In June 1999, the Independent Women’s Forum co-hosted a press conference with the American Friends Service (AFS) for Boubacar Ould Messaoud, the President of S.O.S. Slaves, at the National Press Club.  Messaoud, a former slave from Mauritania in West Africa, addressed the continuing human rights catastrophe in his native country and explained his role in aiding escaped slaves.

The IWF is concerned about this issue because women are the linchpins of the slavery system in Mauritania: They are held in bondage and literally bred to produce a future labor force. As Amy Holmes, IWF policy analyst stated, “These women have been so dehumanized and degraded, that when asked, they do not even realize that the forcible breeding by their masters is even rape.” The concept of free will, of owning their own bodies, is that alien.

When contacted about participating in the press conference, groups like the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women were surprisingly nonchalant about the realities of human chattel slavery in the twentieth century. Their silence, as well as the inaction of similar organizations, is confounding.

But, groups like the AFS and the IWF are working to expose the suffering in Mauritania and elsewhere.  The AFS provided videotaped documentation of atrocities.  One escaped slave woman described her experience and her will to overcome her condition: “We have all been beaten and tortured. Things are getting worse because [the slave masters] don’t regret their actions. But we are not afraid. We are determined to do what we have to do.”