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We must stand all together for gender equality


Maimouna Yade is the president of JGEN Women Global Entrepreneurship and a ONE Champion in Senegal. She began her commitment to children’s rights at the age of 16. Here’s her story.

My passion and commitment to the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights in Africa are rooted in my childhood, my childhood friends, and the education I received.

I was born in Kaolack, a city in central Senegal. But from a young age until I was 11 years old, I lived in a suburb of Dakar called Thiaroye Gare. It is a very populated area with a very modest standard of living. In my community, there were at least six girls in our group of friends — four of us were in school and the other two were not. The two girls who were out of school were responsible for taking care of all domestic burdens in their homes, despite their young age.

One of them had experienced female genital mutilation. She lived with her uncle, her mother’s brother, who did not think it was important for her to go to school.”She is a girl” and “she has to help her aunt with household chores,” her uncle would say.

We all thought the story of her “excision” was horrible. She would not talk about it very much. I always imagined her pain and how she could survive.It scared us, I must admit.

The other girl who was not in school married very early. It was her mother’s only option, but she was still a minor, so she had to leave town.

The other four girls in our group all dropped out during secondary school. They all married and were never able to go back to school.

I am the only one of us who had the chance to finish my studies. I recognised very early these injustices to my friends.

I later understood that there was nothing biological about these limitations and injustices placed on girls. It was only roles that society had assigned to us, roles that gave men the power to think that women were only made for these functions, even if our society in Africa was historically matriarchal.

I really started my activism at the age of 16. I committed to fight for better lives for children living on the street. But I knew it was also important for me to commit to contributing to the well-being of girls in my country.

Today, almost 15 years later, I am happy to say that I was right in choosing this particular path. I understood then that I absolutely had to continue my studies, have experience in a professional field, live my passion, set goals, and impact my generation.

Violence against women and girls is very real. We cannot even imagine the conditions under which a girl can grow up when she does not have the chance to have an environment that understands that she has rights. That she must be educated. That she must not be cut or abused. That she must just be protected, supervised and trained. It is not a privilege, it is a right.

We must all commit to combating all forms of gender-based violence. I also know that both girls and boys are victims of violence, so there is no justification for such practices.

Society needs men and women. Women remain the foundation of social development. Men must understand that society has evolved, roles will certainly be redistributed; women will no longer be victims of violence. We must all understand that social justice is gender equality. We must all now be part of the generation of equality.

At this crucial time in the global fight against violence against women and girls, I call on women’s youth organizations to become more active in local communities. I invite them to give organizational capacity a further prominent place, to remain professional, and to give a voice to the youngest. We have called for generational alternation, so we have an obligation to make it a custom.

We must stand all together for gender equality — in Senegal, in Africa, and around the world. New laws in Senegal are an important first step. But we must continue our efforts until true gender equality is achieved.

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