- Emerging Amazigh Feminist Nongovernmental Organizations
Amazigh feminist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) emerged in the new century. They address, among other matters, language, identity, and “ruralness” issues that were sidelined by the mainstream Moroccan feminist movement. After the 20 February Movement (the Moroccan version of the Arab Spring) appeared, these NGOs considerably increased in number and steadily developed a public voice with a clear mission. Although they all promote the Amazigh language and culture, Amazigh feminist NGOs are divided by geographic location, class, ability to interact with larger feminist and human rights NGOs and other organizations, ability to raise funds, and proximity to the makhzan.1
During the 1990s a vibrant Amazigh civil society emerged with around one thousand NGOs.2 Amazigh identity became a key aspect of Morocco in the new century, and Amazigh activism led to substantial reforms, culminating in the creation of the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture in 2001. The 20 February Movement included banners and slogans demanding that the Amazigh language be constitutionalized (i.e., made the official language of the country). This emphasis on Amazigh language and culture differentiates Morocco from other countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania). “Amazighization” of public space led to the feminization of Amazigh activism.
As larger Amazigh associations converted into development associations, such as Tamaynut (New), Azetta (Citizenship), Thaziri (Full Moon), Assid (Light), and Observatoire Amazighe des Droits et Libertés (Amazigh Observatory for Rights and Freedoms), nine feminist Amazigh NGOs quickly developed: Association Tinhinan3 Khemisset (Tinhinan Khemisset Association), Voix de la Femme Amazighe [End Page 122] (Amazigh Woman’s Voice), Association Anaruz (Hope Association), Association Tinhinan Tiznit (Tinhinan Tiznit Association), Association Thaziri (Thaziri Association), Association Tamghart (Woman Chief Association), Association Tayri (Love Association), Observatoire Amazighe des Droits et Libertés, Femmes (Amazigh Observatory for Rights and Freedoms, Women’s Section), and Forum des Femmes Amazighes de Tamazgha (Forum of Amazigh Women in Tamazgha or Amazigh Land). These organizations share a number of characteristics. They self-identify as advocates of the Amazigh language and culture; they seek to secure a place for Amazigh women in a society where language and gender relate to social status; they use Tifinagh, the Amazigh alphabet, in addition to Arabic or French; and they position their work within human rights, diversity, freedom of expression, and development frameworks.
Further, whether stated or implicit, these associations seek to ensure the presence of Amazigh women’s rights in Moroccan public policies; promote women’s (and children’s) rights in Morocco; fight against women’s legal “illiteracy”;and advocate the linguistic, political, cultural, economic, social, and civil rights of Moroccan citizens in accordance with international conventions. They encourage women to run for office, stimulate collective efforts to preserve the Amazigh heritage, and reject violence in public and private domains. Defending women against violence and discrimination, they support survivors of violence and contribute to a strong women’s movement.
These NGOs organize seminars and workshops about associational work, and they lobby, network, and demand social change. They may partner with specific ministries to implement educational projects. They present plays and concerts and convene sporting activities, local fashion shows, gastronomy contests, and activities for children.
Highlighting the double marginalization of a large proportion of Moroccan women, these associations show how many Moroccan women are caught between patriarchy and language hegemony and between oriental and occidental values. They emphasize “authentic” values and legal and identity rights. These rights pose important challenges to the Moroccan feminist movements, whether secular or Islamic. Often located in urban areas and, in the case of Islamic feminists, squeezing Moroccan women’s multiple identities into their religious identities, these movements have failed to capture the “Amazigh” element. Further, their urban “modernity” is problematized now that Amazigh, long viewed as backward, is being constructed as a token of modernity and secularity.
The Amazigh feminist NGOs’ common goals and significance do not preclude deep divides that reflect the disparities in their larger contexts. Location is perhaps the most important dividing element. Whereas four of the nine NGOs are located in big cities (Voix de la Femme in Rabat, Observatoire Amazighe in Rabat, Tayri in Agadir, and Forum des Femmes [this transnational NGO has no...