• Zeinebru Taleb Moussa, founder of the Mauritanian Association for Mother and Child Health (AMSME), fights to make visible the situation of the thousands of girls and women who suffer sexual assaults in her country.

Just 20 years ago, Zeinebru Taleb Moussa founded the Mauritanian Association for Mother and Child Health (AMSME) after discovering that her best friend had been forced to marry a man who raped her as a teenager. She has stood up to the institutions of her country, which have threatened to imprison her, to denounce the violations suffered by girls and women in a systemic way in her country. It insists that the impunity of the aggressors and the blaming of women continue to be a problem that pushes many victims to a life of confinement and suicide.

When and why was the AMSME association born?

We were founded to tackle maternal mortality, which in 2000 was 930 women for every 100,000 deliveries. We started talking to women and what worried them was that their daughters were being systematically raped. Girls 10 or 12 years old. The Mauritanian government told us that this did not happen, they denied it, and they affirmed that if we talked about it we would harm the country.

But they didn’t stop.

We have been about to go to jail for reporting the rapes in this country. We decided to go into the hospitals and realized that there were no records of the rape cases. The women went to the hospital, they verbalized it, there were compatible injuries … but their history was erased. We started documenting it and sent a study to the UN and the European Union. They financed us some projects. Today, the Mauritanian government already admits that there is a problem with this issue and at least we can talk about it.

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The consequences for the victims remain dire …

Until not long ago, girls who reported rapes ended up in jail. The problem is the social value that is placed on virginity. Many women choose not to count the rape and some commit suicide. Our work focuses on telling them that they have done nothing wrong, that what is wrong is what they have done to them. That they are not guilty, criminals are their aggressors. Now in the capital of the country women are already beginning to denounce the attacks.

What happens when a girl or a woman reports a rape?

There is total impunity. Society, both parents and judges, prefer to negotiate with the aggressor’s family so that the girls marry them and thus the justice closes the investigation. One of the problems is that neither the judges, nor the police nor the lawyers are trained. Some hardly know human rights and consider that women have been raped because they want to, because they have asked for it. They do not have the right to be alone with a man and it is assumed that they have violated this rule. Even 5 or 6 year old girls … We live in an absolute degradation of human values.

Is there data on how many girls or women are raped in Mauritania?

Unfortunately there are no data. But to give you an idea, rapes in schools are as normal and frequent as the water we drink. There are also them in Koranic schools, in mosques, in taxis … There are imams who rape, ministers who rape.

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There are parties in Spain that link the violations with Islam.

Islam forbids raping a woman, not even touching her. It is a matter of mentality, of discrimination against women. They see us as a flower that they must play with and no matter how. We have a lot of work to train judges, lawyers or policemen. They must be made to understand that women deserve respect, that they have the right to decide for themselves, that they are human beings and that if they say no, it is no. They do not understand that women do not belong to their husbands nor should they ask their permission to do what they consider.

Is this impunity in the face of gender violence one of the causes of the migration of many women to Europe?

It is ironic because many NGOs or international institutions told us that we should present projects on migration to get funds for our projects, and of course we did not know anything about migration (laughs). Women and girls who have migrated to Europe are raped in transit. Tell me if it is not related.

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You have faced the authorities in your country and threats of imprisonment for defending the rights of women and girls. Where did he get his strength from?

I have not been a victim, but my best friend was. A man raped her and her family forced her to marry him. She got pregnant, and she only wanted to kill the baby when she was breastfeeding. When I saw that I knew we had to do something. This suffering is unfair.


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