There is a country in Africa where husbands pride themselves on beating their wives — and their women believe it is a sign of love.
In fact, a 19-year-old woman from Mauritania's Soninké ethnic group, Salimata, was told by her mother, “You're the daughter of a woman whose husband broke her hands. Your grandmother's legs were fractured by her husband. You must be loved.”
“I felt like an animal that had to be disciplined,” she said. “As time passed, I came to believe that my husband beats me only when he is at the peak of his love for me.”
The poor nation of Mauritania is rife with social segregation and racism and each group has its own marriage norms. Mauritania law loosely stipulates “sanity” and “marriageable age” as conditions for getting married — and many parents marry off their daughters at an early age, often when they are as young as 8, as the law gives them the right to decide.
Although divorce is widely accepted among the majority of Moors, it is next to impossible to get one among the Mauritanians of African descent such as the Soninke and Fulani. And while domestic abuse is disapproved by the Moors, among people of Arab and Berber descent, it is actually seen as an act of love. In fact, women often accept being beaten to avoid divorce.
Sociology professor Ousmane Wagué at the University of Nouakchott, also a Fulani, told Reuters, “As the popular song goes: My legs were broken and I stayed home.”
Aichetou Samba, a 60-year-old Fulani grandmother, said, “A Fulani woman always takes pride in being beaten by her husband. This is one of our traditions. We see wife-beating as a common and normal practice, which sometimes includes pouring cold water on the wife’s body.”
Alyoun Idi, a 27-year-old Fulani man who has beaten his wife numerous times, said it’s part of their tradition.
“I love my wife so much and I cannot live without her but we inherited this from our ancestors, which is part of our traditions,” Alyoun said. “[Beating] is also a great resolution for many family disputes.”
Despite the fact that violence against women was criminalized in 2011 and beating one’s wife is punishable by five years in prison, some people continue to assault their wives. Even those who come forward to report the abuse often drop charges for fear their husbands will be sent to jail or they will divorce.
Mauritania’s legal system provides victims with free services, including attorneys, medical and psychological support, but years of tradition and brainwashing is not easy to undo and it is the women themselves who need to be taught that being abused is not normal.
“When apathy afflicts our relationship, he would not care anymore for what I do even if I burned down the house,” said Salimata. “It’s at that moment that I will miss being beaten.”