This is a story about Jatou, a tall, beautiful and slim girl who was in an upper basic school in the provinces of Gambia. She was the first daughter of her parents. She was an athlete and used to represent her region in national sports events. She was academically good too. Jatou was very famous in their area, and loved by almost everyone in the community.
The story starts when Jatou was to represent her region at a national sports competition. All the regional athletes normally camp at one place during such events. A day before the event, at around 8pm Jatou decided to go to a nearby shop to get some chocolates. The area was dark and she was alone.
Before she could reach the shop, an unidentified man suddenly came from behind her and suddenly covered her mouth with a piece of cloth. Jatou was helpless. The man pushed her to the ground with force and raped her.
When Jatou was freed by the man, she managed to return to her peers. Her brown skirt was torn. There were blood stains on her. Her absence during that time was noticed. She was quickly taken to the hospital by her teacher Mrs. Njie. At the hospital, Jatou responded to treatment and was discharged a week later.
When Jatou returned to her region and school the news was all over the place. It became difficult for Jatou to be in that environment.
As a change team on School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) we wanted an environment free from SRGBV in all forms and settings to guarantee the full participation of all, especially of women and young people. Our first responsibility now was to give Jatou counselling and empathise with her.
It came to our notice that Jatou was away from school for some days. As a team we discussed this and decided to send some members from the women’s wing of the union to visit her.
During the visit, we spoke about finding a way to relieve her from the trauma. She preferred to move to her aunty’s home in a different region. As a change team member I decided to always monitor her progress both at school and at her aunty’s place. Jatou still continued her good academic performance but decided to stop taking part in sports activities.
Little did we know that her father wanted her to get married soon after the rape incident. He thought that was the only option for Jatou. When we received this news from the aunty, we decided that as change agents, teachers, parents and good role models we should meet her father. We discussed possible strategies to use before we met her father.
The first visit was not fruitful because Jatou’s father was very mad at us. On our second visit we went with Jatou’s aunty. After a lengthy dialogue of appeals, jokes and smiles the mission was fruitful but was based on the following conditions:
- The change team will take responsibility of any further negative effects on Jatou
- Jatou will get married as soon she completes her senior secondary school.
We agreed to the conditions because we believe that when you educate a woman you educate a nation.
Jatou is now in her final year at senior secondary school. She is being monitored at both school and at home with regards to her performance. There is effective communication between Jatou’s father and the change team, with mutual understanding, trust, confidence and friendship. We continue to give Jatou encouragement to further her education to college and university.
Our change team’s intervention was timely and fruitful. I learnt from this process that it is important to respect and trust yourself so that others will have trust in you. And that guidance and counselling is a powerful tool for addressing SRGBV. I also realised that Jatou’s father did not think about the effects of early marriage. The dialogue with the father shows the importance of raising awareness on SRGBV and having participation by all stakeholders.
As a union most of our activities are centered on women, girls and youth given that they are the most vulnerable. We show them how and where to seek redress when violated. We also give youth a platform to show their potential and talent, and the opportunity to voice out their experiences. Women caucuses and youth conferences are places to voice out SRGBV issues.
Objectives of the Women’s Wing
- The women’s wing of the union is there to support, guide, counsel and seek redress for people who are violated.
- We partner with stakeholders and other civil society organizations with whom we share the same agenda
- Another objective is to leave no one behind – that is to conduct trainings, visits and monitoring of our grassroots members.
How can we make a change?
- By equipping GTU with both immediate action and longer term strategies to continue to address SRGBV well into the future
- Mainstream and inculcate SRGBV into our national curriculum
- Have a training manual on SRGBV and gender
- Increase girl’s education on gender related matters in our union programs and activities
- We should act as good guidance counselors to our girls
- Use school clubs, mothers’ clubs and cultural groups to spread the message on SRGBV
- Use phone-in programs to address and clarify myths and misconceptions
- Have a code of professional ethics and conduct
The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.