Senegalese women through the eyes of female EU AID Volunteers
Indeed, according to National Statistics and Demographic Agency of the nearly 16 million people living in the country 7 896 040 are women (50,2%). On the contrary men are 49,8% of the population.
Their involvement in agriculture, livestock farming and the environment amounts to 70% of the workforce.
Nonetheless, Senegalese women face huge discriminations.
With a society deeply entrenched in patriarchy, women have to fight long and hard in order to get the recognition they deserve. Even those who manage to access decision making positions and become leaders, they still have to face huge obstacles because the male counterparts don’t see them as competent as a man.
First, they need the husband’s permission for any family-related issue. The Senegalese family law clearly states that men are chefs de famille meaning that the husband can rightfully take any decision concerning the family.
Secondly, women are more likely to experience gender-based violence which is generally inflicted domestically either in a physical, sexual or verbal form. However, most of the times the physical violence is the direct result of the economic violence. Without her own money, the woman has no other choice but to ask the husband for money in order to provide for the daily expenses (food, soap, health…).
Thirdly, women have to face huge constraints. They are denied access to land/land tenure security, to financing mechanisms, to factors of production and extension services, to markets. And they are also the most affected by the effects of climate change.
Since 2017, Alianza por la Solidaridad has been deploying volunteers in Senegal through the EU AID VOLUNTEERS program. These photos were taken by some of those volunteers, particularly the female volunteers.
Set against the abovementioned backdrop, the exhibition is meant to show another side of the Senegalese reality. The side of female empowerment, resilience and success experienced through the eyes of Alba, Martina and Debora.
EU AID Volunteer in Communication.
From 01-09-2018 until 18-06-2019.
Madrid and Kolda, Senegal.
During my stay in Kolda, since I was immersed in a different culture from the one I was used to, I have learned a lot of new and different things. The Senegalese have taught me the Teranga, that is, to welcome people who come to your country all the while making them feel at home. They have taught me that you can be of different religions and yet share everything. I have learnt the value in diverse cultures and in speaking different languages. I have learnt that in spite of these differences you can still respect and understand each other. The Senegalese have taught me what it means to share, to be resilient and to see life in a simple way.
Like everyone before arriving in Senegal, I had preconceived ideas, particularly about the role of women. Being Senegal a mostly Muslim country, I assumed women had no voice at all. However, once there, I realized that it was not quite like I had imagined. Of course, I can’t deny that I often felt frustrated when I saw the predominant heteropatriarchy in action. Yet, the moment I started to plunge into Kolda’s dailylife I had the chance to discover what the reality was for the local girls and women. I soon realized that they too have their own battles. Now when I think about a Senegalese woman, I see a super working woman without whom the family would collapse, a community woman who works with and finds support on other women, a resilient and creative woman.
I would like to share an experience I was lucky enough to have with a group of young girls. Every Wednesday they meet at CEDEPS (Kolda’s Youth Center) where they discuss female genital mutilation, child marriages, women’s lack of education and other important issues concerning gender equality. I was astonished to see how many girls and young women committed themselves to volunteering. Organised into groups, they are present in different neighborhoods of the city and they raise awareness among their family members on the importance of abolishing such harmful practices for women. This experience showed me the side of empowered Senegalese women as well as the strength they have when they are united.
Through my photos, I would like to bring the viewer as close as possible to the reality I was immersed in for a while. Still I know it’s impossible because a photo can’t portray the emotions, the smells, the heat, the dust, the sounds and everything that envelops a moment. With my photos, I wish to encourage people to discover different realities, to move and to break stereotypes. I would like them to open their minds and, above all, to learn from each place they go.
EU AID Volunteer in Communication.
From 18-10-2019 until 18-03-2020.
The time spent in Senegal has been full of invaluable lessons. I have learned to appreciate a slow paced lifestyle, to live simply with few things, and to enjoy the little moments like watching the sunset from the terrace. Compared to what I was used to (always being busy with something: an event, an activity, a training), Senegal and Senegalese people taught me the importance of time. Once I got my time back I started using it to think. It was my first experience ever in Africa. Inevitably, I was confronted with a way of living so radically different from my own. Every day my brain would be challenged. With time I acquired another crucial lesson: I learned to unlearn. I learned to take a step back and make the effort of taking my culturally biased googles out. Through this process of unlearning, I managed to get rid of all the stereotypes, the misconceptions. This freed up space became soon available for relearning.
Amongst the misconceived ideas, there was the simple-minded representation of Senegalese women. The representation we are accostumed to is that of submissive women often relegated to the background of the society, with no power nor voice. This is just a superficial view. Sure, the Senegalese society is a patriarcal one but this does not mean that women have no role. On the contrary, they are crucial. They are the glue that keeps the whole family going. They have incredible strength, resilience and immense amount of knowledge. I have learned to be in awe of them, of their determination to not be pushed around by the patriarchal society. Thanks to this experience, I have met some incredible, empowering and empowered women and girls.
Ramata Sall is one of them. She’s leading the Senegalese society towards change. And I was lucky enough to interview her. With an education in Law, Human Rights and humanitarian Action she is an activist fighting for the rights and the empowerement of Senegalese women. She is sort of like an institution in Kolda. Everybody knows her and the work she has been doing in the whole region for women. It was truly an inspiration to learn about her commitment to change the status quo which can be summed up in by her quote: “You don’t reclaim your rights. You must learn to grab them.”
When someone look at my photos I want them to feel challenged the same way I was during my whole Senegalese experience. In order to get rid of the biases and stereotypes, you have to stay curious about the world, to constantly question what you know and to confront yourself with the numerous realities. As uncomfortable as this process might be, it’s the only way to fully understand and learn. So, with my photos I would like to awaken people’s sense of curiosity.