not demanding compensation therefore, but rather the right to use parts of the land to develop small economic enterprises. However, the women framed the different local claims into a common movement under a unified discourse and language, and their individual problems were highlighted as a problem faced by all women.   The mobilization is still ongoing, and it has already achieved its first significant results. Three administrative circulars were issued by the Ministry of Interior between the years of 2009 and 2012, demanding that the local representatives include women among the beneficiaries of collective land. However, such circulars are not laws, and women consider them insufficient measures, especially since they can be revoked at any time or face opposition by the local representatives. As such, Soulaliyate women are now advocating for a law that will institutionally ensure that the circulars are enforced.   The inefficiency of the circulars was evident, for example, when the ethnic group of Rhaouna were being compensated for land sold to Omrane real estate company. During the allocation of new land, men received three times the share of women, and commercial spots were allocated to men only, in direct violation of the Constitution which claims equality between men and women, and in breach of the ministerial circular, showing the gap between the written law and its application. This affected the lives of 267 women from the community as well as their families.    Considering that the representatives of the Soulaliyate continued excluding women from the list of rights-holders despite the Ministerial circulars, women took the matter to administrative court, to challenge the decisions on selling collective land and secure women’s rights.  On 10 October 2013, there was a historic ruling by the Administrative Court in Rabat, that ruled in favor of the Soulaliyate women and granted them access to collective land, dismissing the arguments of the defense that the decision of the tribal representatives and the traditions of the Soulaliayte community cannot be challenged.

Afterwards, women from Kesbat Mehdia became landowners for the first time, in a moment considered a social revolution in Morocco. After the sale of their collective land to a private company, 867 women were compensated with plots of land, the total of which amounts to 128 hectares.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:The 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 commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

There 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
Affected Population:Millions of Moroccan Women (the Soulaliyate in general are estimated to be around 10 million people)
Start of the conflict:2007
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Interior (Department of Rural Affairs)
Advisory Council for Human Rights
The Ministry of Economic Development, Family, and Solidarity
International and Finance InstitutionsUN Women
Association for Cooperation with the South (ACSUR) from Spain
The Belgian Embassy from Belgium
Global Fund for Women
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Democratic 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

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Forms of mobilization:Development 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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives: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.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain: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 & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Official website of collective land where the texts of the Circulars by the Ministry of Interior are available

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Time for Formal Legal Status: An Update on Women’s Rights to Collective Lands in Morocco

In Morocco, encouraged by success, Soulalyates women make strides in land rights

Moroccan women build land rights movement

Interview with Ms. Khadija Ouldemmou, Project Leader, Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM), and advocate for Soulalyates women

Khmissa Awards Celebrate Soulaliyates Women

Soulaliyate Movement empowers rural women in Morocco

Soulaliyate women shocked by the egregious violation of law in Rhaouna – Sidi Yahya Lgherb

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

Women in Morocco are losing ground to tradition, prejudice and male greed

The Right of Soulalyates Women to Have Their Share of Land

Global Fund for Women writes about Rkia Bellot

Happy News for Women’s Rights in Morocco: Kesbat Mehdia Women Become First-time Landowners!

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Moroccan Women on Collective Land, documentary produced by ADFM

Video about Soulaliyate Women

Dr. Yasmine Berriane on the Soulaliyate Movement

Other documents

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

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

Meta information

Contributor:Catherine Moughalian, Asfari Institute, [email protected]
Last update23/01/2017



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

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