From the New York Times news section:
It is common for people in this West African desert nation to divorce many times. And when they do, the women celebrate.
By Ruth Maclean Photographs by Laura Boushnak
Reporting from Ouadane, an ancient desert city in Mauritania
June 4, 2023
… Divorce in many cultures is seen as shameful and carries a deep stigma. But in Mauritania, it is not just normal, but even seen as a reason to celebrate and spread the word that the woman is available once more for marriage. …
In this almost 100 percent Muslim country, divorce is frequent; many people have been through five to 10 marriages, and some as many as 20.
Some scholars say the country has the highest divorce rate in the world, though there is little reliable data from Mauritania, partly because divorce agreements there are often verbal, not documented.
Divorce in the country is so common, according to Nejwa El Kettab, a sociologist who studies women in Mauritanian society, partly because the majority Maure community inherited strong “matriarchal tendencies” from their Berber ancestors. …
Even though many women never plan to get divorced, if it happens, it is easier for them to move on than in many other countries, said Ms. El Kettab, the sociologist, because society supports instead of condemning them. “They make it so simple, it’s easier to turn the page,” she said. …
Mauritania, a land of nomads, camels and empty moon-like landscapes, is sometimes called the land of a million poets. And even divorce is poetic.
“There is so much poetry about the seduction of divorced women,” said Elhadj Ould Brahim, a professor of cultural anthropology at Nouakchott University. This stands in sharp contrast, he pointed out, to much of the Muslim world, including Mauritania’s immediate neighbors like Morocco, where, he said, the social stigma is so strong that “it’s death for a woman to be divorced.”
And lots of divorced American women chime in in the comments about how wonderful Mauritania must be.
I don’t know much about Mauritania, which is on the Atlantic coast of Africa in the Sahara and Sahel, but from the little I’ve heard, it seems to be a strong contender, right up there with Afghanistan, for the World’s Worst Country.
If you think White Supremacy is a massive problem in America, get a load of Mauritania. From an essay by Stephen J. King of the Georgetown U. for the Arab Reform Institute:
Mauritania has earned the title of slavery’s last stronghold due to the widespread existence of descent-based racial slavery in the country despite successive abolition decrees. This paper seeks to explain why the formal efforts to abolish slavery in Mauritania have failed, discusses the Mauritanian economy and the government’s official views on slavery, and puts forward recommendations to end slavery and slave-like conditions in the country.
Hereditary racial slavery—similar to the slavery system that existed in the U.S. prior to the civil war—is still widespread in the West African nation of Mauritania, where White Arabs and Berbers have enslaved Black Africans for centuries. In 1981 Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. Though slavery is technically illegal, after being criminalized for the first time in 2007 and again in 2015, abolition is rarely enforced. …
Mauritania, an impoverished, sparsely populated desert country in North-West Africa has the highest proportion of hereditary slavery of any country in the world. Out of 4.75 million citizens, Global Slavery Index estimates the number living in hereditary slavery in the country to be 90,000 people. In practice, this is descent-based, chattel slavery that treats human beings as property, with violent enforcement. Modern slavery or “slave-like conditions” prevail for up to 500,000 more.
Slavery in Mauritania is also a racial slavery. In a country that has a largely destitute population, Mauritania’s Arabic-speaking Arab-Berber elite, an exclusionary and predatory group that self-identifies as White (Bidan), ruthlessly dominates the country’s state and economy. They represent, at most, 30% of the population. The enslaved are Blacks from within Mauritania’s Arab-Islamic linguistic and cultural sphere (Black Arabs or Sudan). Blacks freed from slavery, an institution that has lasted many centuries in Mauritania, are called Haratin. Haratin and enslaved Blacks make up 40% of the population. Sometimes the term Haratin refers to both “slaves” and freed Black “slaves.”
Non-Arabic speaking Black Mauritanians—Halpulaar, Fulani, Soninke, Wolof, and Bambara ethnic groups—were never enslaved by Mauritania’s Whites, though they share the same ethno-racial origin as the Arabized Haratin. They make up 30% of the country’s population. In general, all Blacks in Mauritania are referred to as ‘Abd, ‘Abid (slave, slaves).
But being one of Mauritania’s white(ish) slaveowners doesn’t sound too appealing either, what with the Fattening Farms and all. From Harvard International Review:
25.APR.2022 9:00 AM . 10 MIN READ
“It’s for their own good… How will these poor girls find a husband if they’re bony and revolting?”
Elhacen, who force-feeds young girls for a living, takes pride in her work. “I’m very strict…I beat the girls, or torture them by squeezing a stick between their toes. I isolate them and tell them that thin women are inferior,” she says. This child cruelty is the horrific product of Mauritanian beauty standards, which idealize obese bodies. According to Elhacen, a woman’s job is “to make babies and be a soft, fleshy bed for her husband to lie on.” The force feeder even enjoys additional payments for stretch marks, hailed as a crowning achievement for any Mauritanian woman trying to gain weight.
This force-feeding practice is called “leblouh” or “gavage,” a French term that refers to “the process of fattening up geese to produce foie gras.” This dehumanization of girls and women extends far beyond semantics. Historically, Mauritania’s Moor population, which makes up two thirds of the country’s 3.1 million people, has viewed female obesity as a status symbol, with thinness being a sign that a woman’s husband could not afford to feed her. As a result, in order to display wealth, higher-income girls were fattened with milk to make them more desirable to potential suitors. Exemplifying this relationship between obesity and attractiveness, a Moor proverb asserts that “the woman occupies in her man’s heart the space she occupies in his bed.” By creating a direct relationship between weight and desirability, this beauty standard encourages extreme behavior.
Force-Feeding and Early Marriage of Young Girls
This extremity is evident in the abuse of young girls at the hands of force-feeders like Elhacen. Girls as young as five are sent to “fattening farms” to gorge on calorie-dense foods such as millet and camel milk. … Disciplined by their mothers or force-feeders, girls may be force-fed up to 16,000 calories daily, which can include up to five gallons of milk.
It would be interesting if social constructionists ever cited Mauritania as proof that you can talk people into practically anything, no matter how horrible, if you make it socially prestigious. But, for some reason, the canonical examples for social constructionism come from France (Foucault) and America (Foucault’s countless followers), which, for all their flaws, are much better countries than Mauritania.