By Elimane Ndao
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Senegal, physical, economic and psychological violence against women has increased by 15 to 30 percent, according to the Association of Senegalese Jurists (AJS). The association is a major actor in the fight against gender-based violence, and holds regular workshops open to the public to raise awareness and assist women legally.
Dieuppeul Derklé is a working-class neighborhood in Dakar. It is here that the Senegalese lawyers’ association organizes its ongoing discussion about gender-based violence. About twenty women and a handful of men listen as women denounce the violence they suffer.
According to Ndèye Madjiguène Sarr Bakhoum, member of the Association of Senegalese Lawyers, “laws are not neutral. If women do not participate in law-making, some of our concerns will not be taken into account.”
Bakhoum advises women to seek legal assistance to stop abuse and violence. “We advise these women to come to our law offices, to take advantage of the rights they have, not to give up their homes. Speaking out is necessary to stop the violence.
Marème Tabane, a participant in the workshop, agreed. “We must not try to keep up appearances. Women who are subjected to violence must make it known. The association of Senegalese jurists is there to support them,” Tabane said.
Attendees noted the important responsibility of men. Boubacar Fall invited husbands to show more understanding towards their wives and to establish a climate of peace in the family. “We men have an extraordinary responsibility,” he said. “We must not take the posture of head of the family as a dictatorship. It’s a companionship, it’s a guidance, it’s a friendship beyond the love that binds us. When you have a wife, I think you have to know how to cover and protect her.”
Some experts stress the need to rethink social education to overcome gender-based violence. Psychologist Ibrahima Giroux called for a better education of boys so that they become better husbands and parents.
“Some countries train future parents,” Giroux explained. “Few countries in the world do it, but it should be done everywhere in the world. Imams, clergy, traditional leaders, we need to open it up to everyone. Everyone has a say and everyone’s word is important to build together a national program of parental education for Senegal.”
2020 marked an important legislative victory for women’s rights advocates, with the criminalization of rape in Senegal after several years of struggle. Women’s rights associations hope for greater state involvement to end violence.