Illiterate Women's Political Participation: A Case Study of Morocco's Soulaliyates

Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Francis Adams

Committee Member

Jennifer Fish

Committee Member

Frances Hassencahl


The majority of the illiterate people in the world are women. The role of illiterates in society is complex and largely defined by agents other than the illiterates themselves. My dissertation focuses in part on the (non)existence of illiterate women in the literature that considers women's political capacity. Historically where developing states have achieved extensive advances in literacy, an increase in political participation has also occurred. In Morocco there is expansion of participation without advances in literacy. If literacy is not necessary to empower women as assumed, how does the traditional focus of foreign aid and development regimes on literacy programs miss the mark in terms of the role that illiterate women play in political transition?

The media, the state and society define the role of illiterates. My research proposes an alternative role for illiterates in Moroccan society than the role allotted to them in the scholarly literature through the case study of the Soulaliyates women and their struggle to claim their rights to communal land. My research enhances the understanding of women's political participation as a part of political change and challenges assumptions about literacy as the trigger of development. My ultimate findings will contribute to a model for understanding the role of literacy and democratic transition across the developing world.


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