In some parts of Mauritania, it is not uncommon for women to celebrate their divorce. The occasion is often marked with parties and dinners, at backdrop of tambourines and ululation in honor of the divorced women.
The celebration is done to welcome her back into her family’s home. It is also meant to convey that she has once again returned to her dignity and peace. After the divorce proceedings are finalized, most Mauritanian women return to their family’s home with their children. Their mothers and sisters welcome them back with the sounds of Zaghrouta and ululating cries of joy.
The age-old tradition is said to have emerged from an old unchanging tribal system. In the olden days the Mauritanian society was made up of only a few tribes living in separate regions. Intermarriage was not common. This was in order to preserve lineage, alliance as well as social class.
Women were often forced to marry their cousins. The Mauritanian culture gave rise to the tradition of celebrating divorce because of the fact that there were few options presented to women after divorce. Furthermore, it was a way to ensure that divorced women were not adversely affected by their past or the fact that they are divorcees. The phenomenon quickly spread overtime, and eventually began to signify declaration of the divorcee’s independence and availability.
In Mauritania some women wear their previous marriages as status symbols and badges of honor. Multiple marriages are seen as a reflection of uniqueness, beauty and attractiveness. Mariam Bint Ahmed Salem, a Mauritanian woman in her 50s, agreed stating – “I have been married nine times. I am at present divorced and have no intention of walking down the aisle again. I have children from multiple partners. I am proud of myself as well as the life I have lived. It shows how beautiful and attractive I am!”
Incidentally, most Mauritanian men believe that a divorced woman is more mature, experienced and understanding of the difficulties and challenges of life. They also hold the common belief that an unmarried woman is more narcissistic and exaggerates her worth. This often leads to hurdles and unreasonable conditions by the bachelorette as well as her family as it pertains to high dowry charges.
Conversely, a divorced man faces a greater difficulty to remarry, particularly if he is not well off or financially stable. Mauritanian women preferred unmarried men. They believe that multiple failed marriages by a man reflect an inability to bear responsibility and further indicate that the man is impatient and could be violent towards them.
In spite of the welcome most Mauritanian women find after divorce, it seems that that it is not as pleasant as many would have us believe. There has been a dramatic increase in divorce rates in the country according to civil society organizations active on family issues. It is because of this that civil society is trying to raise awareness around the dangers of this to family stability and child development.
In an official report by the Mauritanian government released in 2018, nearly a third of all marriages end in divorce. More critically, 60 percent of divorces went through a separation of five years or more first. This makes it difficult for women to remarry. The study concluded that 74 percent of divorced women remarried, but only 25 percent married three times or more.