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Harmful practices to the female body; Part 3 Obesity in Mauritania

“We grab them and we force them to eat. If they cry a lot we leave them sometimes for a day or two and then we come back to start again. They get used to it in the end.”

For decades Mauritanian women and girls have done the opposite of the western women who see being skinny as beauty. Leblouh or gavage that is traced back to the 11th century, is the practice of force-feeding of young women including girls as young as 5 because obesity was regarded as desirable. They overfed the girls to show family wealth and find a husband. According to Mauritanian stereotypes; men want women to be fat while women prefer the men to be skinny.

The practice was known as gavages, a French term for force-feeding geese to obtain foie gras. Girls as young as 5 and as old as 19 had to drink up to five gallons of fat-rich camel’s or cows milk daily, aiming for silvery stretch marks on their upper arms. Girls aged barely ten years old were fed kg of fine couscous or millet mixed with generous helpings of butter; they were also required to drink up to 20 liters of milk daily with the aid of a funnel placed in their mouths.

The families would also force the girls to eat cream, butter, couscous and other calorie-rich food. If a girl refused or vomited, the village weight-gain specialist might squeeze her foot between sticks, pull her ear, pinch her inner thigh, bend her finger backward or force her to drink her own vomit. In extreme cases, girls would die. Certain women have even used drugs for increasing animal weight to achieve the feminine ideal.

 

Fortunately this practice is in the process of disappearing and in these recent years, television commercials and official workers has promoted the message that being fat can lead to diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and other serious diseases. Unfortunately it takes longer to get the message out since ¾ of Mauritanian women does not watch television and listen to radio. Today, force feeding persists in rural areas where women are less educated and doesn’t have access to television.

A survey done in 2001 including 68,000 women showed that 1 in 5 aged between 15 and 49 had been deliberately overfed and 70% especially teenagers said they didn’t regret it. The same survey did also document that 2 in 5 women were overweight.

This clearly shows that over feeding of girls is no longer considered a good thing in Mauritanian society, especially by educated young women and in recent years, women’s civil society groups have held several conferences and workshops. The men are also fed up with fat women and many girls prefer to have a natural weight by simply eating normal.

Dictators of Africa – Part 7

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi Libya 1969 – present

Also known simply as Colonel Gaddafi; born 7 June 1942) has been the de facto leader of Libya since a coup in 1969. From 1972, when Gaddafi relinquished the title of prime minister, he has been accorded the honorifics “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” or “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” in government statements and the official press. With the death of Omar Bongo of Gabon on 8 June 2009, he became the longest serving of all current non-royal national leaders. He is also the longest-serving ruler of Libya since Libya, then Tripoli, became an Ottoman province in 1551.

Yahya Jammeh – Gambia – 1994–Present

President of Gambia. Gained power in coup d’état. Right to the press and free speech suppressed. Stood for three elections (1996, 2001, and 2006); last election deemed unfair by opposition.

Laurent-Désiré Kabila – Congo-Kinshasa – 1997–2001

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in coup. No elections held during ongoing, interstate First and Second Congo Wars.

Charles G. Taylor – Liberia – 1997–2003

President of Liberia 1997-2003. Elected, but widely described as a dictator. Linked to “blood diamonds” and illegal arms trading. Believed to have interfered frequently in the internal affairs of neighboring states while a warlord, before his election to the presidency.

François Bozizé – Central African Republic – 2003–present

President of the Central African Republic 2003 to date. Gained power in a coup and suspended the constitution, though he has restored some democracy.

Ely Ould Mohamed Vall – Mauritania – 2005–2007

Chairman of the Military Council for Justice and Democracy. Gained power via a military coup. Though he has said to relinquish power to an elected government in 2007.

 

Dictators of Africa – Part 6

Hissène Habré – Chad – 1982–1990

Chairman of the Council of State 1982; President of Chad 1982-1990. Gained power in a coup; abolished post of Prime Minister; executed opposition leaders.

Thomas Sankara – Burkina Faso – 1983–1987

President of Upper Volta 1983-1984; President of Burkina Faso 1984-1987. Gained power in coup. Led military regime. Overthrown and killed in coup.

Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya – Mauritania – 1984–2005

Deposed the military head of state, Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, on December 1984 and declared himself Chairman of the Military Committee for National Salvation. Deposed by Ely Ould Mohamed Vall in a bloodless coup d’état.

Ibrahim Babangida – Nigeria – 1985–1993

Annulled the most free and fair presidential election in the history of Nigeria, leading to the death of the presidential candidate Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia – 1987–2011

President of Tunisia. Although he announced political pluralism in 1992, his Democratic Constitutional Rally (formerly Neo-Destour party) continues to dominate the national politics and there is no genuine open political debate. In 1999, although two unknown alternative candidates were permitted for the first time to stand in the presidential elections, Ben Ali was re-elected with 99.66% of the vote. A controversial constitutional referendum in 2002 allowed him to seek re-election and contemplate the possibility of remaining in office until 2014. On October 24, 2004, he was again re-elected, officially taking 94.48% of the vote. Certain books, periodicals and internet sites are banned or blocked. The National Television frequently show his actions during a week, but often the President only appears in passing on television. Removed from office by a popular uprising in January 2011.

Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir – Sudan – 1989–present

President of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation 1989-1993; President of Sudan 1993–present. Took power in a military coup and increasingly centralized power into him. Widely believed to be implicated in the Darfur Janjaweed pogroms.

Idriss Déby – Chad – 1990–present

Head of State 1990-1991; President of Chad 1991 to date. Gained power in a coup; continues to suppress opposition and press.

Sani Abacha – Nigeria – 1993–1998

Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council 1993-1998. Seized power in a coup; persecuted opposition; never stood for election. Jailed Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election; presided over execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.


 

Dictators of Africa – Part 1

Gamal Abdel Nasser – Egypt – 1954–1970

Prime Minister of Egypt 1954-1962; President of Egypt 1956-1970. Part of a group of officers in control of Egypt after the coup against British supported King Farouk in 1952; In February 1954, Egyptian Statesman. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, Gamal Abdel Nasser first rose to prominence as an officer in the first Arab-Israeli war, where he gained recognition for holding out for three weeks in 1948 while his battalion was surrounded in what came to be known as the “Faluja Pocket”. Nasser forced President Muhammad Naguib to appoint him prime minister and give up most practical power to him; later in that year Naguib resigned and Nasser became president by self-appointment; elected by popular vote (as only candidate) in 1956, and subsequently. Many personalistic elements to Nasser’s rule, but nominal parliamentary system under Nasser’s 1956-1970 presidency until his death in 1970.

Ahmed Sékou Touré – Guinea – 1958–1984

President of Guinea. Widely described as a dictator with estimates of up to 50,000 extrajudicial killings during his rule and 250,000 Guineans fleeing his rule.

David Dacko – Central African Republic – 1960–1966, 1979–1981

President of the Central African Republic. Banned opposition; Gained power by coup in 1979, though subsequently stood for election

Modibo Keita – Mali – 1960–1968

Schoolteacher and first president of Mali. Forced socialization and extensive protectionism severely harmed the economy and continued the country’s dependence on aid donors. Discontent with these policies led Keita to implement his own “Cultural Revolution” and establish a network of people’s militias to inform on and punish dissent. In the last few years of his presidency, full powers were vested in an extralegal “National Committee for Defense of the Revolution”. He was deposed in a military coup.

François Tombalbaye – Chad – 1960–1975

Head of State 1960-1962; President of Chad 1962-1975. Never fought a contested election; imprisoned opposition leaders. Launched a “Cultural Revolution” in the early 1970s encouraging authenticité.

Moktar Ould Daddah – Mauritania – 1960–1978

President of Mauritania 1960-1978. Elected President upon independence from France; merged four largest parties into Mauritanian People’s Party, which he made the sole legal party; changed constitution in 1964 to make one party state with authoritarian Presidency; re-elected uncontested three times (1966, 1971 and 1976); overthrown by military in 1978 due to dissatisfaction with the War in Western Sahara.

 

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