Traditional forms of mistreatment of females continue, mostly in isolated rural communities, but these practices appear to be on the decline. Such mistreatment consists of forced feeding of adolescent girls (gavage) and female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Experts previously estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of women experienced gavage, but now conclude that less than 25 percent of Moor women have experienced gavage, which is practiced only among the Moors. The change in figures appears to reflect both prior overestimation and a decline in the practice in recent years. The Government continued intensive media and educational campaigns against FGM and gavage during the year.
FGM is performed most often on young girls, often on the seventh day after birth and almost always before the age of 6 months, and it is practiced among all ethnic groups except the Wolof. A March 1996 report by the United Nations Population Fund and a study published in 1997 by Jeune Afrique Economie cited Mauritania as a country in which 25 percent of the women undergo FGM. Among Halpulaar women, over 95 percent undergo FGM. A broad, foreign-funded study still is underway to obtain more precise data. The Government projects the study's completion by the end of 2000. Preliminary results of the foreign-funded study indicate that 66 percent of those who perform FGM recognize that the practice is detrimental to women's health, and 54 percent of imams agree that the practice is dangerous. Local experts agree that the least severe form of excision is practiced, and not infibulation, the most severe form of FGM. The practice of FGM has decreased in the modern urban sector.
It is the clear public policy of the Government, through the Secretariat of Women's Affairs, that FGM should be stopped, and the Government bars hospitals from performing it. Public health workers and NGO's educate women to the dangers of FGM and to the fact that FGM is not a requirement of Islam. For example a 1996 officially produced Guide to the Rights of Women in Mauritania (with religious endorsement) stresses that Islam does not require FGM and that if medical experts warn against it for medical reasons, it should not be done. The campaign against FGM appears to be changing attitudes towards the practice, according to several women's rights experts.
Violence against women
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