Thanks to years and years of activism and various people championing women’s rights, things like domestic violence and sexual assault against women now come with steep consequences. For the Moor women of Mauritania, however, it is a different story entirely.
Age-old practices which were losing their hold in an age where women’s rights have been touted as human rights are coming back around in some areas in Africa and the Moors of Mauritania have two good examples of such practices.
Among the Moor women of Mauritania domestic violence is seen as an act of love
Wife-beating is a source of pride for some of the Moor women. It is such a heeled tradition that mothers encourage their daughters to be married in families with a history of violence against women. One particular story which brought the situation to light was reported by Cyprus Mail. In it, Salimata, a 19-year-old Mauritanian woman narrates how her mother encouraged her to find a violent husband, saying that it is a sign of love;
“You’re a daughter of a woman whose husband broke her hands. Your grandmother’s legs were fractured by her husband. You must be loved,”
Salimata goes ahead to discuss how she then taught herself to see her husband’s cruelty as a sign of love for her;
“I felt like an animal that had to be disciplined. As time passed, I came to believe that my husband beats me only when he is at the peak of his love for me.”
Most of the Moor women have experiences like this so much so that it is considered a part of the community’s tradition. The women will trade stories about beatings with one another to brag about their husband’s love for them.
The physical abuses suffered by the Moor women often leaves them with life-long scars and deformities a fact that is made worse when one considers that child marriage is not expressly prohibited under Mauritanian law.
Violence against women is actually prohibited under Mauritanian law but prosecutions are few and far between because most women choose to drop charges for fear of getting divorced. An official from the ministry of justice, Hamouda Ramdhane, says that the ministry is working on a new law that will help to block withdrawal of complaints against violent husbands.
Young Moor Women are also Being Fattened up in Preparation for Marriage
The wife-beating is not the only harmful practice of the Moors that is being exposed to the public light. Mauritanian tradition also favors women that are big. Fat is seen as the height of sexiness, a preference that dates back centuries and is steeped in a belief that a big wife is a symbol of a man’s wealth; ample proof that he is able to feed her very well while others perished in the drought-prone terrain.
To feed this preference, Moor women are still being subjected to force-feeding. The practice was initially outlawed in 2003 with the government of the time beginning a campaign to fight child abuse and raise awareness of the health risks of obesity.
A 2007 attack that resulted in the death of four French vacationers, however, slowed down tourism and foreign investment and in August 2008, a military coup removed the democratic government and installed a junta that favored “a return to tradition.”
The return to tradition started up the practice of force-feeding once again and young Moor women began to be subjected to the old practice that sometimes saw them being brutally force-fed a diet of up to 16,000 calories a day to prepare them for marriage.
Of course, the practice of force-feeding is linked to another odious and more common tradition; child marriage. By increasing a girl’s size, an illusion of maturity is created.
Some progress is being made in confronting these terrible traditions like the new law mentioned above which Ramdhane hopes will help to protect the public interest and punish anyone who is involved in covering up crimes against women. There is also the tentative success of Nouakchott’s first women-only gym and the work of doctors and health care professionals in the area raising awareness on the dangers of force-feeding.