Strengthening women's leadership in preventing and combating violent extremism in Mauritania

15-04-2021

In the context of the gender institutionalization strategy of the Mauritanian government, UNODC and UNESCO have jointly developed a project to strengthen women's leadership in preventing and combating violent extremism in Mauritania. This project is financed by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund and aims to ensure greater integration of women in the criminal justice response to violent extremism. It also aims to enhance the cultural expressions of Mauritanian women and promote social cohesion.

In February of 2021, UNODC and UNESCO conducted pre-assessment missions in Guidimakha and Hodh El Gharbi, two areas chosen for their proximity to the hotbeds of rebellion in Mali, and for their prevalence of pastoral conflicts and risk of violent extremism. Representatives met with local authorities and exchanged with local stakeholders to assess needs. A focal point from the Ministry of Culture and Handicrafts provided support.

In the two localities, authorities and associations reported an increasing violence against women and girls (rape, early marriage, domestic violence, genital mutilation, deprivation of property rights, crimes against women). This was occurring in a context already unfavorable to women: lack of access to education, low economic income, and lack of awareness of their rights. Associations also emphasized the difficulties encountered by women in accessing justice, resulting from Mauritanian traditions, mentalities, and social pressure. Lack of knowledge of women's rights, and low representation of women in the legal professions were also contributing factors.

Moreover, the multiplication of conflicts between migrants and refugees, and host populations, and between farmers and herders in localities on near the border with Mali represented risks to social cohesion.

The consultations revealed the key role played by civil society, and especially by women, in safeguarding Mauritanian cultural heritage through handicrafts, for example, and passing this knowledge to future generations. 

These evaluation missions to the border region with Mali highlited the need to further collaborate with the Mauritanian Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Children, to communicate regularly with the local authorities and to mobilize Mauritanian female leaders, including female heads of households.

The UNODC and UNESCO project will enhance women’s role in transmitting a moderate religious discourse in Mauritania, particularly in its border region, and raise women’s awareness of their rights, in particular to access to justice as victims of gender-based violence.