A country where young girls are force-fed to fatten them up for marriage - with consequent high death rate of women from untreated hypertension, diabetes and other complications of gross obesity.
Women fight Mauritania's fattening tradition
October 12, 2010|By Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud, for CNN
Young Mauritanian girls are traditionally force-fed and fattened for the sake of beauty and marriage, but now some are fighting the tradition, saying it's dangerous to their health.
Heavier girls and women are viewed as beautiful, wealthy and socially-accepted while their slimmer counterparts are considered inferior and bring shame on their families in Mauritanian society.
It is this shame that has helped keep leblouh -- or forced-fattening -- in practice.
Mariam Mint Ahmed, 25, says it's time leblouh was consigned to history.
"It is our responsibility as a young generation to put an end to the custom that threatens our lives," Mint Ahmed, a married trader who lives in the capital Nouakchott, told CNN. "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 as tears welled in her eyes.
Mint Ahmed, who has one son, was raised in the city of Kiffa, about 600km (370 miles) away in eastern Mauritania.
She tells us that girls who don't finish the fattening meals put before them can be punished. One method, according to Mint Ahmed, is to tie a girl's toes to sticks and if she does not eat, pressure is applied to the sticks sending shockwaves of pain through the girl's feet.
"My mother started fattening me forcibly when I was 13-years-old. She used to beat me to eat more oiled couscous and fat lamb's meat. Each time I thought my stomach would explode," Selekeha Mint Sidi recalls.
Mint Sidi was married last year and has one daughter, but she told CNN that she will never fatten her daughter "whatever the reason."
The women are not part of a group pressing for legislation to ban leblouh but they do want to educate Mauritanians about the risks.
Leblouh has its supporters though, particularly in rural Mauritania.
"Personally, I do believe that fattening girls is more than a necessity. Slim girls bring shame to their families and even their tribes as well. It's also difficult for them to attract men's eyes in our society," said 55-year-old Achetou Mint Taleb.
"I had two daughters and I fattened them while they were eight to 10 years old, so both of them grew enormously, have married quickly and got children before the age of 17. They are managing their families and come to see me on weekends. I am now very proud of what I did," she added.
The women in charge of fattening girls often think the vomiting that regularly accompanies being force-fed is normal and natural for their young charges.
Mint Taleb turns a deaf ear to the anti-leblouh voices. "I know that some of the growing generation oppose the tradition of leblouh, but I don't care as long as I am faithful to my cultural heritage. I'm not alone for sure."