African societies are often inherently patriarchal, and it’s generally young girls and women that have to bear the brunt of the continent’s various traditional practices.
For instance, there is the awful practice of “sexual cleansing” whereby young girls in countries such as Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda are expected to have sex as part of a cleansing ritual in any of these circumstances: after her first period, after losing a husband or after having an abortion.
Then, of course, there is the disgusting practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) where female genitals are deliberately cut as “rite of passage into womanhood”.
However, you may not have heard of “leblouh” which is prevalent in rural in areas in Mauritania, Western Sahara, and southern Morocco.
Learn about this disturbing practice in the video below:
Leblouh is a horrific process whereby girls as young as five are force-fed in a bid to prepare them for marriage.
In parts of Mauritania, larger girls and women are seen as more attractive and wealthier while those who are slimmer are considered less worthy of marriage.
Astoundingly, leblouh has never been outlawed in the country, meaning it has been allowed to continue unpunished.
The girls who are subjected to this cruel tradition are sent to fat camps where they are forced to consume thousands of calories a day. These camps are run by elderly women known as “fatteners”.
Learn more about leblouh below:
In an interview with CNN correspondent Mohamed Yahya Abdul Wedoud, 25-year-old Mariam Mint Ahmed, opened up about her own experience with leblouh.
“It is our responsibility as a young generation to put an end to the custom that threatens our lives,” she said. “I know so many innocent girls that were fattened up against their will to be married off and most of them got sick. I feel sad when I constantly see them struggling with blood pressure, hypertension and heart diseases.”
“Girls here in Mauritania have suffered a lot from the tradition of leblouh. They are forced to eat up very large quantities of food and drink up bowls of goat’s or cow’s milk,” Mint Ahmed added.
She also said that the girls who don’t finish their meals are often punished. One such method of punishment, Mint revealed, is tying a girl’s toes to sticks and applying pressure to the sticks causing her to feel pain in her feet.
These girls are forced to consume diets up to 16,000 calories, often to the extent that they start throwing up.
They typically eat four meals a day. For breakfast, the girls will usually eat breadcrumbs soaked in olive oil with camel milk. They then consume several meals throughout the day, made up of bread, goat’s meat, figs, couscous and more camel milk.
After the force-feeding, the girls are banned from moving or doing any kind of exercise and have to rest instead.
Tijanniya Mint Tijani is another young woman who was sent to this cruel force-feeding camp.
“You’re going on vacation to the desert to meet other girls and eat sweet food,” Tijanniya Mint Tijani’s mother told her, according to Marie Claire. At first, Tijanniya was looking forward to it. “She said that by the time I returned home, I’d be a beautiful woman,” she recalls.
Just ten days later, 14-year-old Tijanniya was forced to reside in a cramped sandstone hut in the Sahara Desert. She is frequently threatened with cane beatings by 50-year-old Aminetou Mint Elhacen if she refuses to eat any further. And if she vomits, Mint Elhacen will force her to eat that as well. “The aim is to feed them until their bodies blow up like balloons,” she says.
“My stomach hurts,” Tijanniya says. “I don’t want to be fat. I don’t think it’s beautiful. Now I see why some girls at school came back fat after vacation, but they were much prettier before. I love sports. I’m scared I won’t be able to run fast when I’m fat.”
Tijanniya dreams of becoming a French teacher, but Elhacen insists the girl’s parents have already arranged for her to get married. “Her job will be to make babies and be a soft, fleshy bed for her husband to lie on. The stomach flab should cascade, the thighs should overlap, and the neck should have thick ripples of fat. Parents will give me a bonus if a girl develops stretch marks.”
When Souadou Isselmou, another victim of the disturbing practice, was forced to consume buckets of oatmeal as a child, she despised it so much that she would his some of it under her armpits and throw it in the toilet.
“I tried to stick it in my abaya (loose-fitting robe),” she said. “Sometimes I got caught, but I still managed to get rid of some food.”
From the age of seven, her parents would feed her two whole buckets of oatmeal and couscous a day “so men would want to marry me.” “I married my cousin at the age of 13, and had my first child a year later,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Unfortunately, the practice has plenty of supporters in Mauritania. “Personally, I do believe that fattening girls is more than a necessity. Slim girls bring shame to their families and even their tribes as well. It’s also difficult for them to attract men’s eyes in our society,” says 55-year-old Achetou Mint Taleb. “I had two daughters and I fattened them while they were eight to 10 years old, so both of them grew enormously, have married quickly and got children before the age of 17. They are managing their families and come to see me on weekends. I am now very proud of what I did.”
What these girls are forced to ensure is absolutely sickening. This lifestyle is forced on them, leaving with no agency over their own bodies. Moreover, their quality of life is sabotaged as their large size and constant overeating leave them with a whole host of health problems.
We hope in the near future that this abhorrent practice is internationally recognized and fought against like other “traditions” that leave women feeling controlled and attacked.