18.10.2012 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Interview on women’s social movement and gender-based violence in Senegal

@UNESCO/Tine Ismaïla - Marema Toure Thiam, Regional Coordinator SHS

UNESCO’s Regional Office in Dakar organized a meeting on 2-3 October 2012 to share and approve the results of the studies on the women’s social movement and gender-based violence in Senegal. Marema Toure Thiam, Chief of the Social and Human Sciences Sector (SHS) at UNESCO Dakar, presents the main conclusions.

  1. What are the main results of the two research studies?

The two studies have opened a genuine conceptual and theoretical debate on both topics.

First of all, on the concept of “women’s social movement”, can we actually affirm the existence of a women’s social movement in Senegal? If we deny its existence, we also deny the possibility of Senegalese women who are organized in women’s associations to claim a certain historicity. Also in Senegal, every new-born girl already belongs to a sort of organization – within her age group, the extended family etc. This phenomenon is essential in the Senegalese culture.

The participants to the meeting hence decided to acknowledge the existence of such a movement, yet suggesting putting it in the plural tense. In Senegal, there are women’s social movements. This plurality not only implies the many organizations that exist, it also expresses the diversity of issues around which women organize themselves. This confirms – if it still has to be – that women are not a monolithic entity.

A conceptual and methodological debate has also arisen about the concept of gender-based violence (GBV). The fact that women and girls are the main victims of gender-based violence does not allow social scientists to confuse this concept with the question of “Violence against women and girls”.

Talking about gender-based violence is admitting that violence is deeply rooted in the patriarchal society, which relies on women subordination. Above all, GBV expresses the domination over women in society. It’s also recognizing the fact that women are not only victims of such violence, they can also convey it. Several women attending the UNESCO meeting, in their capacity as experts as well as wives, shared their experiences of being victims of their mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law’s tyranny. All this brings about important methodological consequences. Facts originate from society, composed of men and women, and we should therefore look for answers on a society-wide basis.

2. What is the principal output from the two-day discussion?

The two studies have been amended according to the input received during the meeting and we now consider the research studies approved.

We have reviewed the GBV typology following the example of women’s organizations’ typologies and we have added several emerging issues. We have thus mentioned “academic violence”, perpetrated in schools and ironically embodied in the very concept of STG – sexually transmitted grades (to parody STDs – sexually transmitted diseases – that sometimes have a congenital link to STGs). Participants also dwelled on such phenomenon as women’s “early sexual retirement”, that the husband imposed on women, which is conceived as damaging as domestic violence. These concepts are controversial sociologically speaking, but they are also interesting inputs to the reflection on the concept of gender-based violence.

During the meeting participants concluded that there is a pressing necessity to re-politicize the women’s struggle. The discussions enabled us to specify the meaning of “re-politicize”, which does not necessarily mean that women have to get involved in political organizations. It is rather about putting the question of gender equality back to the core of the women’s struggle and working toward a positive social transformation. The question of women is eminently political. It bears an ideological dimension that has to be reinserted into women’s social movements’ actions.

3. What’s next?

The recommendations of the two studies are aimed at guiding public policies. They involve several stakeholders – such as governmental institutions, civil society and partners, who are all involved in public policy planning.

These recommendations are leading to concrete actions. The Minister of Women, Childhood and Women Entrepreneurship, Mrs Mariama Sarr, who chaired the Closing Ceremony, has reasserted the commitment of the Senegalese government and the intention of her ministry specifically to adopt the recommendations and to turn them into actions.

This is great news that we welcome as gender and Africa are UNESCO’s two main global priorities.

The two studies are current being revised to integrate the comments received during the meeting. They will available shortly.


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