Human rights monitors and female lawyers report that physical mistreatment of women by their husbands is rare. The police and judiciary occasionally intervene in domestic abuse cases but women in traditional society rarely seek legal redress, relying instead upon family and ethnic group members to resolve domestic disputes. The incidence of reported rape is low. It occurs, but newspaper accounts of attacks are rare.
Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and, among the more modern and urbanized population, these rights are recognized. By local tradition, a woman's first marriage, but not subsequent marriages, requires parental consent. In accordance with Shari' a, marriage and divorce do not require the woman's consent, polygyny is allowed, and a woman does not have the right to refuse her husband's wish to marry additional wives. In practice polygyny is very rare among Moors but common among other ethnic groups. Arranged marriages are also increasingly rare, particularly among the Moor population. Women frequently initiate the termination of a marriage, which most often is done by husband or wife by repudiation rather than divorce. It is also common in Moor society for a woman to obtain, at the time of marriage, a contractual agreement that stipulates that her husband must agree to end their marriage if he chooses an additional wife. The rate of divorce among Moors is estimated to be 37 percent and the remarriage rate after divorce is 72.5 percent.
The Government entered reservations over requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that contradict the Shari' a, such as in inheritance cases in which women receive half the portion of a man.
There are no legal restrictions on the education of girls and women. Girls constituted 48,8 percent of all children enrolled in school in 1998. Some 84 percent of school-age girls attended elementary school in 1998-99, up from 44,8 percent in 1990 (compared with 88 percent for boys, up from 58,3 percent). At the secondary level, female students constituted 37.4 percent of those enrolled. Despite the increases, enrollment in eastern Mauritania, the Brakna, and along the Senegal River remained at a lower level. The Government introduced a special countrywide program in 1995-96 to boost female enrollment at the elementary level. Women made up 17 percent of the university's 1998-99 enrollment, compared with 9 percent in 1990. Women also constituted 30,5 percent of students enrolled in technical schools, compared with 2 percent in 1990. The literacy rate for women is 36 percent compared with 50 percent for men.
The Government seeks to open new employment opportunities for women in areas that traditionally were filled by men, such as health care, communications, police, and customs services. Women became more involved in the fishing industry and established several women's fishing cooperatives. For the first time, women were hired by the army to serve as police inspectors and customs officials.
The law provides that men and women receive equal pay for equal work. While not universally applied in practice, the two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, respect this law. In the modern wage sector, women also receive generous family benefits, including 3 months of maternity leave.