Mauritania: MRG visits Haratine community as part of campaign to end slavery

Vernonique Dion, MRG's Mauritania Programme Coordinator (pictured left in the photograph), and Shobha Das, our Head of Programmes, visited Mauritania in September 2012 to meet with members of the Haratine community.

MRG’s work in Mauritania, with SOS-Esclaves and Association des Femmes Chef de Famille, hopes to establish new organisations representing Haratine women, and strengthen their capacity to better advocate for their rights.

Haratine in Mauritania are systematically deprived of their respect, dignity and rights and are oppressed by an historic system of slavery.

Haratine, or Black Moors, comprise from 30 to 40 per cent of the population in Mauritania. They are the most disenfranchised community in the country and suffer discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion due to their historic membership of the ‘slave caste’. Despite the official abolition of slavery in 1981, it is estimated that 18 per cent of Mauritania's population live in slavery today.

Click on the images below to view a photo gallery of Veronique and Shobha's trip.

Photo credits: Shobha Das, MRG


Click on image for larger view

Haratine women are particularly at risk. They facing intersectional discrimination that renders their human rights more vulnerable than other groups in Mauritanian society. They face discrimination both as members of the slave caste and because they are women. Here a Haratine woman is shown making a tent in a workshop.
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Almost all Mauritanians are adherents of Islam, which is seen by the government as essential for national unity. There are however varying interpretations of Islam in the country, which sometimes contributes to ethnic division. Women and men of the Haratine minority have for decades been victims of slavery, justified on the basis of Islamic interpretation. Maitre Elid, the lawyer who works with MRG to take cases of slavery to the Mauritanian courts, says that, 'The majority of slaves accept their situation because they believe this is the will of God.' He goes further to explain that, 'It is not religion which allows for slavery, but the interpretations of religion! The problem is that the authorities do not want enlightened Imams, who hold an understanding of religion that does not justify slavery, to go and speak on the radio or TV to denounce slavery!'
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Centres, such as the one featured in this image, have been established by Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille for victims of violence against women, are important support mechanisms for women who take the step and courage to escape and speak out to assert their rights.
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Mauritanian coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world. The fishing industry makes up around 54% of Mauritania’s economy, and the country relies heavily on fishing to keep its economy alive.
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The man pictured here is a former slave who lives in a village - known as an Adwaba- inhabited by emancipated slaves or those who live in slave status. Mauritania has a diverse population composed of several ethnic groups. Although it is difficult to collect accurate data, it is estimated that 60% of the population are Arab Berbers or Moors and 30% are Black, including groups such as the Sonike, Wolof and Fula. The 60% Arab Berbers population is divided into a dominant group (Beydan) and their former slaves/slaves, the Haratine.
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Haratine women face threats of forced/early marriage, lack of control of fertility, sexual abuse or rape, and sexual exploitation. Who and when they marry is decided by their slave masters, and their children automatically become the property of their master, who can rent them out, lend them or give them as gifts in marriage. This woman is a Haratine former slave from the Adwaba who agreed to be interviewed by MRG.
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This Haratine women, pictured in her shop, is a former slave living in the Adwaba MRG visited. The outlook for former slaves is not always bright. Having been largely dependent on one’s master for food and shelter, freed Haratines face deep socio-economic as well as psychological challenges in learning to depend on themselves. It is not infrequent that a freed Haratine returns to her former slave master upon finding independent survival too difficult.
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SOS-Esclaves established a training center where Haratine women are trained in livelihood skills such as sewing, cooking and hairdressing, that can prepare them for employment and independent living and providing for their children and families.
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To compensate for the colourless dry and desert landscape, colours are used to decorate houses and colourful traditional pillows, mats, teapots, trays and carpets decorate the interiors.
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Food has an important place in Mauritanian culture. It is customary for groups to eat together from a large bowl or plate using their right hand. Black Africans take their main meal at lunch, while Arab Berbers have their main meal in the evening. The customs surrounding food in Mauritania are often indicative of the deep ethnic divisions in society.
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Date: 04/06/2013




Culture and Tradition
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech
Religion/Religious minorities

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