African societies are often inherently patriarchal, and it’s generally young girls and women that have to bear the brunt of the continent’s various traditional practices.
For instance, there is the awful practice of “se)ual cleansing” whereby young girls in countries such as Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda are expected to have sex as part of a cleansing ritual in any of these circumstances: after her first period, after losing a husband or after having an abortion.
he practice sees them tortured into swallowing gargantuan amounts of food and liquid – and consuming their vomit if they reject it.
“In Mauritania, a woman’s size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband’s heart,” said Mint Ely, head of the Association of Women Heads of Households. ”We have gone backwards. We had a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. We had achieved a parliamentary quota of 20% of seats. We had female diplomats and governors. The military have set us back by decades, sending us back to our traditional roles. We no longer even have a ministry to talk to.” Mauritania has suffered a series of coups since independence from France in 1960. The latest, in August last year, saw General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz seize power after the elected president tried to sack him.
The girls who are subjected to this cr\0el tradition are sent to fat camps where they are forced to consume thousands of calories a day. These camps are run by elderly women known as “fatteners”.
In an interview with CNN correspondent Mohamed Yahya Abdul Wedoud, 25-year-old Mariam Mint Ahmed, opened up about her own experience with leblouh.
“It is our responsibility as a young generation to put an end to the custom that threatens our lives,” she said. “I know so many innocent girls that were fattened up against their will to be married off and most of them got sick. I feel sad when I constantly see them struggling with blood pressure, hypertension and heart diseases.”
Girls here in Mauritania have suffered a lot from the tradition of leblouh. They are forced to eat up very large quantities of food and drink up bowls of goat’s or cow’s milk,” Mint Ahmed added.
She also said that the girls who don’t finish their meals are often punished. One such method of punishment, Mint revealed, is tying a girl’s toes to sticks and applying pressure to the sticks causing her to feel pain in her feet.
Tijanniya Mint Tijani is another young woman who was sent to this cruel f0rce-feeding camp.
“You’re going on vacation to the desert to meet other girls and eat sweet food,” Tijanniya Mint Tijani’s mother told her, according to Marie Claire. At first, Tijanniya was looking forward to it. “She said that by the time I returned home, I’d be a beautiful woman,” she recalls.
Just ten days later, 14-year-old Tijanniya was forced to reside in a cramped sandstone hut in the Sahara Desert. She is frequently threatened with cane beatings by 50-year-old Aminetou Mint Elhacen if she refuses to eat any further. And if she vomits, Mint Elhacen will force her to eat that as well. “The aim is to feed them until their bodies blow up like balloons,” she says.
“My stomach hurts,” Tijanniya says. “I don’t want to be fat. I don’t think it’s beautiful. Now I see why some girls at school came back fat after vacation, but they were much prettier before. I love sports. I’m scared I won’t be able to run fast when I’m fat.”
We hope in the near future that this abhorrent practice is internationally recognized and fought against like other “traditions” that leave women feeling controlled and attacked.