Letting her thin, metal door clatter closed behind her, Turia Darif left her home alone for the first time in 18 years. She cried the whole way to the courthouse, crushed with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.
When her husband died, Darif was left with five children and no way to feed them. The family’s main source of income came from a coffee shop and two small convenience stores. The three shops had been rented by a man for many years, but after her Mr. Darif’s death, the tenant refused to pay rent.
Her house and crop fields were left in her name, but it was socially unacceptable for a woman to do field work.
“When my husband passed away, it was hell to go outside,” she said.
The income Darif relied on to raise her kids, was suddenly snatched away from her, and she was powerless to get it back.
Karima Boumssir, 30, was left in a similar situation when her father died. Although the family property was left in her mother’s name, all income went directly to her oldest brother.
When the man passes away, women are no longer seen as family members, Boumssir said.
“We [the women] live as guests, or beggars, waiting for whatever charity my brother can give,” she said.
Darif and Boumssir both live in the Annajm Co-operative outside the city of Fez, Morocco. They, and thousands of other women, are victims of stolen land rights.
Especially in rural areas, Moroccan women control the private space and rarely venture into the public space. These restrictions are cultural, not legal or institutional.
“Though girls do have their rights in theory, in reality, they get nothing,” Boumssir said.
Eleven years ago it was almost impossible for women to go out and face the outside world, Darif said. But with time, it slowly became more acceptable as she earned a name for herself in the community. But, she said, this was because of her specific circumstance.
Because Darif is a widow with five children, it was more socially acceptable for her to fight for her rights. For Boumssir, going to court to accuse her brothers of stealing from her would bring shame on the family.
If she went to court, it is very possible she could be granted the rights to her property. But, Boumssir said, her brothers would burn her crops and make it impossible for her to sell the land.
“My brothers have no mercy,” she said.
Culture, tradition and the notion of shame are omnipresent in this issue, Boumssir said. Because of this, she feels women are pressured into silence. The percentage of women who are suffering from losing their property is growing every day, she said. Yet, still, few women are able to speak out like Darif has.
“The men here are becoming very powerful, always using their authority over women,” Boumssir said. “I am a victim. I can’t talk.”
She is looking for another way to survive but, because her brother did not allow her to attend school, she is illiterate.
“I have nothing. I have God,” Boumssir said. “I feel misery. I am sick – physically sick, mentally sick. I have been patient, but there is no solution.”
After a ten-year struggle to get her property, Darif has made little progress. But, she said, she is proud of herself and has gained self-confidence.
“My heart is growing stronger, like a man,” she said.
The constant struggle against cultural norms in a society where the negative stigma against women’s rights to property is deeply engrained, will continue for both women. But, Darif is confident that with time, society will continue to change and she will get her property back.