Amnesty International

Aminetou Mint Moctar : A ”rebel” against the rules that restrict women

It’s not always easy for this mother and householder who is regularly scorned, stigmatized and threatened with death. Despite all this, Aminetou, who regularly challenges the patriarchal attitudes and religious and cultural norms that subordinate or restrict women, remains convinced that her country, Mauritania, will only change if there are people committed and aware that respect of rights will only be achieved through peaceful struggle.

Far from being easy, her path has been strewn with difficulties. And this 61-year-old Mauritanian has learned from each of them. Each one has made her stronger and given her the energy and drive to stand up and defend human rights.

Defending rights is a part of me

Aminetou Mint Moctar

This mission has become “a part of her”, as Aminetou Mint Moctar, founder and president of the Association of Women Heads of Household in Mauritania [Association des femmes chefs de famille en Mauritanie] explains it while also claiming and owning it every day.

It could be no other way for someone who, at the age of 13, was forced into marriage. This situation led her to become involved, from a very early age, in the struggle for women’s rights and against early and forced marriage, which she considers as “a barrier to enhance women’s leadership and development”.

For someone like Aminetou, whose family comes from the ‘’warrior clan’’ with a feudal vision of a woman’s role, to be born a “rebel” meant above all daring to stand up from a young age and fight all forms of discrimination and inhuman and degrading treatment.

“I feel it is my duty as an activist to commit to getting rights enforced,” she says, calling on all women, men and young people to join her in this ideal. With optimism, Aminetou is convinced that change will come, although the path may be fraught with difficulty.

Aminetou Mint Moctar has, in fact, been arbitrarily arrested and detained on several occasions. Her arrest and detention for at least seven days in Nouadhibou in Mauritania in 1989 “for having criticized the deportation of Black Mauritanians” remains etched on her memory to this day.

Members of her family and of the association she runs have also suffered various threats. And then, in 2014, she was the object of a fatwa* for her defence of the blogger, Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was prosecuted for apostasy and sentenced to death in December 2014. She went into exile for several months but, upon her return in 2015, her son was also threatened while leaving mosque. She was then forced to send him abroad for his own safety.

I feel it is my duty as an activist to commit to getting rights enforced

Aminetou Mint Moctar

To be born a “rebel” means getting involved in different associations early on, to denounce the lack of emancipation for women and minorities, racism and to promote democracy. As a defender of the oppressed, Aminetou decided to join the international democratic movement in 1989, before leaving it in 1991.

Then came her human rights activism, with the creation of the Association of Women Heads of Household on 17 April 1999. The association had been created three weeks earlier under the name of the Association for the Promotion and Defence of Women’s Rights. “But when we tried to get it recognized, the Minister of the Interior categorically refused,” she recounts.

A change of tactic was needed in response to the authorities’ attitudes. Aminetou changed her name on her passport, and the name of her association. The association was finally recognized that same day, amid great celebration. It now has more than 12,000 members, six victim reception centres, 168 social workers, the services of four lawyers, and a contact in every town in Mauritania, a country in which Aminetou’s name is now synonymous with defence of the voiceless, defence of human rights.

In any case, to be born and remain a “rebel” is to continue the battle, keep one’s head high. Such is the daily struggle of Aminetou Mint Moctar.

* Fatma : A fatwa is a religious decree issued by a senior religious dignitary.