AFCF Convenes National Institute for Women's Leadership in Mauritania

A group of 15 women leaders from Mauritanian NGOs, each from different wilayas (provinces), met in Nouakchott from 15-20 May 2005 for the Mauritanian National Institute for Women's Leadership. The Institute was organized by the Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (AFCF) with the support of WLP. AFCF's President, Aminetou mint El Mokhtar, was inspired to hold this Institute after attending WLP's Maghreb Regional Learning Institute for Women's Leadership and Training of Trainers in December 2004. This Institute was the first collaboration between AFCF and WLP.

The five-day Institute aimed to strengthen participants' capacity as NGO leaders and human rights advocates, with the ultimate goal of empowering Mauritanian women to become effective decision-makers in their families, communities, and societies. Using WLP's training curriculum, Leading to Choices, the Institute combined training on participatory leadership, media, and advocacy skills with discussions on urgent human rights issues affecting women in Mauritania, in particular slavery and the personal status code. Prominent keynote speakers began the sessions each day and answered questions on their areas of expertise, after which participants broke out into groups to work on exercises and discuss the material in greater depth. Each day closed with reports from the groups, detailing their experiences and insights.

Aminetou mint El Mokhtar gave the first keynote on the obstacles faced by women as NGO directors, drawing on her own work in the fields of anti-slavery and the rights of divorcées, to provide examples. Groups discussed strategies for tackling the persistent problem of slavery in Mauritania, including reform of current laws on land ownership and stronger enforcement of the country's existing law against slavery.

Aichethou mint Ahmed, a well-known jurist, led an in-depth review of the personal status code in Mauritania, paying particular attention to women's inheritance rights, polygamy, and women's divorce rights. Aichethou mint Ahmed illustrated her discussion with the publicized case of Mariam, a woman who had sued her in-laws after they denied any inheritance to herself and her children upon the death of her husband. Groups then worked on an exercise practicing advocacy skills and discussed strategies for influencing the government to revise the personal status code.

Hindou mint Ainina, a communications expert, trained participants on working with the media. She led an exercise in which participants worked through the steps involved in bringing an important event to the attention of the media. Group discussions highlighted the importance of securing media coverage early in a campaign and the need for more training for NGO representatives on how to interact with the media. Groups also considered the value of petitions as a tool for demonstrating public concern to the media.

Participants used the final day of the Institute as an opportunity to review the varied discussions held and to identify ways to move their work forward. The majority of participants called for more training and for further opportunities to exchange experiences in order to develop the capacity of their own organizations and the collective capacity of women's organizations in Mauritania. Several participants emphasized the importance of training that integrates an understanding of the culture of human rights and draws on local experiences in defining problems and solutions. Other participants expressed the need for more programming addressing women's economic status, literacy, slavery, and the personal status code. There was a broad agreement that women needed to take on more managerial roles in Mauritania in order to improve the status of women.

At the end of the Institute, participants expressed an interest in developing stronger North-South partnerships to advance their work on women's rights and with other organizations within the country. AFCF plans to use the Leading to Choices curriculum at future workshops and Institutes.

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