Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Senegal: The GREFELS Project: Strengthening Young Women to End Child Marriage in Vélingara, South Senegal

Published Date: 
Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Celebration of the 8th of March in Velingara

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Between January and April 2012, Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Sénégal (GREFELS) organised activities for and around Women’s International Day, targeting girls and young leaders on gender, leadership and human rights.

The main objective of this celebration was to enhance young girls’ leadership by providing them the chance, for the first time in their lives, to spead directly against authorities on their views on child marriage and CVAW.

Preparation for the International Day

Preparing parents and communities for the event was important as this would be the first time girls would be standing up in public spaces and addressing people in such high positions. Several meetings were held with village families before an agreement was reached.

The Prefect, Mayor, Inspector of Education, and Gender Office of the Provincial Department of the Ministries of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, the Organization for the Advancement of Girl’s schooling, to the local Branch of the National Federation of Women’s Groups, to the Organization of Community Workers, to the Red Cross,  to the Centre for Adolescents’ Reproductive Health, to the World Vision, to the Association  of Tradi-Practitioners, to the President of the Association of School Children’s Parents etc. were all sent invites.

T-Shirt with specific slogans were made:

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A picture of a girl dragged by her parents to the man to be her husband and signs: “Child marriage, a brake to our life” and “No to child marriage” are drawn on the front of the T-Shirt.

The slogans to be written on the holding signs were:

“Early marriage is child marriage”
 "Forced marriages = violence against girls”

“Stop violence against women”

“Girl’s place is at school, not in the kitchen”

“Girls want education and a job, not a husband”

These slogans were translated into Peulh or Fulani which is the main local language of the area.

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The 8th of March Events

This was the first time that International Women’s Day was celebrated in Velingara.

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When APAM and GREFELS announced that the youth involved in the CMP would celebrate the Women’s Day, several women’s groups, NGOS, associations of Human Rights Defenders and the Association of Traditional Communicators asked to be part of the march.

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Traditional Communicators wearing the Project T-shirt, performing during the march

The March

Around 9.00 AM, the group of girls and boys wearing their T-shirts and holding banners and signs, gathered in front of APAM’s premises to start the March, and were accompanied by the police.

The girls, along with about 300 suuporters, arrived at the Prefecture to read their Declaration to the Prefect who was waiting for them. The Declaration stressed all obstacles making the lives of the girls of Velingara so difficult, the most crucial ones being forced marriage, early pregnancies and female genital mutilations. It then focused on the violation of their rights, including the right to education, to health and to live free from violence. The Declaration ended by a demand to the Prefect whose duty, as the State’s Representative is to protect them, to take all measure to end child marriage in the province of Velingara.

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A girl leader from the CMP wearing the Stop child marriage TShirt, reading the Declaration to the Prefect. Journalists surround her to record the Declaration and broadcast it through media

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The Prefect answering the Declaration and journalists recording it for broadcast 

In its response, the prefect after welcoming this great initiative renewed its commitment to the cause. He promised to set up a Monitoring Committee to ensure that by next International Women’s Day, most of the concerns raised by the Girls are taken care of.

Other women’s organizations also took this opportunity to present their demands for women to access to land, to credit, to all available resources, to political participation and demanded the enforcement of the Law on Violence against Women.

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A woman representing her Association presenting a Memorandum to the Prefect


The Conference on Equality between Women and Men

Lastly, the local Branch of the Ministry of Women’s Bureau requested GREFELS’ Coordinator to make a presentation on the 8th March’s theme: Equality between Men and Women in Senegal.  The conference that was chaired by the Prefect and several administrative authorities was attended by a vast audience of women’s and youth groups. GREFELS’ Coordinator spoke about Senegalese women’s living conditions and low status and the necessity of their empowerment through access to knowledge, to economic resources and to decision making spheres at all level. She strongly requested the Prefect who represents the States to convey to the Head of States Senegalese women’s demand for the enforcement of international, regional and national instruments protecting the rights of women and girls.

Partial view of the audience for the conference and performance by Youth


The Performance by the Youth of the CMP

After the march and the conference, the Youth went on stage in order to entertain their parents, teachers, partners, supporters and the authorities and performed plays and read poems. All these productions dealt with child marriage. 


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Play about a girl who comes back from school and is introduced to the future husband (a migrant worker living in the USA. He wears glasses to indicate his status)


Hip Hop

In the evening a big hip hop performance attended a youth audience (from the CMProject and from the city) took place. The band named New Vision entertained the Youth up to 3.00 AM. Most songs were about young people’s difficult life, and also on girls’ status marked by poverty, early marriage and early pregnancies. This band in now a partner of the CMP in Velingara and the CD available for display at VNC events.

Next morning 

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The Youth eating breakfast on the 9th and getting reading to go back home

Before they went back home, CMP’ Girls and Youth expressed their appreciation for this BIG day as it is the first time they had the opportunity to be the ACTORS and speak up before important authorities, parents, and teachers; and for the opportunity to meet with their peers in the city and enjoy themselves during the hip hop party.  They renewed their commitment to achieve the main objective of the Project—to end child marriage in Velingara.

On their side, parents who attended the events expressed their gratitude as GREFELS presented the youth with school bags, notebooks and school supplies. Parents said that as poor farmers they often are unable to meet their children’s needs for school supplies.

To conclude this section on the celebration of the 8th March it can be said that all objectives were met.  The leadership of the girls targeted in the project is recognized at all levels. As they write in the Declaration presented before the Prefect and a large audience: for the first time, WE speak and the authorities, our parents and the adults listen”

Before leaving most girls and boys told their teacher: “We are no longer the same”.

Presently, the total number of youth participating to the Child Marriage Project is 56.

Community mobilization took place through several means.

In the villages, boys usually in charge of village cleanliness use the opportunity to raise the issue with their peers who either are not involved in the project or are out of school.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the core group of school girls and school boys, traditional birth attendants members of the Guidance Committee and teachers of the high schools, hold talks in Madina Mari Cissé and Dinguiraye, and in Velingara City on the consequences of child marriage.

On Saturday afternoon, high school teachers who are members of the network do door to door visits to speak to parents and sensitizes other parents in the community about the harmful consequences of child marriage.

When it is affordable and there is electricity, video films against child marriage are shown in the villages and community is invited to watch and discuss with members of the Network about child marriage.

Once a month, a day of brainstorming and experience-sharing is organized with other partners in the city.  

For these activities, all the Network’s members wear the Tshirt bearing the slogan: Stop Child Marriage.

As a result of all this, shortly afterwards, a child marriage was stopped in its tracks!

Network Source: