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Mauritanian activist talks about women as agents of change

Interview by Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 18/03/11

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For her work as an ardent rights activist, Aminetou Mint El Moctar has received numerous honorary certificates, including awards from the US State Department and French president.

Named one of 100 most influential people in the Muslim world in 2010, Mint El Moctar has campaigned for a law to stem the abuse of minors and advocated women's rights. Magharebia sat down with the Mauritanian activist in Nouakchott to discuss the major changes rocking the Arab world and women's place in these developments.

Magharebia: In light of the changes taking place in the Arab world and Maghreb countries, how do you see Maghreb women at present?

Aminetou Mint El Moctar: First, I wish to note that Maghreb women constitute the majority in their societies, or at least half of them. As such, they are an effective power in the area of political, social and economic development. Attempts to marginalise their role can only result in the backwardness of the state. No country can advance if half of its people are paralysed.

Women are also playing a key role in the upheavals taking place in Maghreb countries. In Tunisia, in specific, feminist movements played a major part even before the ousting of the Ben Ali regime. Women denounced his non-democratic practices that reinforced discrimination and alienation, especially the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD).

In Morocco, the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) played a visible role in changing the laws to be in favour of women and citizenship, such as developing the Personal Status Code, which inspired feminist associations in Mauritania, Tunisia and Algeria.

Magharebia: Don't you think Maghreb women should play a role to halt the violence that followed the on-going changes in the region?

Mint El Moctar: It is often said that freedom is triggered by oppression, the stifling of liberty, exploitation and poverty. No ruler, no matter how tyrannical or oppressive he is, can hold on to his position without listening to his nation, fairly assigning posts and designating wealth, offering care and attention to the various social strata in society and ending discrimination among races and classes.

The violence that is taking place in some Maghreb states or states nearby is only a reaction because citizens understand that owners of buildings, companies and corporations were taking advantage of the people. However, as women activists, we realise that we have a major role to play in bringing up the new generations and directing the furious powers in our country so they would start to build our future.

Magharebia: What are the main challenges facing Mauritanian women today?

Mint El Moctar: In Mauritania, we are still struggling to withdraw the reservations from the CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women], especially regarding articles on heritage, which denies women many of their entitlements. This is a problem where customs and traditions are still applied, in violation of what Islam stipulated in that regard. Islam has nothing to do with those practices.

We are still demanding that men's guardianship over adult women be lifted, so they would choose their own husbands, rather than be married off to men they do not accept. Another issue related to divorce is that a woman should have the right to divorce her husband, just like a husband can divorce his wife, based on the four Islamic Schools.

Also, among the major challenges facing women in Mauritania is their frequent inability to have access to justice in cases of rape, as judges often decide that women were responsible for that, if they were revealing clothes.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    siniya 2012-4-10

    Congratulations to our great activist for women’s and girls’ rights. Certainly, there is still much to be done to meet the challenges, and this is why we need to get women to agree on their roles, duties and rights so that they are largely involved on their part. As a young activist, I am inspired by her activism, dynamism and great love to guard the development of our country because we have seen whom it is developing for. We need to get rid of all of the evils in society and start with respect for human rights.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Sara 2011-4-15

    Women are often the victims of oppression and discrimination. Moreover, women cannot escape this oppression because they are unable to find jobs that pay well. While I think it is important to fight for these changes at the legal level, without the popular support of women, such campaigns will be difficult, if not impossible. We must remember that many women have been brainwashed their entire lives into thinking that they are less than men. Because of this, without demonstrating to these women the benefits of being equal to men, they will resist such campaigns. In order to remedy this, one of the best initiatives is to establish collectives where women can work. This work will grant women economic freedom so that if they are oppressed, they will be able to afford leaving the situation while still taking care of themselves and their own. Seeing the benefits of these women’s initiatives will then open these women’s minds to other initiatives. The collective becomes a forum for advancing and campaigning for women’s rights. I believe that Miss Moctar was absolutely right when she said, “Maghreb women constitute the majority in their societies, or at least half of them. As such, they are an effective power in the area of political, social and economic development. Attempts to marginalise their role can only result in the backwardness of the state. No country can advance if half of its people are paralysed.” The issue now is how to approach these women after they have fallen victim to this backwardness (i.e., brainwashing).