• Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    The Amazigh peoples are the indigenous peoples of Morocco. Morocco has not adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples nor ratified ILO Convention 169.

The Indigenous World 2022: Morocco

The Amazigh (Berber) peoples are the Indigenous Peoples of North Africa. The last census in Morocco (2016) estimated the number of Tamazight speakers at 28% of the population. However, Amazigh associations strongly contest this and instead claim a rate of 65 to 70%. This means that the Amazigh-speaking population could well number around 20 million in Morocco and around 30 million throughout North Africa and the Sahel as a whole. The results of the “Genographic Project”, based on DNA analysis, conducted by National Geographic since 2005 in the North African region, reveal a predominance of the “Berber genome” among the North African population, and specifically in Morocco.[1] This is a thesis strongly supported by the archaeological discoveries of Tafoughalt and Mount / Adrar Ighoud,[2] as well as that of Temara[3].

The Amazigh people have founded an organization called the “Amazigh Cultural Movement of Agadir” (MCA) to defend their rights. It is a civil society movement based on the universal values of human rights. Today there are more than 800 Amazigh associations established throughout Morocco.

The administrative and legal system of Morocco has been strongly Arabized, and the Amazigh culture and way of life is under constant pressure to assimilate. Morocco has for many years been a unitary state with a centralized authority, a single religion, a single language and systematic marginalization of all aspects of the Amazigh identity. The 2011 Constitution officially recognizes the Amazigh identity and language. This could be a very positive and encouraging step for the Amazigh people of Morocco. Parliament finally adopted the Organic Law for the implementation of Article 5 of the Constitution in 2019, after several years of waiting. Work to harmonize the legal arsenal with the new Constitution should begin. This constitutional recognition is still hypothetical 10 years on, however, since its teaching is still not effectively applied and it does not appear either on the National Identity Card or on the currency. In addition, there are no more than 1,000 teachers whereas there should be 25,000 and the national media does not comply with the required specifications.

Morocco has not ratified ILO Convention 169 and abstained from voting for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Morocco does not recognize the Amazigh as an Indigenous people because such recognition would require it to recognize their rights to their lands, territories and natural resources. In addition, it prefers to knowingly confuse self-determination with separatism in the name of the National Union’s preservation.

Amazigh women

Amazigh women form the inescapable pillar of the family and the Amazigh community. They are the guardians of ancestral knowledge and expertise, which they convey through their mother tongue, a vector of values and identity. The word “Tamazight” designates both language, territory and woman: a highly symbolic term which summarizes the Amazigh holy trinity of “Awal, Acal, Afgan” (Word, Earth, Human Being). Heirs to a long matriarchal tradition, Amazigh women continue to fulfil their role and preside over the education of their children, manage their households and preserve their heritage in terms of traditional knowledge (e.g. traditional medicine, education and crafts).

The rise of Islamism since the 1980s has, however, been detrimental to the status of Amazigh women. The pro-Wahhabi party’s two successive terms in government up until the end of 2021 were a threat to freedom and to women in more ways than one.[4]

Although Amazigh women are capable of occupying positions and roles of representation,[5] their possibilities remain limited by discriminatory practices against women in general and Amazigh women in particular. For example, in the 2021 legislative elections, women won only 96 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives, or 24.3%.[6]

Rights to land and resources

The phenomenon of land and natural resource grabbing in Morocco is national, with no region or community spared, although several cases have affected Amazigh communities in particular in recent years.[7] The main difficulty today lies in the absence of a database that could list all cases of actual dispossession in order to establish an exhaustive mapping of the extent of the problem.

As for Amazigh women, they are struggling to access their rights in the context of collective lands, renamed “soulaliyates”.[8] In fact, the dahir (law) of 27 April 1919 on collective lands and ethnic communities was replaced in 2019 by Law No. 62.17 on the administrative guardianship of soulaliyate communities and management of their property. Although the new law provides for equality between women and men, its effects are slow to be felt by Amazigh women.

The reclassification of collective lands as soulaliyate lands (an Arabic word meaning “descendant”) has put women in a position of direct conflict with men, who view this feminization of land rights negatively. Many Moroccan men wrongly believe they are being de facto excluded in favour of women, who “are taking over”.[9] To date, only the Jamaa Soulaliya of Ouled Ahmed Souk Laarbae has elected a woman as its leader.[10] And throughout the Kingdom of Morocco, only women belonging to communities in the Kenitra region have gained the right to plots of land.

Moreover, the 2019 law only strengthened the Ministry of the Interior’s control over collective lands. This guardianship was established by dahir of 1919, during the colonial period. The Ministry of the Interior now has full authority to freely dispose of collective lands without the constraint of inalienability. It can carry out “legal” acts of dispossession, sale or leasing, as decided and applied by the Central or Regional Councils of Trustees, whether or not there is opposition and without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the communities. Circulars issued in 2021 go further by imposing the criterion of residence on all rightful claimants aged 18 years or more. This clearly threatens all students and members who work and reside outside the community with both a loss of their rights and their community membership at the same time.[11]

The proliferation of fraudulent acts and illegal activities is such that there is what is commonly referred to as a “Land Mafia” rampant in all regions of Morocco aimed at monopolizing land to the detriment of the rightful owners. This plundering finds fertile ground in legislation, impunity, power games, the fragility of communities, the inefficiency of the courts, the connivance of magistrates, and agricultural policy,[12] all of which mean that law and justice no longer have a place, especially in matters of land, either for communities or for women, the last link in a weakened chain.

The neoliberal agricultural policy adopted by Morocco[13] has contributed greatly to the increased commodification and privatization of land and the new government led by Aziz Akhannouch (former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forest) is continuing to work in this direction despite the tragic effects on small farmers and agricultural workers, especially women, who form the first link in the agricultural food chain. The agro-industrial sector thinks big and favours large farms by putting all necessary means at their disposal, starting with the lands of the impoverished communities, for which they are never compensated.

Working conditions

Without land, vulnerability sets in and forced displacements occur, with all the burden of their consequences on the community, the family and the women, who are confronted with new realities and new living conditions. Many of them end up as farm labourers, working in unbearable conditions.

Other women find themselves living on the outskirts of large cities looking for poorly paid work in clandestine factories, exploited, harassed and with no social security cover. The accident at the textile factory in Tangier, where 28 people drowned and were electrocuted in a dead-end cellar in February 2021, is an example of the daily tragedies experienced by Amazigh women and girls who are forced to survive because they cannot live with dignity and because their rights are being violated. One mother lost four daughters in that accident.[14]

Gender-based violence

Since the start of 2021, 62,383 women have suffered violence in Morocco. According to the General Directorate of National Security, 7% of those cases were minors. Forty-one percent (41%) involved cases of physical violence, 27% economic violence, 26% psychological violence, 4% sexual violence and 2% violence via new technologies.[15]

This is certainly a significant increase but even this needs to be revised upwards because of the crimes and abuses that are not declared for fear of reprisals, what people would think, the socio-economic repercussions (stigmatization, discrimination...) and taboos, given that more than 90% of the violence takes place within the woman’s close circle.

It is obvious that almost five years after the entry into force of Law 103-13[16] on combatting violence against women, the situation is only getting worse. This is because the problem does not lie in the enactment of laws but in their enforcement and in a change in mentality by returning to Amazigh values of equality and respect between the sexes.

Access to health and education

In the Atlas regions, commonly known as “useless Morocco”, access to health care remains a real problem due to the lack of sufficient hospital infrastructure, qualified personnel, ambulances, and also practicable roads to access them. The winter of 2021 was no exception, and women in labour and their babies yet again died in Amazigh communities in the Imilchil area. The pandemic has shone a light on these regional disparities, on difficulties related to the right to health and the effects of a public policy of privatizing the two vital sectors of health and education without taking into consideration the instability and paltry means of the majority of Moroccans and, particularly, the Amazigh.

In the city as well as in the countryside, the socio-economic situation of women is a major barrier to accessing health and education. Due to lack of resources, many girls continue to be forced to leave school and marry while still children. As exemptions can always be found to any law, child marriage is still on the rise because it is tolerated by religious leaders and legitimized by the poverty of families who see their daughters as a way of earning money. Early motherhood, socio-economic insecurity and ignorance are all elements that throw women into a spiral of vulnerability and make them the perfect victims. It is also important to note that this situation worsened during the pandemic when social isolation was even greater.

Apart from the psychological effects of the pandemic, the repeated lockdowns and state of health emergency have dealt a blow to the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone, although more specifically women, whose burdens have increased and whose quality of life has decreased. Unfortunately, there is virtually no assistance provided to women. The isolation of women today is such that even when they try to take control of their lives and ask for a divorce, they very rarely have the right to the reparations provided for by law because the patriarchal justice system believes that a man has the right to rebuild his life and does not have to provide for his children and that the mother should not file for divorce but should instead continue to suffer.

Aid and organizations

The situation today is such that even the associations and organizations that claim to be focused on supporting women are, for the most part, more interested in funds and grants than in the fate of Amazigh women and their condition. This practice has spread since the arrival of the Islamists to power and has been encouraged by aid and funding programmes that pay insufficient attention to the content and ideologies of these organizations. The Amazigh women’s associations that do defend their Amazighness are de facto excluded, do not receive grants and are better known as forming part of the Amazigh Movement (e.g., AZUL).

Amazigh women understand their context and reality better than anyone and are quite capable of proposing their own solutions: viable solutions for the preservation of knowledge, expertise and skills, and for protecting the ecosystems and ensuring sustainability of resources, hence the need for an inclusive, participatory and bottom-up approach.

Despite these constraints, the women of the Amazigh Movement, the Amazigh associations and the Amazigh activists are fighting, in their fields, with their own resources, day after day, on a local, national, regional and global level, to prove that they exist and that they are capable of bringing about change: change that is specific to them and in line with their values, culture, identity and, above all, their Indigenousness, and which will allow them to effectively engage in global objectives while being themselves.

Amina Amharech was born in El Hajeb, in the Moroccan Middle Atlas. She is a teacher, artist and poet, and a committed Amazigh activist. A 2018 OHCHR Indigenous Representatives Program Fellow, she advocates for the land, cultural, identity and linguistic rights of the Amazigh and Indigenous people more generally. She is a founder member of the ACAL (Land in Amazigh) Association since 2014, a founder member of the Amazigh community network AZUL (since 2013, and which she represented on the Global Council of the International Land Coalition from 2018 to 2021) and a founder member of the Feminist Land Platform since 2019. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here


Notes and references

[1] Medias 24. “National Geographic: L’ADN des populations d’Afrique du Nord très peu arabe.” Medias 24, 19 January 2017. Updated 11 April 2021. https://medias24.com/2017/01/19/national-geographic-ladn-des-populations-dafrique-du-nord-tres-peu-arabe/

[2] Ibid.

[3] 2M.ma avec Agences.  “Témara: découverte des traces archéologiques les plus anciennes du vêtement chez l'Homo Sapiens.” 7 September 2021. https://m.2m.ma/fr/news/temara-decouverte-des-traces-archeologiques-les-plus-anciennes-du-vetement-chez-lhomo-sapiens-20210917/

[4] See, for example: 

Article 490 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes sex outside of marriage: Chraibi, Soundouss. “Nouveau bras de fer sur les réseaux sociaux autour de l’article 490, relatif aux relations sexuelles hors mariage.” Telquel,  5 February 2021. https://mobile.telquel.ma/2021/02/05/de-nouveau-un-bras-de-fer-sur-les-reseaux-sociaux-autour-de-larticle-490-relatif-aux-relations-sexuelles-hors-mariage_1710159

On the question of child marriage: Bouhrara, Imane. “Mariage des mineurs au Maroc: 57 % des autorisations délivrées en 24 h seulement.” EcoActu, 29 November 2021. https://www.ecoactu.ma/mariage-des-mineurs-au-maroc/

On the issue of inheritance: Rouchard, Samantha (Le Ravi). “L’inégalité femmes-hommes en héritage...” Ritimo, 13 September 2021. https://www.ritimo.org/L-inegalite-femmes-hommes-en-heritage

[5] Amazigh women have been elected in communal and parliamentary elections. By way of example:

- Hannou Marroche, elected local councillor, self-taught grassroots activist since 2007. YouTube, 27 September 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSi3cN8oMI

- Fatima Tabaamrant, artist and parliamentarian from 2011 to 2016. Native Women Voices.https://femmesautochtones.com/en/fatima-tabaamrant

[6] Ibris, Sara. “Legislatives 2021. “’Le nombre de femmes élues, une sonnette d’alarme’ (Jawad Ech-chafadi).” Medias 24, 23 September 2021. https://medias24.com/2021/09/23/legislatives-2021-le-nombre-de-femmes-elues-une-sonnette-dalarme-jawad-ech-chafadi/

[7] The case of the lands of Ait Naamane in El hajeb and Tallarouaq in the Rif, the forests of the Atlas, and springs such as Ben Smime are worthy of note:  Savage, Thomas, Mohammed Boudarham et Jassim Ahdani. “Surexploitation : Ben Smim, la source de la discorde.” Telques, 9 January 2020.

https://mobile.telquel.ma/2020/01/09/surexploitation-ben-smim-la-source-de-la-discorde_1664106; the Imider:

Izoard, Celia. “A Imider, au Maroc, la plus grande mine d’argent d’Afrique assoiffe les habitants.” Mediapart, 16 August 2019. https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/international/160819/imider-au-maroc-la-plus-grande-mine-d-argent-d-afrique-assoiffe-les-habitants?onglet=ful, and Jbel Ouam mines, and also the Isemdalen argan trees at Taroudant: Bentahar, M. “Maroc: l'industriel LafargeHolcim s'attaque au mythique arganier.” Le Club de Mediapart, 1 July 2019.  https://blogs.mediapart.fr/m-bentahar/blog/010719/maroc-lindustriel-lafargeholcim-sattaque-au-mythique-arganier, https://lecourrier.ch/2019/07/25/des-berberes-haussent-le-ton/

[8] Sammouni, Mohamed et Amine Belghazi. Terres collectives au Maroc: Une modernisation à tâtons? Rabat, Maroc: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2020. https://ma.boell.org/fr/2020/10/01/terres-collectives-au-maroc-une-modernisation-tatons

[9] Asmlal, Amyne. “Terres soulaliyates: une loi qui, manifestement, ne passe pas.” Le360, 10 December 2021.


[10] El Hourri, Abdelahi. “Première au Maroc: Une femme á la tête d’une communauté Soulaliyate.” Medias 24. 27 December 2019. https://medias24.com/2019/12/27/premiere-au-maroc-une-femme-a-la-tete-dune-communaute-soulaliyate

[11] Bennani, Bouteina. “La loi 62-17 relative à la tutelle administrative sur les communautés est discriminatoire.” L’ODJ, 10 December 2020. https://www.lodj.ma/La-loi-62-17-relative-a-la-tutelle-administrative-sur-les-communautes-est-discriminatoire_a104.html

[12] The Green Morocco Plan launched in April 2008 by His Majesty King Mohammed VI aims to make the agricultural sector a priority driver of socio-economic development in Morocco; however, this policy has contributed considerably to dispossession of the land. During 2021, the agricultural value added was estimated at 130 billion dirhams (MMDH), an increase of more than 18%, while the average yield was established at 23.7 qx / ha, up 320% compared to the previous harvest. It should be noted, however, that this increase has only benefited the large farms (belonging to a certain oligarchy) at the expense of family and subsistence farming.

[13] Centre Marocain de Conjoncture. “Agriculture au Maroc, un moteur clef de da croissance économique.” Centre Marocain de Conjoncture, 1 September 2021. https://www.cmconjoncture.com/conjoncture/actualites/agriculture-au-maroc-quel-avenir-pour-le-maroc

[14] Article 19. “Actualité – Tragédie de l’atelier clandestin à Tanger: une mère a perdu ses 4 filles.” Article 19, 9 February 2021. https://article19.ma/accueil/archives/139916

[15] Rédaction Medias 24. “Violences faites aux femmes : 7% des victimes sont des mineneures.” Medias 24, 26 November 2021. https://medias24.com/2021/11/26/violences-faites-aux-femmes-7-des-victimes-sont-des-mineures/

[16] FAO, FAOLEX, ECOLEX: “Loi n° 113-13 du 27 avril 2016 relative à la transhumance pastorale, à l'aménagement et à la gestion des espaces pastoraux et sylvopastoraux.” InforMEA, 2016.

https://www.informea.org/fr/node/485281 / http://www.sgg.gov.ma/Portals/0/lois/Projet_loi_113.13_Fr.pdf



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