Solar Energy in MauritaniaSunlight is one of Africa’s vastest resources, and that isn’t any different in the small country of Mauritania. Home to over 4.5 million people, the West African country averages only seven days of rainfall each yearMoreover, in Mauritania, there is limited access to electricity, with only around 1.5 million people having this privilege, leaving more than two-thirds of the country without a reliable source of power. To address this issue and harness the abundant sunlight, several successful projects focused on solar energy have been proposed and implemented.

Klima Solar Power Project

Klima is a Germany-based mobile app that allows users to monitor and manage their own climate footprint. The app allows users to make donations to support international efforts aiming to offset humans’ environmental impact on the Earth.  The app highlighted various efforts, including a successful solar farm project in Mauritania announced in July 2020. Covering an area of 600,000 square meters, this solar farm now supplies 15% of the country’s energy requirements. Klima’s statement revealed that more than 100,000 individuals now have access to electricity due to this solar farm, a significant improvement for those who were previously without power. This achievement is particularly notable given that many in the country lack access to electricity. Although the company hasn’t released an official update on the solar farm since its initial announcement, it has continued to raise money for it through blog posts, earning the title of “energy project to watch.”

Toujounine Solar Plant

The Toujounine project was the first major low-carbon-power project to use solar energy in MauritaniaCompleted in 2017 and sponsored by Solemec, Mauritania’s national electric company, the project is an impressive $53 million solar farm boasting 53,000 solar panels. Aera, a French company supporting carbon footprint-lowering projects, stated in an archived release that the plant effectively offsets 57,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annually – equivalent to the emissions from burning more than 6.4 million gallons of gasoline. By harnessing solar power instead of non-renewable energy sources, Mauritania can potentially experience improved air and water quality, leading to longer life expectancies and enhanced overall health. Ongoing success is evident, as a 2022 research paper validates the plant’s performance across various weather conditions.

Looking to the Future 

While Mauritania has not outlined significant solar energy plans, the nation is actively pursuing other forms of renewable energy. Project AMAN, among the largest green energy initiatives in Africa, is focused on harnessing green hydrogen as a renewable energy source. Additionally, the Boulenouar Wind Farm, considerably larger than the nation’s previous largest wind farm, is in line to become Mauritania’s largest wind farm.

The potential of solar energy in Mauritania extends to enhancing the lives of impoverished communities by providing electricity access to those previously without it. This move not only addresses the energy gap but also improves raw material quality by curbing the use of pollutants. Mauritania’s continued investment in renewable energy signifies a crucial stride toward both citizen well-being and planetary health.

– Aidan Johnstone
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Mauritania According to Georgetown’s 2021-2022 Women, Peace and Security Index, Mauritania is the 14th worst country for women to live in. Lying below the southern border of Morocco in the northwest of Africa, Mauritania is deeply conservative and one of the poorest nations on earth. Currently, 56.9% of its residents live in multi-dimensional poverty. The country’s laws designate men as the head of households, structurally relegating women to domestic roles and leaving them with limited opportunities to improve their economic situation. Sharia law and cultural influences have entrenched gender-based discrimination in Mauritania. Nevertheless, there is hope, as the treatment of women has seen some gradual improvements. 

Combatting Sexual and Physical Violence Against Women

Mauritania alarmingly accepts sexual and physical violence against women both socially and institutionally. The country’s governance by Sharia law leads to severe punishment for “Zina,” or sex outside of marriage. The high burden of evidence required to prove rape makes women hesitant to report their assaults, fearing legal punishment for engaging in intercourse if the state fails to prosecute the attacker. Consequently, only about 20% of rape cases are reported, as per the findings of the Social Welfare Ministry. Besides the moral implications of widespread rape, the trauma of sexual assault significantly hinders women’s independence and economic well-being in the long run.

Moreover, Mauritania often tolerates domestic violence without prosecution, and this contributes to perpetuating poverty. A study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed that a mere 1% increase in female victimhood from domestic violence corresponds to a 9% drop in economic activity. Although legislation urgently addresses these injustices, progress has been slow. Despite activists’ efforts leading to the government passing the Law Against Violence Against Women and Girls, it was never certified by parliament. In the meantime, NGOs like the “Association of Women Heads of Households” (AFCF), founded by women’s rights activist Aminetou Mint El-Moctar in 1999, provide crucial support to women by intervening in cases of sexual assault and assisting them in pressing charges.

Creating Economic Opportunities for Women

Addressing gender disparities in economic opportunities is essential for empowering Mauritanian women. The country’s rank as sixth worst in the world, according to the Women’s Workplace Equality Index, underscores the urgent need for action. Several potent barriers to economic equality exist, including differences in wages, limitations on land rights, restricted opportunities for specific jobs, social stigma and the absence of legal authority to be heads of households.

Although some laws exist to address these issues, the government often has limited control over local rule. Consequently, the female labor participation rate was a mere 26% in 2022 compared to 57% for men. Women who do have jobs often occupy informal domestic positions without formal arrangements and social protections, making them highly vulnerable to falling into poverty. Unfortunately, up to 20% of the population remains enslaved.

In recent years, the government has taken steps to address these issues, such as promoting female political representation, expanding job opportunities, investing in education and cracking down on slavery. A national multi-party platform involving local authorities and NGOs was established to help enforce federal laws, particularly concerning land rights. However, external observers, including the World Bank, argue that Mauritania must focus on achieving legal gender equality through comprehensive systemic reforms.

Confronting Forced Child Marriage

Gender inequality in marriage is another significant concern in Mauritania, with 37% of girls going into marriage before their 18th birthday. Some communities even resort to force-feeding girls to make them appear more sexually mature at a younger age. Early and forced marriages seriously undermine women’s rights and economic potential in Mauritania. While cultural norms play a critical role in perpetuating this practice, poverty also motivates women to marry early.

The Mauritanian government has pledged to end forced child marriage within the next decade, collaborating with UNICEF to enact legislative and judicial reforms and conduct education campaigns against the practice. For instance, UNICEF worked with local imams to create religious arguments supporting children’s rights.

Additionally, the government has implemented programs like the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) to empower girls to stay in school, as pregnancy is a significant barrier to girls’ education prospects in Mauritania. Nevertheless, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, insist that there is a need for legislation establishing a minimum age for marriage in line with international standards and giving women the legal right to refuse marriage. Moreover, despite being technically illegal in Mauritania, child marriage remains permissible with parental and judicial consent.


Despite the challenges Mauritania faces regarding gender inequality, there is hope for positive change. Activists and NGOs like AFCF provide support to women facing violence and discrimination, while the government has taken steps to promote female political representation and expand job opportunities. Collaborating with UNICEF, Mauritania aims to end forced child marriage and empower girls to stay in school through programs like SWEDD. Although progress may be gradual, these efforts signal a growing commitment to improving the lives and economic prospects of Mauritanian women.

– David Newman
Photo: Flickr

Children in Mauritania
Mauritania is a largely agricultural and pastoral country in the North-Western Saharan desert. As of 2020, only 47.3% of people had access to electricity. In 2021, around 15% of women were first married at 15, and in 2019, 156,142 children of primary school age were out of school. The country’s increasing poverty affects women and children in Mauritania. Here are five organizations seeking to aid women and children in Mauritania.

5 Organizations Helping Women and Children in Mauritania

  1. Association of Female Heads of Households (AFCF): This organization advances women’s and children’s rights in Mauritania by focusing on reform laws and preventive policies. Together with the Women’s Learning Partnership, it is able to help all people by passing effective legislation. AFCF focuses on campaigning for reform laws that prevent trafficking, violence, abuse and slavery, which predominantly affect women and children. AFCF had a huge success in its campaign to implement gender quotas in the Mauritanian parliament. AFCF’s programs directly supported the “election of 99 women including 6 women mayors, a female head of the Urban Community of Nouakchott and dozens of women ministers.” There is a growing amount of slavery prevention groups in West Africa that the organization has been able to support.
  2. United Nations Population Fund Mauritania (UNFPA): UNFPA helps women and children in Mauritania by increasing reproductive health access and initiatives. The programs UNFA supports promote gender equality and the organization has also aided in developing national plans for reproductive health and maternal mortality. UNFPA has been able to increase Mauritania’s ability to address health concerns such as HIV prevention. UNFPA protected 1,000 girls from genital mutilation. The organization trained 229 personnel in clinical rape treatments and created 16 obstetric facilities that have emergency care.
  3. Mauritanian Council for Business Women: This organization advances women’s economic mobility. It encourages participation in the business and finance sectors. It gives women business owners the opportunity to present themselves at regional and local exhibitions. Its goal is to promote further gender equality by encouraging female entrepreneurship. The organization also conducts campaigns for equality politically. By encouraging stronger relations for women in business and by giving women a platform to expand their businesses, women and children in Mauritania receive greater opportunities and are less likely to experience the inequalities both groups may face.
  4. MindLeaps: This is a unique organization that hosts dance classes in schools in Mauritania. It has trained psychologists to address students’ diverse set of needs. In 2017, MindLeaps ran a three-month program of dance classes for 117 street children and juvenile offenders in the capital city of Nouakchott. Since then, it has expanded to other towns and cities in Mauritania. It estimates that around 70% of its students end up being in the top 20% of their educational classes. The time spent in these dance classes builds social and emotional skills necessary for children to develop. The organization tracks each student individually and helps to foster stronger skills. MindLeaps has a 0% dropout rate and prides itself on the strong community building it promotes and its educational pursuits.
  5. Youth and Hope: Houleye Thiam founded Youth and Hope in 2011 in response to the lack of organization and funding in rural Mauritanian schools. It focuses primarily on populations of schools that include black Mauritanians, who are sometimes former refugees who have come back to their homeland. As of 2021, it serves repatriated villages. Its four target villages include Goural, Gawdal, Dolly and Houdalaye. Its goal is to make sure every student in the target villages has enough supplies to study five or more subjects. It has also committed to delivering supplies at least twice a year. The nonprofit acts largely on donations. Improving education efforts can largely improve the situation for the future women and children of Mauritania, as it promotes greater mobility in Mauritania.

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges that women and children in Mauritania have faced, these five organizations are making a difference. As aid organizations continue their work in Mauritania, it is likely that quality of life will improve for all.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Technology Developments in Mauritania
Mauritania is a country in North West Africa that sits in the Sahara desert. It has one of the smallest populations in West Africa but it is one of the largest countries. Mauritania’s economy is largely agricultural, with scattered settlements of people throughout the desert. According to the latest official estimates from 2014, 31% of the population lived under the poverty line. The World Bank says income and employment losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced 48,000 people in Mauritania into conditions of extreme poverty. Education and technology developments in Mauritania will help stimulate the economy and alleviate systemic poverty.

Education in Mauritania

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has tried to increase its standards and practices of education in the country, and following COVID-19, technological advancements came inevitably. In terms of access to education, USAID notes the primary school net enrolment rate as 76.86% in 2019, but for upper secondary schools, this rate stood at just 38.87%. The average Mauritanian is expected to receive just seven years of education from birth to the age of 18. Fortunately, the youth literacy rate stood at 76.49% in 2021, a number that international organizations and the Mauritanian government would like to increase.

The World Bank explains that poor education in Mauritania has a direct adverse impact on the economy and that efforts to improve education are necessary. Education and technology developments in Mauritania could strengthen human capital.

The Support of Grants

In March 2020, UNICEF Mauritania received a grant from the Global Partnership of Education to the value of $70,000 to assist the Ministry of Education in developing a strategy to address the impacts of the pandemic on children’s education. Between 2020 and 2022, the Islamic Development Bank gave Mauritania $3.5 million in grants to strengthen the education sector amid the pandemic.

The grants went toward ensuring the continuation of education through distance learning, for example, through radio and TV broadcasts and digital learning platforms. Funding also went toward establishing “remedial and accelerated learning programs” to address learning losses arising from school closures.

The introduction of digital technology into education systems also formed an imperative part of reforms. The grants also funded awareness campaigns to “address the barriers that stop children from going to school” and give more attention to vulnerable impoverished children. Teachers also received training in psychosocial support, with an emphasis on supporting girls.

Developments in Technology

More than 40% of the people in Mauritania live in rural areas, which are often remote with little access to infrastructure. In 2017, only 21% of Mauritanians utilized the internet, rendering much of the population inactive on the internet. Increasing internet and digital education is a large part of the country’s national development plan going forward.

The High-Level Digital Council (HCN) and the Ministry of Digital Transition, Innovation and Public Sector Modernisation (MNTIMA) look toward “digital transformation” solutions to strengthen “regulation, infrastructure, e-government, digital business, sectoral transformation and human capital.”

The West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (WARCIP) has delivered new programs and launched initiatives as well. WARCIP has put down 1,700 km of fiber optic cable to provide internet connectivity and access in previously inaccessible areas of Mauritania since 2012 when the project began.

These broadband networks are working to lower the cost of communication in Mauritania. WARCIP recognizes Mauritania’s geographical potential to be a center of economic activity and hopes to expand the growth of information and communications technology to spur economic growth and job creation.

Education and technology developments in Mauritania play a large role in economic growth and communications advancement. These areas suffered during COVID-19 but have seen an uptick in funding that must continue in order for the country to thrive.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Mauritania
The U.S. Department of State has ranked Mauritania on the Tier 2 Watch List, indicating that it needs to do much more when it comes to tackling human trafficking. The Tier 2 Watch List reflects countries that have made strides to stop human trafficking but do not comply with all of the established minimum prevention criteria. Here is some information about human trafficking in Mauritania.

About Human Trafficking in Mauritania

Slavery and child labor have been part of Mauritania’s long history. Mauritania did not abolish the practice until 1981, and it was only two decades later before it became a criminal offense. This is the root cause of human trafficking in the region.

Indeed, many often refer to Mauritania as one of the last strongholds of slavery. Estimates point to approximately 20% of the 3.4 million Mauritanians living in some form of enslavement; women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

Many factors complicate the issue of slavery and bondage in Mauritania. Like many other religions, Islam does not condemn slavery and recognizes it as an institution. The Maliki School of Islamic Law was famous in Mauritania before the 19th century. After the holy wars, labor was necessary to boost the economy and Muslims used Maliki law to justify the enslavement of black Africans.

Human trafficking in Mauritania has deep roots. Slavery and the trafficking of children operate quietly in the nomadic and pastoral settlements of the country. People often pass slaves down through family ties and generations. There are no chains and few large transactions that one can track in Mauritania. The government has also allowed a system of forced labor to exist.


Mauritania’s government implemented the Law of Associations, which gives NGOs more room to investigate issues, establish a permanent committee on trafficking and increase fundraising for the anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP). The law has anti-trafficking organizations’ investigations involving three hereditary slavery instances in the country. According to the U.S. Department of State’s data, authorities arrested 14 traffickers and prosecuted five traffickers since 2020. As a member of the G5 Sahel (countries that cooperate with counterterrorism efforts), Mauritania has been willing to comply but large improvements on behalf of the Law on Associations have not undergone fulfillment.

Although the government showed some commitment to the cause, it has yet to develop strong enough institutions to prosecute traffickers effectively — to which the severe impacts of COVID-19 did not help to strengthen their anti-slavery institutions. Human trafficking in Mauritania can disappear, but only if the country takes more effective measures.

Room for Improvement

The U.S. Department of State has suggested that Mauritania increase efforts to prosecute cases of human trafficking and hereditary slavery; which would include directing law enforcement to investigate instances of trafficking and slavery fully. There should also be an institution in place to help victims of human rights violations such as human trafficking in the Sahel.

A glimpse into the marginalized groups in Mauritania provides a sense of optimism for a better future. Biram Dah Abeid is an abolitionist in Mauritania who authorities previously arrested for fighting against the country’s deeply rooted slave tradition and recently became a member of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations to truly improve their human rights initiative. He founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, which actively sought to empower people in Mauritania to protest slavery in a non-violent manner. The non-violent tactics include sit-ins, publicizing the issue and assisting victims. The Netherlands presented him with the Human Rights Tulip Award in recognition of his work.

Human trafficking and slavery have significant roots in the nation’s history, but the government has made some efforts to combat the issue. More work is essential to improve the safety and security of marginalized groups in Mauritania.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Mauritania
Two horizontal stripes of red sandwich a large swath of green. Over the green is a five-pointed yellow star, centered above an upward-pointing yellow crescent moon. Mauritania’s flag is not just beautiful, it is also symbolic. The green, in particular, symbolizes hope. However, not all Mauritanians have hope. Child marriage in Mauritania diminishes hope for around 37% of Mauritanian girls. The country’s legal age for marriage is 18, but lax enforcement undermines the law, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Facts about Child Marriage in Mauritania

International human rights groups, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have advocated for measures to prohibit child marriage. The practice correlates with some adverse outcomes and creates a cycle of effects that often mirror those outcomes. Some of these are:

  • Lack of Education – Child marriage consistently correlates to a lack of education. Getting an education becomes even more difficult after marriage. When girls must manage a household and raise children, they have little time for school. The opportunities that an education provides, including the chance for financial independence, dwindle. Beyond that, the problem is cyclical: Research shows that interrupting a child’s education may have a negative educational impact on the next generation.
  • Poverty – The poorest Mauritanian girls are almost twice as likely to marry before age 18 than their wealthier peers. Because married children are also likely to have financial prospects hindered by incomplete education, child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
  • Less Autonomy and Agency – According to an article published in J Women Polit Policy, in Mauritania, more than 50% of married girls have spouses that are a decade older. Research shows that this age gap, along with the educational disparities, results in less autonomy for the girls. This power imbalance typically persists throughout the union.
  • Psychological Distress and Isolation – These married girls leave familiar surroundings to live many miles away from friends and family. Alone and away from the familiar, they find themselves without a support system when they most need it.

Efforts to Address Child Marriage in Mauritania

Change takes time, but Mauritania has taken some steps to address the issue. Mauritania’s 2001 law making marriage under 18 illegal is not a solution on its own, but it is a first step that acknowledges the inherent problems with the practice. But guardians can circumvent the law by granting permission for a child under 18 to marry. The child must also agree, but his or her silence is considered consent. By eliminating this exception, the government would show an even greater commitment to ending child marriage in Mauritania.

Mauritania is one of several countries that has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, which aligns with target 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. According to Girls Not Brides, the country demonstrated this commitment by addressing its progress in the 2019 Voluntary National Review, a government report delivered during a political forum. Mauritania has implemented the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD). SWEDD aims to keep girls in school, recognizing that lack of education is a key correlate to child marriage. It also aspires to stigmatize child marriage through education.

Some may question the impact of these seemingly symbolic steps, but a research study submitted to the Ford Foundation found that “the failure to view early marriage as a problem is chiefly what accounts for the persistence of this harmful traditional practice.” As Mauritanians like to say, “A hen cannot lay eggs and hatch them on the same day.” With each signed agreement, each law and each international commitment, Mauritania is that much closer to stigmatizing and ending child marriage.

– Vickie Melograno
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Child Poverty in Mauritania
Mauritania in coastal west Africa is among the most impoverished countries in the world, with 31% of its 4 million people, or around 1.2 million people, living beneath the poverty line as of 2014. Consequently, child poverty in Mauritania is likely to be one of the gravest situations in the world, even though reliable data regarding child poverty is scarce due to the fact that 56% of births in Mauritania do not have legal documentation.

The Background

Despite the abundance of natural resources present in the lands and waters of Mauritania, decades of political and social instability coupled with corruption, oppression and a centuries-long history of ethnicity-based enslavement have created conditions that continually exacerbate child poverty and poverty in general. Other factors such as frequent droughts in and around the Sahara Desert in Northeastern Mauritania also deprive people of food and income to feed themselves or their children. Accordingly, one reliable indicator of the severity of child poverty in Mauritania is the fact that an estimated 19.2% of children under the age of 5 were underweight in 2018.

Child Poverty and Slavery in Mauritania

Poverty and slavery in Mauritania interconnect. Though Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 and criminalized it in 2007, the persistence of the oppressive ethnic caste system continues to deprive the Haratine population, an ethnic minority in Mauritania, of receiving the social and economic freedoms that the rest of the country receives. As a result, 20% of Mauritania’s total population––and half of all Haratines–– remain enslaved, either explicitly through the threat of punishment or de facto due to socioeconomic discrimination and indentured servitude in 2018.

People inherited and often still inherit slave status in Mauritanian society. As a result, many children are born into slavery to serve the slave masters of their parents or the masters sell them to other families where they often suffer neglect and injury. This continuing cultural practice of hereditary slavery perpetuates a self-sustaining cycle of poverty in the Haratine population of Mauritania. This is one of the ways by which child poverty in Mauritania manifests itself––and by which the practice of slavery continues to maintain itself.


As slaves, children do not receive an education that could provide them with valuable knowledge and skills to improve their living situation. As a result, the threat of living in near-certain poverty if they were to leave their master’s household traps children with their masters. With few viable alternatives to make enough money to live, “former [child] slaves (commonly descendants of slaves) continue to endure slave-like practices, including working for their former masters in exchange for food, money, and lodging” according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

In 2014, estimates determined that 18.2% of children in Mauritania, ages 5 to 14 years old, were working and not receiving an education. An additional 10.8% of children in the same age group were reportedly splitting their time between work and school. Furthermore, UNICEF estimates that the primary school completion rate in Mauritania is 63% indicating that more than one-third of children in Mauritania do not receive a sufficient education.


One promising solution that focuses on reinvesting in childhood development in order to break the poverty cycle is providing direct transfer payments to people––primarily mothers–– in impoverished villages on the condition that they attend classes on hygiene, nutrition and early childhood development. This program is jointly funded by the Mauritanian government, the World Bank, the U.K. Department for International Development and the French Agency for Development. Households receiving the payments have seen their families’ and their village’s living conditions improve as they take more care to prevent disease and malnutrition. One of the main objectives of the program is “to invest in the next generation and break the poverty cycle by tackling intergenerational poverty.”

Though Mauritania is currently one of the most impoverished nations in the world, its young population and abundance of natural resources should help the country achieve long-term prosperity.

– Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

Anti-slavery Efforts in Mauritania
Mauritania, described in a CNN documentary as “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” was the last country in the world to formally abolish slavery. Arrests for protesting slavery and lax punitive practices have shown Mauritania’s long list of subsequent anti-slavery legislation to be merely lip service. Still, recent attention and a growing frequency of successful prosecutions hint at incremental progress and intersectional anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania.

The Situation

Since outlawing slavery in 1981, Mauritanian officials have publicly denied any presence of the practice in their borders. In spite of these claims, data that independent observers collected shows that slavery is still prevalent: the Global Slavery Index (G.S.I.) estimates that 90,000 Mauritanians live in modern slavery, a figure likely lower than reality because the government obstructs all efforts to study the practice.

Mauritania ranks sixth on the G.S.I’s Prevalence Index, behind North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan. Other estimates, from local sources, claim that as much as 20% of the population lives in slavery.

Because the Mauritanian government has categorically denied the existence of slavery, efforts to measure or sanction the practice have made slow progress. Major sites like the Washington Post claim that there are no reliable statistics on how many people are enslaved due to government obstruction and cultural norms that make measurement difficult. In fact, Mauritania’s census does not count enslaved people. Slavery did not receive criminalization until 2015, and Mauritanian courts have largely neglected to prosecute individuals accused of enslavement.

SOS-Esclaves and Anti-Slavery International

Still, anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania have seen small victories of varying impact. SOS-Esclaves, joined by Anti-Slavery International, filed a successful lawsuit in 2016 that served two former slave masters a five-year prison sentence and forced them to pay significant compensation to two victims. They won a similar conviction in November 2019, but the defendants appealed their sentence and remain free. The most recent win came on July 9, 2020, when courts served two former slave masters 10 and 15-year sentences and ordered the state to assist them in attaining citizenship. Because a lack of citizenship is one of the greatest obstacles to former slaves’ self-sufficiency, NGOs have touted this latest ruling as a significant victory.

The increasing frequency of these legal wins suggests incremental but steady progress in anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania. Other wins highlight the intersectionality of the issue. Alongside the first two successful convictions in 2016, successful appeals downgraded the charges of two anti-slavery activists who peacefully protested slavery, allowing them to walk free. According to the think tank Freedom House, convictions like these are common obstructive tactics that the government uses. Mauritanian courts frequently convict individuals for activism and inhibit a free press: “journalists risk arrest for reporting on sensitive topics,” and the government “continues to arrest antislavery and antidiscrimination activists.”

The Challenges

Non-governmental organizations’ efforts to stop slavery are beholden to a political system that actively opposes their cause. In turn, Mauritania’s government has resisted international pressure to reform. In January 2019, the United States terminated its trade agreement with Mauritania, citing forced labor practices and government retaliation against peaceful activism.

Further, the Sahara Desert covers 90% of Mauritania’s territory, making only 0.2% of Mauritanian land farmable. In Mauritania’s southern deserts, slavery and poverty deeply intertwine. Masters allow many enslaved families to live and farm on their own but the families have to give up a portion of their harvest each time their masters visit. When people manage to escape, they often gather in desert villages called adwaba where food and water are scarce, and conditions of poverty mirror those of their previous lives. The region’s harsh climate and lack of resources make it extremely difficult to flee abuse or find better circumstances.

Anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania are also battling against ingrained racial distinctions. A majority of slaves are the descendants of dark-skinned people who lighter-skinned Arab Berbers captured centuries before. In interviews, slaves claim that they lack representation in a government filled with lighter-skinned Mauritanians.

Ways to Abolish Slavery in Mauritania

Slavery in Mauritania deeply ties to the country’s cultural, political and geographic roots. The makers of “Slavery’s Last Stronghold” argue that substantively abolishing slavery in Mauritania means addressing the deep poverty that many dark-skinned Mauritanians face. In one interview they conducted, a former slave who had suffered beating and rape by her master nonetheless described him as a benevolent relative because “he also made sure she was fed in a country where many die of hunger.”

The approach that they and local anti-slavery organizations advocate addresses not only slavery but also the issues at its roots: poverty, famine, lack of citizenship or legal rights, obstructions of justice and persecution of activists. Further, slavery rests at the intersection of race, gender, poverty and geography in Mauritania. Successfully prosecuting slave masters brings about slow and incremental progress that inconsistent rulings, which the African Union Court condemned in 2018, still undermine. Anti-slavery efforts in Mauritania encompass improvements in criminalization, but they also extend the other areas mentioned. All they are missing is unity and resources.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Leblouh in MauritaniaThe Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a West African nation with a population of more than 4 million people. The country is a “deeply patriarchal society” in which women and girls are taught that they are inferior to men and must please men in order to have a fulfilling life. One manifestation of this culture is the standard of beauty for women, which emphasizes obesity as a sign of wealth, status and desirability. The importance of achieving this beauty standard has resulted in the practice of leblouh, or the force-feeding of girls as young as five until they become obese. The practice of leblouh in Mauritania has serious health effects, but women are fighting against it. Here are five facts about leblouh in Mauritania.

5 Facts About Leblouh in Mauritania

  1. Force-feeding is a relatively common phenomenon: Nearly one out of five women in Mauritania have been force-fed. Leblouh is much more prevalent in rural areas, where traditions and customs are practiced more strictly. A 2007 study found that 75% of rural women had experienced leblouh in Mauritania. At the same time, less than 10% of women and girls in cities and urban areas had experienced force-feeding.
  2. Leblouh has severe consequences on the health and safety of women. During two months at a feeding camp, girls must consume up to 16,000 calories of meat, milk, grains and oils per day. Refusal to eat often results in physical repercussions. Of women in these camps, 60% reported physical punishments like beating. More than a quarter had their fingers broken as punishment. However, the health effects of obesity are a punishment on their own. Overweight women risk conditions like cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea. They also often face harmful psychological effects as well as a short life expectancy. Additionally, obesity puts women at risk for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  3. The Mauritanian government is working to combat obesity. It started a media campaign encouraging weight loss and healthier living habits in 2003. Doctors and experts throughout the country supported the campaign, which emphasized the health effects of obesity. However, the lack of media access in rural areas made it hard to communicate these messages to rural communities, where leblouh is more common. Only one-quarter of Mauritanian women watch TV. Additionally, just 27% of women listen to the radio on a weekly basis, and 11% read newspapers. This made it difficult for the government’s campaign to reach its intended audience.
  4. Women-only gyms have opened to encourage weight loss and healthier living habits among Mauritanian women. The first women-only gym opened in the capital city of Nouakchott. As of 2011, it had 300 members. Women joined the gym for various reasons, including doctors’ orders, self-image and the infiltration of Western culture and its emphasis on thinness.
  5. Women-led NGOs have been founded to fight against the practice of leblouh and advocate for women’s empowerment throughout Mauritania. One such organization is Espoire. The leader of Espoire is Fatma Sidi Mohamed, who experienced force-feeding as a child. The organization aims to provide women with more opportunities to earn an income. Mohamed believes that if women can earn their own incomes, they will be less likely to pull their daughters out of school in order to “fatten them up for early marriage.” Espoire teaches women to read, provides classes on health and grants microcredit to women in Nouakchott. This all has the end goal of encouraging women to join the workforce and live healthier lives.

As these five facts about leblouh in Mauritania demonstrate, force-feeding is a widespread and serious issue. The cultural emphasis on obesity poses severe threats to women’s health and social wellbeing. However, this culture seems to be changing in favor of healthier lifestyles, especially in cities.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in mauritaniaThe Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a vast desert country with a significant nomadic population. These facets of Mauritania’s geography present challenges for creating healthcare infrastructure. In particular, physical distance and large rural populations make distributing care a massive undertaking. Accordingly, there are only 0.19 practicing physicians per 1,000 people in Mauritania. Here are five facts about healthcare in Mauritania.

5 Facts About Healthcare in Mauritania

  1. A lack of proper infrastructure devastates public health in rural, vulnerable regions. Problems stemming from poor sanitation and a lack of clean water plague Mauritania. Many areas of Mauritania go completely without consistent water sources due to geographic barriers. Overall, the capital city of Nouakchott is the only region with adequate water supply and treatment. This lack of water leads to serious consequences for healthcare in Mauritania. According to the World Health Organization, 2,150 Mauritanians die from diarrheal disease per year. Ninety percent of these deaths are linked to a lack of sanitation and insufficient access to clean water. In addition, droughts and desertification are preventing rural populations from accessing water at all. This is yet another challenge to improving healthcare in Mauritania.
  2. Many political barriers inhibit attempts to improve healthcare in Mauritania. The country suffers from a shortage of doctors and treatment facilities in rural areas of the country. While there are potential avenues for funding expansion, the Mauritanian government tends to keep infrastructure projects centralized to the capital region. Although the capital is the largest city and presents the most promise for economic growth, this neglects rural citizens. For example, the national insurance program prioritizes a portion of the urban population, as it only covers government officials and those who are formally employed. Poverty-stricken people are further disadvantaged by the astronomical cost of healthcare without any insurance. Thankfully, groups like the Institute of Tropical Medicine are working to provide a concerted effort to expand healthcare in Mauritania.
  3. Mauritania struggles with reproductive and neonatal care. According to the World Bank, Mauritania has a birthrate of 4.62. Combined, the birthrate and lack of adequate neonatal care lead to high infant and maternal mortality. However, the International Development Association is dedicating $23 million to expanding the reach and quality of maternal, neonatal and reproductive healthcare in Mauritania. The initiative also aims to combat childhood malnutrition by investing in further healthcare and nutrition services for children. These efforts, part of the Mauritania Health System Support project, aspire to alleviate issues in healthcare beyond the capital city. This will provide much-needed relief to rural and refugee populations.
  4. International aid is going toward healthcare in Mauritania. The International Development Association of the World Bank is providing funds to help local governments build sanitation and water treatment infrastructure. These funds will address the gross centralization of public utilities and expand access to water and sanitation services into rural areas. With tools to manage public services provided through the Decentralization and Productive Intermediate Cities Support project, localities will have the means to create a substantive foundation for healthcare in Mauritania.
  5. The Institute of Tropical Medicine is also promoting healthcare in Mauritania. In her 2018 article for the Institute of Tropical Medicine, public health expert Kirsten Accoe details how the ITM intends to establish a local health system team in the country. This team would tackle healthcare on the district level in conjunction with centralized efforts to improve healthcare. The initiative aims to create sustained quality care by increasing the retention of healthcare workers in each district, which has previously been an issue due to lack of funding, equipment and trained personnel. ITM’s effort can therefore allow more to people get the relief they deserve.

Improving healthcare in Mauritania is certainly a complex task. But the government and aid organizations can come together to cultivate a coordinated effort to improve infrastructure, assist healthcare professionals at the district level and expand the reach of care. In doing so, they will begin to create an equitable healthcare system and provide all Mauritanians with the care they deserve.

Olivia Bielskis
Photo: Flickr