Awareness campaign in high schools to address stereotypes and to sensitize young people the importance of women in the defense, security, and justice professions


Despite recent improvements, Mauritanian women are still underrepresented in the armed forces and in the judiciary. Their proportion of the police force is only 3.8%, gendarmerie 1,7%, and justice sector 6%. The women who are represented in these professions often hold administrative positions or positions with limited responsibilities. This under-representation is a result of socio-cultural barriers and gender stereotypes. Speaking at the opening of the awareness campaign in high schools, the spokesperson for the Ministry of National Education and the Reform of the Education System said, "Gender stereotypes have an obvious consequence since young boys tend to naturally project themselves towards security and defense-related professions, whereas girls censor themselves, thinking that these are not professions for them to pursue. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collaborated with the Ministry of National Education and Educational Reform to organize a campaign in Mauritanian high schools from February 28 to March 4 to combat unconscious gender stereotypes and create vocations to the professions of defense, security, and justice among young Mauritanian girls. More than 400 students from Lycée des Garçons 1, Lycée Arabe, Lycée de Dar Naim, Arafat, El Mina, Riyadh, participated in these sensitizations.

An interactive quiz was conducted with the students to encourage reflection and question unconsciously held prejudices. A question was put to the students: When you think of a security operation, involving arresting drug dealers who have committed several crimes in a dangerous neighborhood, would you think of a female or a male police officer? The students' responses showed unconscious gender prejudices. In fact, nearly 86% of them indicated that security jobs are men's jobs because they require physical strength. In response to the question "Can a woman in Mauritania be a magistrate? 90% of the students responded negatively, stating either that "the Maliki current of Islam forbids women to be judges" or "women are too emotionally involved and therefore cannot judge", showing once again the existence of unconscious prejudices based on gender and the absence of female role models. However, when students were asked, "If you think of information gathering, criminal intelligence, and counterterrorism, who do you think of: a female police officer, a male police officer, or both?" 96% of students responded that "A woman in Mauritanian society has an easier time gathering information because communities trust and do not suspect women. 


Following their testimony, women working in security, defense, and justice professions took the podium to show young girls examples of women in these fields and deconstruct existing prejudices among high school students. In particular, the chief clerk of the court of Nouakchott said: "the notion that a woman cannot work and care for her family is erroneous. I have three children, which I care for every morning while attending various criminal hearings I must attend". The national gendarmerie marshal surprised several young people by sharing this story: "I trained as a plumber and worked in the most difficult areas of Mauritania as a plumber. This was a good job for a man at a time when such professions were not regarded favorably by women.". I later joined the gendarmerie as a judicial police officer. The commissioner of the minors' brigade explained to the young men that she followed the same training as the men to join the police force. Since joining the force, she has held many positions of responsibility and has led several security operations that resulted in several arrests. The testimony of the women was very well received by the young people. A young girl took the floor to testify: "I have always dreamed of joining the army, but her father does not support me because I am a girl. These testimonies from the women gave me courage. I will continue to raise my father's awareness and tell him that the army is not a man's job.

These sensitizations in high schools are part of the continuity of the "Campaign to strengthen the representation of women in the security, justice, and defense forces of the G5 Sahel", launched by First Lady Mariem Mint Mohamed on July 13, 2021, at the Palace of Congresses, aiming to highlight women in the defense, security, and justice professions to help break certain socio-cultural barriers, create vocations and encourage Mauritanian women and girls to engage in these fields. On this occasion, Dr. Amado Philip de Andrés, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, recalled that "Efforts for the promotion of women in the defense, security and justice professions must be strengthened to be in line with the realities of the communities we serve, especially since their presence is essential to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement and the judicial system in responding to crime and terrorism.’ This initiative is implemented within the framework of the UNODC and UNESCO project "Strengthening Women's Leadership in the Prevention of Violent Extremism through Criminal Justice, Strengthening Social Cohesion and Cultural Identity" with the financial support of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF). It is part of the framework of Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 16, respectively on "gender equality" and "peace, justice, and effective institutions" and UN resolutions, notably 1325 on "women, peace and security" as well as on the integration of the gender dimension in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime.