In Zagora: Women are facing the climate emergency

Zagora region is one of the areas hardest hit by climate change, with a pronounced impact on women’s lives. The consequences of these environmental variations are significantly felt on a daily basis, highlighting the specific challenges faced by women. The complex interplay between climate change and women’s realities underscores the need for a deeper understanding of these dynamics.

We are in Tamgroute, a commune of Zagora located just 20 km from the town center. All along the way, we can see the severe effects of climate change. The climate seems ordinary, neither too cold nor too hot. Around us, children play, while a few women wearing their hayek go about their business in the dry oases.

Our destination is the Women’s Association for Development and Cooperation, one of the most renowned associations in the region, actively committed to women’s rights, gender justice and all women’s issues. This space is a place where oasis women come to learn and innovate, seeking alternatives to cope with the climate change that has made their lives more difficult.

On our way to the association, we stopped to contemplate the cruel reality of this once flourishing region, adorned with majestic palm trees that now stand withered. The once generous palm trees now bear only a few scattered dates.

In the distance, a kneeling woman draws our attention. She intones excerpts from Saharan songs, deep laments on the difficulty of living in this inhospitable climate. Her voice, imbued with sadness and affected by the ravages of climate change, sounds like a melody of sorrow, yet preserving the pain of her wounds, as our guide explains: “This woman shares the story of her oasis, which was once her paradise. Today, she expresses her suffering by searching for water and harvesting the meagre crops from her palm trees, lamenting the emptiness that has settled over the years in the oasis, a consequence of the persistent drought and desertification induced by climate change”, he explains.

He adds, “She thus mourns her neighbors and relatives who migrated in search of dignified living conditions, ensuring a better future for their children”. “She claims that the oasis was once a crown above their heads, but today it’s dead, just as she is too”.

This woman’s words reveal the grief of a community whose foundations are crumbling under the devastating effects of climate change, and put us in a context very close to one rarely seen.

This tragedy places Saharan women on the front line of the devastating effects of climate change: drought, desertification, scarcity of water resources, heralding an imminent food crisis.

The harsh reality of life was palpable on the women’s faces. Some, silent out of modesty, respected the traditions of decency prevalent in the Zagora region, where men and women often remain separated.

Latifa Alaoui, president of Women’s Association for Development and Cooperation, Zagora. Photo credit: ENASS

We arrive at the association where Latifa Alaoui, a remarkable and courageous woman, is president. At the entrance, women begin to arrive. This space is not just an association for them, it’s a second home, a therapy, a place for listening, sharing, learning and solidarity.

“They’re not just beneficiaries, but my second family. Here, we share everything, talk about the sufferings of oasis women, share our joys and sorrows”, asserts Latifa.

From the very first words of our conversation with Latifa, the pain in her voice reflects the marginalization of the population in this region of Morocco, with women the hardest hit.

“The drought has hit the oases hard. In the past, our women offered their children a wonderful life thanks to the riches of our region, but this is no longer the case”, she relates.

She explains that in recent years, we’ve seen a double suffering. The women have reached a point where they can no longer provide for their children’s basic needs. As for the men, they’ve reached a dead end, because without agriculture – the only possible profession here – they’ve had no work and no prospects since they were born.

She adds: “With no water resources for agriculture, we barely have enough to drink to survive. The lake is no longer viable, and successive years of drought have exacerbated the situation. The dam, in the first place, is the main cause of the disappearance of the oases. The oases have perished, and with them, our existence has been profoundly altered. We’ve been through enormous crises, and this is the worst of them”.

“In the past, our women offered their children a wonderful life thanks to the riches of our region, but this is no longer the case”.

Latifa Alaoui, president of Women’s Association for Development and Cooperation.

Talking with Latifa, a powerful voice resounds in one of the association’s rooms, that of an old woman wearing a black Sahrawi hayek.

“Here, we no longer have the means to live. The oasis was our only reason for living, our paradise. Our children have left to seek better living conditions, but we can’t. This is our land, our home. It’s our land, our home, where we belong, where we can breathe. But we are impoverished”, she explains in a tone both strong and broken, chatting with her colleagues.

Approaching to listen to their suffering, Zahra, a woman in her thirties, volunteers: “Before, we worked in the fields, from our oases we raised our children, bought what we needed, we even afforded gold jewelry. But in the last four or five years, we’ve had nothing, no production, no work”.

“Women are marginalized to a level you couldn’t imagine. Before, we used to work in the fields, as we say in our language: the woman worked all the time, from one autumn to the next. Now, we spend our days at home”, she recounts.

“The drought has destroyed us. We used to live very well thanks to our palm trees, but that’s no longer the case. We want projects to help women find other sources of income to survive. We want help from the authorities so that we are no longer marginalized. We don’t want to leave, this is where we belong”, she concludes our conversation.

Strong words, from oasis women known for their courage, strength and seriousness, women who do most of the work in these oases, and who are now the hardest hit in this already marginalized region, which is indeed suffering from climate change.

As Latifa, and many of the women we met, pointed out, the strength and solidarity of the region’s women remain deeply rooted. Latifa herself has been the victim of multiple repressions because of her activism. When we arrived, the association was plunged into darkness because the electricity had been cut off. She also explained that they had been deprived for years of the financial support to which her association should have been entitled.

“We’ve been marginalized, impoverished, but my fight will go on until the day these women have their voice. I will never close my doors to them. I often gather them here around a glass of tea, where we listen to each other and share our joys and sorrows. It’s also a form of resilience”, she relates, before continuing: “The women of this region are confronted with all kinds of violence, be it social, marital or otherwise. My activism aims to help them change that. We don’t ask for much, we just want to be seen, helped with projects adapted to our region”, she explains, her eyes brimming with tears.

Women are marginalized to a level you couldn’t imagine. Before, we used to work in the fields. Now, we spend our days at home”.

Latifa Alaoui, president of Women’s Association for Development and Cooperation.

When we ask this activist what the oasis means to her, her tears flow before she replies: “The oasis is our mother, it is love, resilience. I love her deeply and I’ll never leave her. It’s heartbreaking to see her like this, but I have faith in God that we will see rain and that our beloved oasis will be reborn, just like our lives”.

As we leave Tamgroute, our footsteps echo over the dry soil and dry oases, but our spirits carry the vibrant hope that “Leghzla Zagora”, as they call it, will rise from its challenges like a phoenix in the desert. These women, the intrepid guardians of this oasis, deserve to see the unique love that binds them to this resilient land blossom. Under the glow of a large moon, we make our departure from this region bearing witness to the impact of climate change on women, a fate shared in many other regions of Morocco…

This article was published in French on ENASS

  • Read the article in French on the link