Last month around 100 people gathered in Dakar’s Obelisk Square wearing orange t-shirts, marching to end violence against women in Senegal. Their banners read #Nopiwouma, which means “I will not shut up” when translated from Wolof into English.
HOW DID NOPIWOUMA BEGIN?
According to Senegal’s National Statistics Agency, one in four women aged 15 to 49 have experienced violence. Either at the hands of a husband or partner. This violence could be emotional, physical or sexual. Humans Rights Watch have also reported widespread sexual exploitation in secondary schools.
Blogger NK Thiat and tech entrepreneur Olivia Codou launched #Nopiwouma on Twitter. They also created a forum for women to speak out about their experiences of harassment and abuse. Since then, they’ve received hundreds of messages from both close friends and strangers across the forum. Both social media and in person. The majority of these women have been silent about their experiences until now.
“Nopiwouma was never going to work like #MeToo. In Senegalese culture it’s hard for us to even get people to talk about it,” says Thiat.
HOW HAS NOPIWOUMA ADAPTED TO SENEGALESE CULTURE?
A large part of the American #MeToo movement focused on naming high-profile perpetrators such as Harvey Weinstein. “Nopiwouma was about putting the emphasis on the survivors and giving them the platform to be able to find solutions to overcome any trauma that they had,” says Codou. “Because of the culture of submission here, we as women don’t come forward as far as saying names”.
Alpha Ba, UN Women Communication Specialist in West and Central Africa explains, “there is a kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell around the issue”. While rape is illegal in Senegal and is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, the law mentions nothing about marital rape and is rarely enforced.
“There’s a lot of backlash if you talk about certain things here, but I think it’s necessary to have that courage,” Codou said.
HOW DOES NOPIWOUMA HELP WOMEN?
Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, thousands of women have found a community where they can openly speak their minds. Oumy Ndour, former journalist with Radiodiffusion Télévision Sénégalaise, co-founded the private Facebook group Ladies Club Senegal. Here women have a safe space to discuss everything from marriage, to sexuality, workplace harassment and fashion.
Ndour says, “to end taboos about sexuality in a country like Senegal it’s going to take maybe more than one generation. Things are starting to change because of social media and the internet.”
However Senegalese women’s rights activists are aware that in 2016 only 25% of Senegal had access to the internet. Codou and Thiat are working to expand their activism beyond the internet and reach out to cities and villages across the country.
Codou says, “we have to be aware of the realities and not try to push a western concept. We have to try to find our own solution, based on our own values and how our society works”.