In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries, thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we have learned about the progress made in the countries; today, we focus on Senegal. To read the rest of the series, click here. If you want to help women and girls gain greater independence and empowerment, we have some ideas.
By Danielle Roth, Technical Coordinator for Youth Programs
Senegalese children experience gender-based violence at home and school and in their communities, which amount to an overall environment of pervasive fear and persecution, particularly for girls. A recent study found that in Senegal, 74 percent of schoolgirls have been sexually harassed, 22 percent have experienced an attempted rape, and 8 percent have been raped. Other studies have shown that the people likely to perpetrate this violence are often known to the victim — a classmate, a boyfriend, a neighbor or a teacher.
Gender-based violence, or GBV, is a problem of substantial proportions. It is also an issue with deep roots embedded in socio-cultural norms and community dynamics such as expectations around masculinity and femininity, power dynamics within the household and rigid gender roles. ChildFund is working with Senegalese communities to help them respond to and prevent GBV.
So, what exactly are we doing?
ChildFund works in the Tattaguine and Kolouckmbada areas of the Mbour district to address GBV against children and youth 6 years and older, through a community-led and action-oriented approach known as the community action cycle. This method of community mobilization includes four steps: 1) forming groups, (2) self-diagnosing challenges in the community, (3) developing action plans and (4) carrying out action plans.
From January through June 2014, six child protection groups, composed of community members themselves who are vulnerable to GBV and including both young people and adults, met to discuss some of the most pervasive GBV issues in their communities. These groups then developed their action plans, which outlined key steps they wanted to take in partnership with their communities to address these issues.
The groups chose to focus on community mobilization and advocacy with authorities around rape, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. An example of the successful work of one group involves a case of forced marriage. A young woman, aged 14 — we will call her Mawa — was forced to leave school when her mother received a pre-dowry gift.
Mawa says, “One day, around 8 p.m., while I was learning my lessons in my mother’s room, she called me to introduce me to two young men. She told me with a very low voice that I should be very kind with one of the men because he had come to ask me for marriage. When I told her that I did not want to get married — I am a student and I want to stay at school — she told me that if I did not love the guy and if I refuse this marriage, she will no longer support me.”
Mawa was left with no choice. To prepare her for marriage, Mawa’s mother withdrew her from school and sent her to the capital, Dakar, to work as a housemaid.
When the youth group in her village learned of Mawa’s situation, they brought the case to the newly formed child protection group. The group then met with Mawa’s mother to negotiate for her return under circumstances that the mother would find amenable but that also recognized Mawa’s human rights.
Mawa had no idea that all this was going on. “One Sunday, my mother called and asked me to come back to my town to resume my studies,” she says. “It is then that I learned that it was thanks to my village child protection committee that I was able to return home.
Cases like Mawa’s are not uncommon in Senegal, and that is why child protection groups like the one in her community are so important. To deepen this vital work, ChildFund will continue to support the child protection groups through another community action cycle.