Gavage in Mauritania
August 17, 2008, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , ,


The nation of Mauritania faces a myriad of social, political and economic problems, which has greatly impacted it’s ability to develop. While most Mauritanians live and work in urban centers, a sizable number still depend on agriculture and animal husbandry, specifically in rural areas where the government has had little influence in affecting policy. One area where this is most apparent has been with gavage, or the practicing of force feeding. In his book Mauritania, Alfred G. Gerteiny wrote this of gavage:

Women are subjected to gavage-that is, forced feeding, in order to gain weight. Fathers send daughters 10 or 11 years of age to live with herdtending dependent aznagui who see to it that the girls gain weight … often by being tied to the ground, and, to expand their stomachs, given nothing by water for three days. Then they are crammed with milk, usually camel’s milk.

Though decades have passed since Gerteiny wrote of the practice, gavage still occurs. In Mauritania, women who are overweight, or in some cases, obese, are considered beautiful and alternatively, women who weigh what we here would consider a healthy weight are shunned. In recent years, the government and NGO’s have forcefully led a campaign to discourage the practice. The forceful feeding of adolescent girls creates a plethora of health complications as the young girls mature into women. In the larger cities, the practice has visibly been cut, both by a changing of the times and by the discouragement of the practice. However, things are different in the desert, where people continue traditional practices.

One woman told the BBC:

“I make them eat lots of dates, lots and lots of couscous and other fattening food,”

But even in the cities, the reduction in gavage has not impacted the allure of obesity, which is still a pervasively dominant paradigm.

One woman told the Christian Science Monitor.

“The real gavage is on the point of becoming extinct. But there’s a new method … They take pills, some of them ones you usually give to an animal.”

While the practice of force feeding has reduced, obesity is still seen as a sign of beauty and women continue to go to great lengths and widths to gain weight. Al Jazeera explores the issue of gavage and the changing psyche of Mauritanians in their Africa Uncovered series.

Part 1

Part 2


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think this is a beautiful thing.

Comment by John Smith

Very sad. I hope it is changing and the health of a person (female) becomes priority at some point.

Comment by Sheri Goddard

I am deeply saddened by the force feeding. I watched a Mauritanian mother force feed her 5-year old daughter and my heart broke. The little girl was crying and gagging as her mother squeezed fer foot between 2 sticks and crammed milk down her throat at the same time. She was miserable and was crying. This has to end.

Comment by Ann

I just saw something about this and the gavage treatment on NatGeo and all i could think of was my little girl and the fact that they are abusing children. It really sad. I feel as though all the parents that are doing this to there kids, mainly mothers and the ones sitting to the side allowing this the fathers, should along with the government for alowing this should be beaten till bloody and crying(like there Children for the parents to stop/also some dieing from it) with the same sticks used for the gavage practice. i would love to do it. Its sick I hope all those parents get whats coming to them.

Comment by Matt

At least they give girls a lot of food and tell them it’s ok to be fat. We on the other hand overfeed your girls almost as badly as that and still tell them they’ve got to be thin. It’s just psychological torture instead of sticks.

Comment by Henry

We Americans are no different in that most children are being made to eat unhealthy food then society is saying you are ugly if you are fat. I am fat, and I would like to rejoice in a culture who views us as beautiful, but I can’t! Not at the expense of torture!

Comment by Michelle

I understand

Comment by Kimberly

I understand tht certain cultures have ways of doing things. But this is so unbelievable to me. I am sickened and repulsed by this. To force feed your daughter to the point of vomiting and torture her to get her to eat.. It’s in humane. I just don’t understand. I’m sickened and saddened. I feel pain in my own stomach and heart for these poor female children. To see this was actually traumatizing to me. Weight is so looked down upon in our society, that men/women starve themselves to “fit in”, and yet in another country they are literally force feeding female children to become fat so that a man will find them more desirable and shows how much she loves him?!?! I just don’t get it. WHY does weight have to be such a stigma…. Why????…….

Comment by Kimberly

[…] found my husband watching a documentary on the practice of gavage in the West African country of Mauritania. I sat down against my better judgment. Girls are taken […]

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