Mauritania: Tragedy Prompts Protests Demanding Justice, Legal Reforms


Marking a week of protests to demand action after the rape and murder of a little girl, the march organised by Nouakchott-based women’s rights activist group “Etkelmi” (Scream) has attracted a lot of support and positive reactions from political elites and fellow activists. About 50 protesters set off at 5pm Tuesday, 5th November 2013, from the Ministry of the Interior to the Palace of Justice. The young women leading the march covered the entire distance in their bare feet. They were accompanied by family, friends and supporters of the victims of recent violent assault, including the husband and friends of Penda Soghe, a young wife and mother who was expecting her second child at the time she was savagely beaten, tortured, gang-raped and murdered, after being abducted on her way home from work at the beginning of April this year.

Once at the Judiciary HQ, there were statements of protest by supporters and several representatives of civil groups, to demand a change to the law in Mauritania relating  to rape, and the entrance gates to the building were covered in protest banners.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The abduction, rape, and murder of six-year-old Khadji (Yaye) Touré, whose body was discovered Sunday, 27 October 2013 on the beach, not far from one of Nouakchott’s hotels, has shocked the entire community. The tragic details were unveiled against the backdrop of the annual Nouakchott short film festival, which had welcomed hundreds of guests from around the world. The Etkelmi event was the fourth protest in the past week.

The first protest saw more than a hundred people accompanying the bereaved family in a march to the Presidential Palace to demand serious action on the crime. The authorities responded by asking for a list of people who wished to attend a discussion, but no further news has been posted so far. News sites reported an announcement late on Tuesday, that police had arrested a man in connection with the abduction, and that he had confessed to murdering the little girl. There are some doubts about the veracity of this statement.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mid-week, a group of Mauritanian ex-pats living in Paris, which has staged weekly protests for the past several months, demanding a fair and transparent approach to registration procedures for Mauritanian citizenship, held a vigil in memory of the murdered child, adding their voices to the call for justice and legal reform.

On 1 November, 2013 the pro-morality activist group staged a protest immediately after Friday prayers in Nouakchott, which was also very well-attended.

It now remains to be seen whether this concerted effort can continue to build and raise awareness, eventually creating enough pressure to initiate the needed reforms. All those involved are aware there is little chance of making any real progress until after the upcoming elections, scheduled to take place on 23 November.

The Day That Lost Rights for Women


I find it interesting that March 8th is now “International Women’s Day” – not “International Women’s Rights Day”. This could be a real step forward, to the day when we don’t have “women’s” anything any more. The day when we see that we don’t need it, and that singling out one gender when we only have two is self-defeating and obvious. Imagine you had two children, a girl and a boy, would you only celebrate your daughter’s birthday?

The name may have lost its specific focus on rights now, but it does afford the opportunity to raise awareness about women who are great role models. Not all of them faced a struggle to earn their rights, yet they deserve that accolade, and many have interesting stories to share. I have no problem with them doing that all year round.

High (female) achievers aside, the fact remains that for millions of women, fighting for their rights is a daily battle. I love and respect these women every day.  Here are the posters I made to celebrate just a few of them, finding my inspiration in the original meaning of March 8th as their day to get recognition, and our day to give it.


And here are some closing thoughts as we bid farewell to that one day of the year dedicated to my gender

I think we can only have equality if there is also one day of every year devoted to equal rights for men – if men being denied their rights are a minority group, that only strengthens my conviction.

I wish we lived in a world where such events were not deemed necessary – I would especially not miss the ghastly rhetoric and those patronising videos featuring “songs by international artists”.

Today, as in previous years, I have read too many well-intentioned posts praising women for their physical or personal charms, as if this was a day set aside for chauvinists to thank women for submitting to being objectified by them throughout the year.

I believe, if mothers raise their children as equals,
and if teachers educate students as equals,
and never yield, relent or make excuses,
and stop cheering for every right “won” as if it was not a right at all, but a gift,
then eventually, gender equality would become a mundane reality.