Until 2009, women were not listed as claimants of soulala land and did not receive any of the profits when their land was sold.
Rabat – For the first time, a woman has become the representative, or “naiba,” of communally-owned “soulala” land in Morocco. A soulala community in the rural area of Ouled Ahmed near Souk El Arbaa in northwest Morocco voted in Rabia Assoul to be their representative on December 21, reports Maghreb Arab Press (MAP), after years of advocacy for Moroccan soulaliyate, the women of communal lands.
Assoul, a seller of sewing notions, described her new role as something that used to be the “exclusive preserve of men.” She told the state-run news agency that in soulala communal land, “Women were marginalized, speechless.”
Communal land in Morocco traditionally passed from father to son, and the women of the land, called soulaliyate, had no legal right to inherit the land or profit from its use.
For years, Moroccan soulaliyate women have been agitating to be able to profit from the land that they have worked on alongside their male relatives. Assoul’s election comes as a significant step forward for the soulaliyate women’s struggle.
In 2009, the Ministry of the Interior released a circular saying that when communal lands are sold, women should receive a portion of the profits instead of none at all. Under existing laws, the “naib” representative wrote up lists of claimants to the land that only included male heirs.
Since the 1990s, as cities have grown alongside Morocco’s population, the government and private actors have bought soulala lands. The proceeds then went to a list of claimants who had a stake in the land, a list which is now supposed to include women.
As a new “naiba,” Assoul will have the responsibility of hearing requests from soulaliyate women to be added to Ouled Ahmed’s list of claimants.
Resistance to change
One difficulty Moroccan soulaliyate women have faced in the last decade, activist Rkia Bellot told Morocco World News earlier this year, is that “there is still a lot of resistance” to adding women’s names to the list of claimants.
Assoul argued that there has been a “systematic” suppression of information about soulaliyate women’s rights.
Assoul noted her own community’s struggle was in replacing the former “naib” representative. She told MAP her predecessor had been in the position for more than 20 years and was too infirm to manage his responsibilities.
When meetings with the regulatory authority failed to produce a new representative, the community held an election.
Assoul’s election was also unusual because typically the position is passed on through appointment by a council, not election. The election proved popular in the small village, with 64% of the 371 soulala members voting. Assoul received 135 of the votes, representing 58% of the votes cast.
“I am surprised by this victory,” Assoul stated.
As a “naiba,” Assoul will have multiple administrative responsibilities including finance and project management. Assoul is also asking the Ministry of the Interior to provide trainings for new representatives and create a toll-free number for consultation.
Her election comes just a few months after Morocco adopted laws allowing soulaliyate women to go to court to defend their property rights in August 2019.
In November, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump visited women farmers in promotion of Moroccan soulaliyate women’s access to communal land. The issue is part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s goals in Morocco.