The Women of Senegal – Part 2

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World Bank once published that “There is no investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating girls.” And as much as I think that it’s a no brainer: educating girls is primordial; I have run into people who disagree.

During my first week with the organization, I had the opportunity to accompany Adji Sanghor in her traveling, and together we visited over twenty schools in the area – where we met with the young girls sponsored by the program “Nos Soeurs à l’école” (“Our Sisters in school”). We spent entire days on the road. The trip was tough, and the roads were awful. It’s not even fair to say there were potholes in the asphalt. Instead, there were some asphalt chunks on the dirt roads. But that is not what I want to talk about.

In each school, we met with young girls who are sponsored by the program, and gave them a new backpack with school and bathroom supplies. We also met with their schools’ directors, teachers and classmates.

On our first day of traveling we visited the Collège d’Enseignement Moyen de Sokone (students between the ages of 12 and 16). When Adji and I arrived there, we were surprised to see four girls on a corner; they were on their knees from the moment we walked in until the moment we left. I asked Adji what was going on, but she didn’t know either. So when we met with the school director, she asked him why the girls were on their knees. They were being punished.

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I’m a feminist, and most like Joss Whedon (the creator of some of the most empowering women characters on TV today); I dislike the unnatural state of the term. Equal rights, and the belief that women are humans should be inherent to people, but it is not. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, or seeing. Adji tried arguing, saying that they should drop the barbarian methods: “ces filles ont des droits, et ça c’est une forme de violence” (“these girls have rights, and that is a form of violence”) she reasoned. As a school director, and an adult male, that man is clearly in a position of power. He is not only stripping those girls away from their rights, but he is also subjugating and humiliating – as he claims to use them as examples for other students.

Taking the students out of class and using violence to teach a lesson was counterproductive. Yes, you may disagree, and I am aware that some of you grew up with such methods, and may think they work. However, time does change, and I don’t think they should still be employed. I was spanked by my parents when I was growing up, I don’t believe it’s a good idea.

The school director – with a big smile on his face – disagreed with Adji. He told her the girls needed to learn their lesson. What came out of his mouth next was even more putrid. He then asked me, if as a man, I agreed that she was helping too many girls, when she could be financing the schooling of boys instead. Help them with what? Staying home and watching TV, or staying out and playing soccer?

Excuse me Sir; do you have a moment to talk about women’s oppression throughout the centuries? Honestly, who died and made you principal? If my French skills were good enough to say everything I was thinking I wouldn’t have just stood there shaking my head to show disapproval.

Now let me paraphrase something I wrote earlier this year about marriage equality, and wish I had enough eloquence to have said it in French: I won’t debate “women’s rights” with you because it simply implies that you have the ability to dictate what they deserve and what they don’t. And let me tell you something: You don’t! No one does. I won’t debate “women’s rights” with you because I don’t want to hear about how – in your narrow mind – you truly believe you deserve more than them, that you are righteous, rightful. Lastly, I won’t debate “women’s rights” with you because individual rights just aren’t a matter of opinion, and should be respected independent of someone’s culture. This is human rights for everybody.

If you are against human rights and equality between men and women, than you are against each woman’s freedom and individual happiness. And if you are, I’m sorry, but subscribing to this privileged way of thinking is IGNORANCE. Unfortunately, your lack of knowledge, information, and capacity to accept, hurts women all around the world. It just happens that we live in a world where you get to decide their future. The political function of rights is specifically to defend minorities from oppression by majorities. And even though women are a majority in this country, they have been put in a position where they are subject to your approval, or as it happens to be, your rejection. It is embarrassing and heartbreaking that men still reproduce systems of discrimination, intolerance and oppression out of pure misogyny.

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