I walked down to the beach with my three colleagues (all women). A man sitting on a chair nearby who looked like the sort of man who’s been working the beach tourist racket for years looked at me and said: “Monsieur vous avez trois gazelles avec vous; vous êtes polygame.” (Mister you have three gazelles with you, you’re polygamous.) As my colleague Natalie and so-called “gazelle” pointed out, they need a lot of education here. Of that there is no question. I replied that they did have a sense of humour, although it is misplaced and is nonetheless fed by an ingrained sense of male superiority and discrimination against women that objectifies and dehumanizes them. Did either of us say anything to the man? Well, no. There comes a point where you pick your battles, and that one wasn’t worth winning.
Discrimination against women is a topic we will be addressing while we are here. Not only how that discrimination manifests itself, but also ways in which human rights educators can combat and prevent such discrimination. While we may be talking of derogatory comments like the one the beach dude uttered, we will be addressing wider issues of discrimination that have systematically left women to be second-class citizens wherever it is they call home. We will be talking about the typical “gender roles” they play in society, their participation in decision-making at different levels such as the home or within the community, their access to certain services such as health care and why they are discriminated against.
It’s one issue of many. The reason why I’m here – and here is Saly, Senegal, about 80 km south of the capital Dakar – is for a second annual human rights training session organized by alumni of Equitas human rights training programs. The group organized a similar training last year in Ouagadougou, a city whose name I never tire saying. Within a couple of days, thirty participants from the host country, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso will begin their two-week human rights training program. The schedule is nuts, with the workshop starting every day at 8 AM and sometimes going until 6 at night. On top of that, the facilitators (6 in all and one coordinator) will have to go through a daily debriefing at the end of each day. Having done plenty of these before, these debriefs can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. I’m here to help out, but not too much. I will be around for a facilitators’ orientation that starts tomorrow and stick around for the first week, then I’m off.
For me it’s great to see the alumni of our programs carry out the same kind of program we did with them (with some adjustments). It’s a sign that the stuff we’re educating others about – namely the importance of human rights values, international human rights principles, and a participatory approach to learning that is action-oriented – is valid. It needs to be done, here in Senegal just as much as anywhere else. So while I’m here, I may yet get the chance to sit down with the beach dude and set him straight.