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Protection and access to justice for Nomadic Communities: The National Guard of Mauritania trains its Meharists on Gender Mainstreaming

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(Méhariste are units from the Mauritanian National Guard patrolling on camels to conduct their missions of law enforcent and protection of civilians. They operate in desert areas where nomadic communities live.)

Achemime, Mauritania - From 6 to 10 February 2023, the National Guard, with the support of UNODC, organized a training seminar at the Centre d'Instruction Méhariste in Achemime.

This seminar brought together nine (09) male personnel of the National Guard - specifically meharists - and, for the first time, three (03) female personnel of the National Guard. This mixed training was welcomed as it is a first within the meharist units composed exclusively of male personnel for the moment. “I would like to stress the importance of this kind of training and mission as female personnel because we are often forgotten in this role while women are the first victims of gender-based violence (GBV)” Yewguiha BOUGLEIDA, Instructor at the National Guard School in Rosso.

The training was highly innovative and aimed to train meharist guards on a new topic for the National Guard of Mauritania: the integration of a gender sensitive approach within meharist units. This training is a springboard to increase protection and access to justice for nomadic communities in hard-to-reach areas of the Hodh Ech Chargui. Vamory KEITA, a senior nurse at the Achemime Health Centre run by the Meharists, explains, "We operate in remote and vast areas. And we need to integrate this gender dimension. As a male meharist, there are situations that we may not see or recognize. In our societies, we often have the impression that women are necessarily weak and not capable of committing criminal acts. However, this can be the case and we need female staff to better detect it. In the case of GBV, we also need female staff to respond to GBV committed against women. We need a gender-sensitive approach in all these situations where the meharists intervene to protect and collect information. Women are capable of carrying out many missions, including those of the meharists.”

<em>Meharistes trainers and trainees organize themselves during a scenario-based exercise on GBV crime-scene management.</em>
Meharistes trainers and trainees organize themselves during a scenario-based exercise on GBV crime-scene management.

According to the Regional Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for West and Central Africa, Dr Amado Philip de Andrés “Female officers with professional training and equipment can play an important role in facilitating access to justice for women and girls from nomadic communities living in hard-to-reach areas.”

The operational-based exercises enabled the meharist guards to become more familiar with the principles and techniques of operating in the field with a gender sensitive approach in the nomadic context. "As meharists, we carry out missions in a vast and remote desert area. Through this training, we are sensitized, empowered, and better equipped to deal with case and crimes requiring a gender-sensitive approach. We operate in a very challenging field”. Baba Mohamed El Moctar SOUEIDATT, Company Warrant Officer of the Nomadic Group. The discussions highlighted the importance of raising awareness among populations about their rights and access to justice, as the nomadic communities with which the méharistes interact on a daily basis are often unaware of their rights. Meharists play an essential role in providing access to basic services (health, education, sanitation, etc.), in raising awareness on rights and access to justice, in mediating conflicts (domestic, family, neighborhood, tribal, herders, etc.) and also in managing and protecting the environment - particularly water points. "The security of populations living in desert areas requires Meharists to work on securing water points, which are crucial needs for pastoralist populations." Colonel Moulay SIDI MOHAMED, Head of the 3rd Office of the National Guard.

During this seminar, the Mourchidates of the Association of Women Heads of Families also intervened to present their work of protection and assistance (legal, psychological, social...) to victims of gender-based violence (GBV) in the region. Some cases of rape in very remote areas require collaboration with the meharists to gain access to the areas. Given their complementary approaches, the Meharists and the Mourchidates plan to collaborate in order to conduct joint awareness campaigns among nomadic communities of the Hodh Ech Chargui
This training was organized within the framework of the UNODC Sahel Programme and funded by the United Kingdom Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).
<em>Group picture.</em>
Group picture.
<em>The Mourchidates explain their work to the Meharistes.</em>
The Mourchidates explain their work to the Meharistes.