Monday, November 18, 2013

The Soulaliyate Women's Movement ~ Battling Tradition and Greed

The Soulaliyate are members of one of the ethnic groups with a stake in Morocco's commons, or "collective lands". They belong to Morocco's 4,631 tribes, amounting to about 10 million people. The tribes are governed by laws that go back to before the introduction of Islam to Morocco in the seventh century. Under these rules they are not entitled to own land, with tenure passing from father to son. The women are battling tradition and male greed, which are depriving them of any form of inheritance. For the past three years they have been campaigning as the Soulaliyate Women's Movement to obtain compensation. Retrospectively they were one of the forerunners of the wave of social and political protest that has shaken Morocco since February.

The Soulaliyate Women's Movement was the idea of a remarkable woman named Rkia Bellot. Now retired, she used to work at the finance ministry and is married to an outsider, a soldier. She belongs to the Haddada tribe and has no chance of an inheritance. "I have eight brothers. I'm the only one not to have received anything when our father died and the discrimination got even worse when they started selling land as compensation or handing out plots for building," she explains, in tears.

She was particularly upset by the humiliation she suffered when she tried to stand up for her rights. "The male members of the tribe said: 'You're just a woman', and when I appealed to the officials, they told me I didn't have 'the requisite status', which is exactly the same thing, in more diplomatic terms," Bellot adds.

The first demonstration in 2007 was a surprise for many Moroccans, who knew nothing about the Soulaliyates and less still about their rules on inheritance. But the Soulaliyates have a growing audience. On 20 March demonstrations were held all over Morocco with thousands of people in the streets, despite a speech by the king announcing constitutional reform. But Bellot was not marching. She was typing out manifestos on her computer.

The Soulaliyate Movement has been gaining ground since 2007. On a daily basis, these women fight the absurdity of archaic laws and men whom they consider to be their enemies. The following are details of a meeting with this movement, first published in French on Tel Quel.(LIRE L'ORIGINAL EN FRANÇIS)

In towns like Kenitra the effects of dispossession are stark. Kenitra is the country's fourth-largest industrial centre. Overlooking the airbase are properly built homes for the well-off, then red-brick houses, still unfinished, for those who have been resettled, and finally off to one side a collection of shacks made of corrugated iron and cardboard, occupied by dispossessed Soulaliyate women.

It's a Tuesday morning just like any other in the town of Oulad Benrahma. About 10 miles from Kenitra, this little town in the province of Sidi Slimane lives to the rhythm of the improvised markets along roadsides congested with cars, mules and school children. Malika recognizes a few faces, greets them politely and carries on.

She prefers to show us the land from her stronghold, which consists of 2,487 women and 2,814 men and which she left for the big city almost 15 years ago. Virgin or plowed, built or abandoned, the communal lands of Oulad Benrahma, extending to the horizon, sparked division four years ago among this tribe’s members.

On the bridge, an old lady riding a donkey stops to kiss her. “We're with you, do not forget that. So are we going to get money or not?” She enthusiastically asks Malika. At 48, the latter proudly belongs to the Soulaliyate Movement, composed of thousands of tribal women across the kingdom. These women demand to receive, just like men, compensation from the sale of these communal lands.

Facing contempt

“I am a living example that this fight is not pointless,” Malika brags. In 2011, the women of the tribe received about 5,000 dirhams (about $600). Even if they still have not received anything since then, their victory is both material and symbolic. It has proven to the tribe’s men, who continue to oppose Malika’s approach, that the collective lands are no longer an exclusive right of males. It has also strengthened the position of women, who are finally convinced that justice — as incomplete as it is — is possible to achieve today.

“When we started claiming our usufruct, the men of the tribe, before they got busy being violent toward us, were mocking us and saying, ‘If you get your usufruct, we will wear a takchita [a traditional garment worn by Moroccan women],’” Malika said.

As for the MPs, some of whom have been in office since the era of the late King Hassan II, they either refuse to receive them or just express contempt. For these veterans of customary law, the Soulaliyate Movement has long been a fantasy of countrywomen blinded by dreams of mudawana [personal status code in Moroccan law], which can only be applied, according to them, to urban women. A new constitution advocated equal rights, and a number of MPs grudgingly accepted to include tribal women on the lists of beneficiaries.

Belated feminist

“In my tribe, women thought I was crazy, and men threatened to empty their clips on me,” recalls Hajiba. The enthusiastic 40-year-old from the Chebbaka tribe in the town of Mnasra is overloaded with activism. “A few years back, I did not even know what Soulaliya meant.” It is when she watched a television report that she became aware of the situation and began to ask questions. These questions led her to the doors of the Democratic Women's Association of Morocco (ADFM) in Rabat.

There, they took the time to explain to her her rights, which, she discovered, were being violated. She became invincible, an expert in circulars, dahirs [Moroccan royal decrees] and judicial and administrative jargon. “Before meeting with the association, we were still like a closed pomegranate,” she says. “Today, not only have we gotten to know our rights, but we have also come to defend them.” Her ease of speech is the proof: not only does Hajiba talk about her case, but she also puts into perspective the complexity of the situation, the undeserved privileges lacking transparency, the withholding of information on the part of institutions and the obsolete laws that block the actions of the movement.

“The awareness that was long buried in me that my rights as a Moroccan woman in general and as a Soulaliya woman in particular are not guaranteed has become crystal clear today. If my citizenship is secondary in the eyes of the leaders, then who am I in this society?”

No mercy

If Hajiba, who lives in Kenitra and is married to an urban man who supports her choices, is now able to assess the challenges of her struggle, to justify the need for a law change and to fully understand her rights, it is still not the case of all the Soulaliya women.

The precariousness plaguing some of the tribe's descendants is particularly what motivated them to join the movement. “It's a pretty name, Oulad Benrahma, except that here, there is no ‘rahma’ [mercy] for us.”

Aisha’s scathing words contradict her laughing eyes. The lady, with fatigue-marked features, shares a roadside shanty with her brother. (“He is kind enough not to kick me out,” she sarcastically says.) She surely wants to see her rights respected, but most of all, she wants to be able to afford her medication. “My diabetes cannot wait for a law change,” thunders Soulaliya. Driven by a sense of disregard, she adds, “I do not have the right to exploit the land of my ancestors because I am a woman. I can only support these women who want to guarantee me a little bit of tangible and concrete fairness.”

While every tribe is different, all their women share the same anger of being ignored by Morocco, which boasts about great democratic progress. "We learned to properly advocate, but the authorities’ lack of transparency is paralyzing us," Hajiba says. When they are not met with the silent treatment, they discover preposterous issues, such as selling the communal land to individuals unknown to the tribe. Hajiba can never say enough and blames the system’s failures, lack of follow-up and contradicting decrees.

Big problems need big solutions: Malika and Hajiba are planning to run in parliamentary [elections]. “In order to commit ourselves to the Soulaliyate Movement, we want to ensure that we are fully dedicated to that. At least, this way we will get the information from the source,” Hajiba adds. A national dialogue on the future of communal land will be held in November, as announced by the Interior Ministry in October 2012. However, with the recent cabinet reshuffle, there is no way of knowing for sure if the dialogue will remain on the agenda.

Originally posted by  TelQuel on November 17, 2013
Translator: Sami-Joe Abboud

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