Extractivism, Gender Inequality, and Queer Marginalization in Morocco

This article explores the impact of extractivism in Morocco, focusing on gender inequality and the marginalization of queer individuals. It explores the need for intersectional feminist coalition-building, in order to address these issues and protect the rights of marginalized communities.

The influence of extractivism on North African nations, including Morocco, has raised concerns and garnered attention.  Extractivism, which entails a strong dependence on the extraction and exportation of natural resources, has had severe repercussions for the region. In Morocco’s case, the extraction of resources such as phosphates, minerals, and fossil fuels has yielded economic advantages for a privileged few, specifically in terms of export earnings and foreign investments. The expansion of these industries and the growing dependence on external investments and interests have further exacerbated the existing disparities within Moroccan society.

“Dependency theory”, a term coined by Egyptian-French economist Samir Amin, provides valuable insights into Morocco’s position in the global resource trade. Dependency theory helps us comprehend the inherent imbalance between affluent and less affluent nations, as well as how nations are trapped in a cycle of dependence, compelled to provide raw materials or cheap labor in order to sustain themselves. According to Amin, the global capitalist system perpetuates and exacerbates inequalities, as economically dominant nations exploit those with fewer resources. In the context of extractivism, this theory illuminates the underlying dynamics, underscoring the country’s economic reliance on the extraction and export of natural resources as a prerequisite for development.

Gendered Consequences of Moroccan Extractivism

In Morocco, the extraction of phosphates is notable as the demand is primarily driven by external states, foreign investment, and multinational corporations. These foreign corporations and states hold considerable ownership and profit shares in this industry. The control over these resources and the majority of the economic benefits remain in the hands of external actors, further deepening the dependency relationship and marginalizing regional partners. For example, the state-owned OCP Group (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) joined forces with the American corporation Koch Ag & Energy Solutions through a joint ownership agreement. This agreement gave rise to the Jorf Fertilizers Company III (JFC III), with each party retaining a 50% stake. JFC III specializes in the production of phosphate fertilizers for export, reaching up to 1.1 million metric tons annually. Interestingly, these fertilizers are not utilized within Morocco’s domestic agricultural sector. OCP takes on the responsibility of extracting and processing mineral phosphates, while Koch solely supplies the raw materials for production and markets the final product internationally.

This also applies to the green energy sector. Oumaima Jmad, a young researcher and feminist, has written a compelling article shedding light on the impact of the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station (Noor II CSP) in Morocco on women residing in the village of Tasselmante. Noor II CSP had a total investment of $2 billion, with 80% financed through loans and 20% through equity. In her article, Jmad conducted interviews with various women from the village, leading her to conclude that “[t]he women of Tasselmante bear [the] burden [of this energy policy] and find themselves stagnant, without hope for improvement, in a world and a country striving for sustainable development”.

Jmad’s research sheds light on the gendered impacts of large-scale energy projects, highlighting how women in Tasselmante are disproportionately affected by the Ouarzazate Solar Power Station. The benefits of this renewable energy initiative are not equitably distributed, and local communities, especially women, are excluded from decision-making processes and economic opportunities associated with it. Instead, they bear the burdens, as the plant diverts approximately 2.5-3 million cubic meters of water per year from the surrounding villages and regions that depend on this water supply.

This has a direct impact on the livelihoods of the women in this village, as they are the primary users of this resource for their families and agricultural activities. This case underscores the significance of empowering local communities, especially women, by guaranteeing their meaningful participation, access to resources, and protection of their rights within the realm of renewable energy projects. This issue affects not just women, but all marginalized communities.

Intersectionality, Alliances, and Resistance

In Morocco, a country where being queer is deemed ‘illegal’ and societal prejudice poses significant risks, the impact of extractivism becomes even more alarming. This criminalization stems directly from the Moroccan penal code, specifically articles 483, 489, and 490. These articles criminalize public indecency, homosexuality, and extramarital sex, respectively, and are frequently used to target and criminalize queer individuals. Similar to women in the case of Tasselmante, queer individuals bear the brunt of the consequences. The intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and environmental challenges exacerbates the vulnerabilities faced by both queer individuals and women. The criminalization of queerness in Morocco heightens the risks and marginalization experienced by queer individuals within the context of extractive practices and climate change. They not only endure the direct consequences of environmental degradation but also face additional burdens of discrimination, stigma, and limited legal protections.

In Latin America, women’s increased presence in socio-environmental struggles over the past decades has coincided with a growing recognition of the importance of intersectional feminism to combat extractivist industries that harm marginalized communities. Maristella Svampa conducted several studies on this growing phenomenon, noting specifically that these intersectional feminist groups form coalitions between marginalized peoples, notably “indigenous women, rural women, economically disadvantaged women from rural and urban areas, women of African descent, lesbians, and trans women”. These individuals bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the forefront of these movements. By embracing intersectional feminism, these women foster solidarity and collective self-management, acknowledging the interconnectedness of gender, race, class, and sexuality in their struggles, particularly in the face of extractive industries that further marginalize them. Their inclusive approach stems from the recognition that the farther one deviates from the societal “norm”, the greater the potential harm they may encounter. This inclusive approach not only strengthens the broader movement but also ensures that the specific challenges faced by marginalized women are addressed in the pursuit of social and environmental justice.

Coalition-building and Micro-resistance

In Morocco, the marginalization of women, indigenous communities, and queer individuals arises from both market forces and societal factors. The prevailing societal barriers create additional challenges for queer individuals and women in asserting their rights, participating in decision-making processes, and accessing essential support systems, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability. It is crucial to address systemic discrimination against these groups in order to safeguard their rights within the context of extractivism.

There is a significant research gap when it comes to understanding how these forces specifically impact queer individuals. However, by extrapolating from what has been studied about the effects on women and indigenous peoples in the country, we can form hypotheses. Queer individuals face a combination of societal, legal, and environmental risks, often being overlooked and considered expendable or too small a group to be given proper attention. Consequently, it becomes challenging to accurately assess the magnitude of these forces working against them. Taking inspiration from strategies employed in South America, the formation of intersectional feminist coalitions can be employed to address and combat these risks.

This approach would enable the questioning and challenging of the legal and societal barriers that perpetuate discrimination and marginalization, while fostering awareness and understanding. Just as it is crucial to protect the land and utilize its resources responsibly by involving the local communities, it is equally important to provide the highest level of protections to those individuals who are most affected by disproportionate resource exploitation and capitalization.

The detrimental impacts of extractivism on both the planet and its inhabitants should be undeniably evident. Drawing from the examples of successful intersectional coalition building in South America, we can observe how resistance can manifest against the perils of extractive industries. The existing power imbalances arising from wealth disparities and social hierarchies require communities to not only mobilize but also take action and fight wherever and whenever possible to construct a more equitable system.

Dr. Lamyaâ Achary is a Moroccan sociologist and expert in gender equality and sexual diversity.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.


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