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In This Tiny Arab Country, Divorce Is a Cause For Celebration

Other countries can certainly learn from Mauritania

Unless it’s providing an escape from harmful marriage, it’s unusual to view divorce as a positive event. However, in some parts of the world, the perspective is different. For instance in Mauritania, a tiny Arab country in Northwest Africa, women often celebrate divorce, which is a stark contrast to most Middle Eastern and North African countries where divorced women are unfairly labeled as unsuccessful for not maintaining a traditional family structure. But not only are divorced women in Mauritania considered to be more desirable, they have a higher chance of getting re-married than a woman who has never been wed does of getting married (the average Arab man’s mind can not compute!)

In Mauritania, divorce is both common and celebrated. Women host elaborate parties and festivities, surrounded by friends and family, to celebrate their newfound freedom with music, dance, and feasts. These celebrations are more than social gatherings, but public declarations of the women’s availability for remarriage. Mauritian women treat the occasion of divorce as an opportunity to start anew, reiterating that there is nothing wrong with separation. 

This unusual perspective reflects Mauritania’s matriarchal culture, which grants women significant autonomy and independence. The fact that women enjoy a strong ascendancy and real predominance in this tiny Arab nation has its roots in deep-rooted matriarchal traditions practiced by the Sanhaja Berbers and Hilalian Arabs– the two tribes that the majority of Mauritanians are descended from. 

Mauritanian women owe it to the well-established matriarchal traditions of their society to be independent, assertive, self-willed, uninhibited, outgoing, and strong-minded. Mauritanian women play a prominent role in Saharan society, so much so that it can be seen as a modern-day matriarchy. They are also well-represented in the country’s decision-making centers, including from female MPs, leaders of political parties, and chairs of civil society organizations to high-ranking officials in the administration and in the armed forces— a huge contrast to neighboring countries. 

The “divorce market” in Mauritania is a metaphorical space where newly-separated women can re-establish their social status and are seen as desirable for remarriage. The physical market is where said divorced women go to sell their furniture that had to do with their previous marriage. The increasing divorce rate in the country has led to the concept of a “matrimonial career,” where women marry multiple times throughout their lives. Women with experience from previous marriages are often considered better prospects than young, inexperienced brides, empowering women to initiate divorce if their needs are not being met.

According to TRT World, some women view their previous marriages as status symbols. Multiple marriages reflect a woman’s uniqueness, beauty, and attractiveness. In traditional Mauritanian society, made up of a few tribes living in separate regions, intermarriage wasn’t common. To preserve lineage, alliances, and castes, women were often forced to marry their cousins. The limited options for women after divorce led to a tradition of celebrating, ensuring that their future would not be weighed down by their past. This tradition has evolved to symbolize a declaration of independence and availability.

What’s more, Islamic law, which governs marriage and divorce in Mauritania, includes a provision called “khul,” allowing a wife to seek divorce by compensating her husband, usually with the bride price. This legal framework gives women significant agency in ending their marriages, a level of autonomy that many hope to see across all Arab countries.

Indeed, celebrating women who divorce is a lot better than shaming them. The widespread shaming culture prevalent in many parts of the region is a large reason why many women choose to stay in abusive relationships lest they get judged by their family and neighbors. If you ask us, the rest of the world can certainly learn from Mauritania’s approach.

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