Reporter’s Notebook from Senegal
One of my most memorable meetings during my trip to Senegal was with Mrs. N’Deye Soukeye Gueye, head of the Ministry of the Family and a firm advocate of the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
I was excited to meet this woman in person, having heard so much about her on my short trip to Dakar. Given the powerful weight of tradition in the Senegalese rural society, I was curious to see the woman who dared to speak out against this harmful practice. I was not disappointed.
As we waited briefly in the corridor of her office, I could see woman in colourful garbs bustling about. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and the camaraderie between colleagues visible. Mrs. Gueye was seated behind her desk, and she greeted us warmly inviting us to take a seat.
She had a voice that commanded attention and she soon had us hanging on to every word. The story behind the FGM ban in Senegal is fascinating. The success behind this, she told us, was to break the secrecy surrounding this ritual. So, she got together with a group of friends as dedicated as she, and set out in the rural areas to trigger a debate on the topic. She used at times a strategy to shock people into action, by showing photos of a girl’s “cutting” that went terribly wrong. She also brought the mother along, to tell the story, and managed to sway even the most conservative leaders.
But her mission was not easy. One very powerful religious leader threatened her and her team of advocates. She suffered setbacks in her personal and professional life, but more importantly, she lost a friend devoted to the cause. He died in mysterious circumstances, she told us.
This did not deter her at all. It only gave her more strength and courage to fight for the abolition of FGM. She fought in parliament and in 1999, a law banning FGM in Senegal was put in place. Her next step was to sway the public by getting the younger generation on board. Today, thousands of communities are voluntarily abandoning the practice. Now, she wants the ban to go global. In September this year, at the United Nations General Assembly, she along with a group of advocates from Africa will try to push for a resolution to ban Female Genital Mutilation for good.
The passion of Mrs. N’Deye is even more astounding when you know that she is not even a victim of FGM. Her tribe does not practice this custom, but she took a stand and sacrificed everything for the sake of women, and young girls. So that they can live a longer and healthier life, where their rights are respected and they are treated as human beings.
When I left her office, I was inspired and felt that her drive was contagious. My only wish is that I do this story justice and that it may touch the heart of our readers, as it has touched mine.