By MARIE REISSI in Mauritania.
It has been several months since the communication department of Médicos del Mundo in Mauritania started working relentlessly on a Health-Gender’s national communication campaign, financed by the European union and in collaboration with four Mauritanian ministries. They spent a few months creating varied and quality awareness-raising contents, and preparing the key events. Just a few days before the launch, I had the opportunity to get involved with the preparations in order to help the Campaign Manager and the Country Coordinator who led this colossal project. It was a great chance to fully understand its scope.
It is pride that I feel regarding all the work that the MdM team has realized and I would like to share this with you, so we can all feel this pride together.
In order to better understand this communication campaign, I will contextualize for those who are not familiar with the country.
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a Muslim country where coexists five different communities: the moors, the harratines, the halpulaars, the wolofs and the Soninkes. A sociocultural mosaic on which is built the richness of the country. But the big picture is darkened by high rates of gender-based violence. 66% of girls and women have been a victim of any form of female genital mutilation, with this rate rising up to 90% in some regions. Child marriage affects 35,2% of women in the whole country, rising up to more than 50% in some regions. Sexual violence and partner abuse are way more complicated to estimate as only a few women file a complaint. The acceptability and the taboos have made invisible this phenomenon for a long time.
From a health perspective, girls and women are especially vulnerable. In addition to health risks associated with harmful practices of gender-based violence, gender inequalities limit the fundamental right and access to health for girls and women. In a society were power relations between men and women are deeply unequal, the latter often do not have any control over their body, their sexuality, and their family planning. They also do not have access to the proper and fundamental information that would allow them to make the right decisions in order to live a healthy life.
MdM, as a health-focused NGO, aims at improving universal access to health. Prevention and protection against gender-based violence also are a major intervention. In 2017, MdM has contributed to the opening of the first public Unit in charge of victims of gender-based violence in Nouakchott, the capital city, helping survivors through medical, psychosocial and legal support; a second one opened in 2018 in the southern region of Guidimakha; a third one will open in 2020 in the northern region of Dakhlet-Nouadhibou; and next, MdM is working on the opening of a fourth Unit in Bassikounou, a south-east locality, at 20km from Mbera, the Malian refugee camp.
In this dynamic, MdM started a national campaign of communication aiming at raising awareness regarding gender inequalities and its consequences on the access to sexual and reproductive health care and on gender-based violence.
On the 25th of November 2019, for the International Day against gender-based violence, the campaign has been launched. It is called “Alach ÇA?”, in Hassanya, the national language of Mauritania, meaning “Why is that?”. This choice is not random… If the objective is to enlighten and denounce the problem of gender inequalities and all its consequences on the health and rights of girls and women, it does not aim at blaming or judging communities. We want to inform the population by questioning them, by starting the conversation and opening the debate between men and women at all levels of the society, in the household, at work, in school, because Mauritanian culture can be in accordance and respect of the rights of girls and women.
The same day, the photographic exhibition “Alach ÇA?” was inaugurated at the National Museum of Nouakchott. Numerous guests came to discover the photos of the Mauritanian artist Bechir Malum. The scenes depicted in the photos invite the public to deconstruct gender stereotypes and provoke reactions over the reality of gender-based violence. At every corner of the room, the theatre actresses from the local NGO “SOS Pairs Educateurs” were sensational: just like moving statutes, fixed in different positions, they were representing strong and brave women, survivors, questioning us and encouraging us to say STOP.
The success of this first event is motivating regarding what will follow. After the national museum, the exhibition will be itinerant within the capital, in cultural spaces and in the street, so it can reach best all communities. And after the thematic of inequalities and gender-based violence, a second exhibition on the thematic of sexual and reproductive health will take over on the 8th of March 2020 for the International Day for Women’s Rights.
It is important to underline the fact that Mauritanians are not just “beneficiaries” or “recipients” of this campaign, they are full actors of it: contractors, organizations of civil societies, men, women, and teenagers. Among others, five artists, men and women from all the different communities and each one with a different musical universe, have come together to produce an awareness-raising song and video clip, and they will participate to a caravan of concerts in four different regions of the country.
Other great events are planned for this campaign such as screenings of awareness-raising videos and organization of debates within cultural spaces, or the distribution of two children books: the first one on their rights, and the second one on the consequences of gender inequalities and gender-based violence throughout the life of a girl.
These materials will be disclosed on our Facebook page “Alach ÇA?”. If you are curious and interested, do not hesitate to go get a look at it! https://www.facebook.com/AlachCAMdM/
This campaign gives me hope. Hope for awareness-raising actions that are respectful of the local culture, which are positive and make us believe in a more equal and fair society.
But for now, hope to break the silence. Behaviour changes will take time. Especially since the problem goes over the borders of Mauritania and affects all the countries and all the cultures in the world. But recognizing that there is a problem and engaging conversations are the first step to bring solutions.
 Enquête MICS 2015, Mauritanie