by Aminata Sanneh
Former July 22 Beauty Queen (2014) Fatoumatta Toufah Jallow has called on victims of sexual violence to speak up about their experience with sexual violence meted out on them by men. Fatou Jallow who narrated her ordeal of an alleged sexual violence meted out to her by the former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh was speaking to women, activists and survivors of rape attempt at an awareness campaign about sexual violence organised by The Organization of Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO) on July 4th at the Westfield Youth Monument in the Kanifing Municipality.
According to Fatou, rape is common in the Gambian society but it is usually not being discussed for fear of discrimination and the stigma around it. This silence, she added protects the perpetrators.
“We should not brush rape conversations under carpet as it’s a fact that that rape is common in The Gambia. If you don’t know a child victim, you have either heard or know a perpetrator who is either an Imam, a politician, a police or a teacher,” she remarked.
Miss Jallow said there is a lot of stigma around rape conversations in The Gambia. “Many people will not believe the stories of victims and they will make discriminatory comments but that should not stop victims from speaking,” she noted.
Jallow urged parents of victims to stay strong during these trying times and support them (victims).
“Be proud of your children if they have the courage to speak up, don’t be ashamed they are not to be blamed because they didn’t commit any wrong and they didn’t get themselves raped. I know you will hear comments such as what was the victim doing there? Some will even go the extent of calling them prostitutes or commercial sex workers but don’t give in,” she encouraged.
Sex in exchange for job positions
Most girls , Miss Jallow said upon completion of their Grade 12 examination encounter sexual harassment in their search for job as the male bosses usually request for sexual intercourse before employing them. She stated that parents should beware of signs with kids especially if they send children to take lunch or things to certain male members of the family and the children refuse. “Don’t beat them neither condemn them for not being obedient but talk to them and listen to their stories. Let’s encourage them to open up and have conversations with us,” she told the gathering.
Jallow warned all perpetrators to be prepared as women are going to come out in numbers and speak up against all forms of sexual violence meted against them. “If I can speak up against Yahya Jammeh other women won’t spare you,” she further remarked.
Madi Jobarteh, deputy director of TANGO and a human rights activist said rapists usually have an element of power to be able to carry out the despicable act.
“While victims are usually either uneducated or helpless and trust their perpetrators who take advantage of that trust and met such violence on them,” he said. He blames the society for not holding leaders and perpetrators to account. He added that this is now history as people are ready to speak up against any injustice meted against them.
“We surrender our power and will to them and they use is it as a weapon against us. Never again should we put a president above everyone. The president is a servant of the people period,” he stressed.
Jobarteh said basic human rights are to be guaranteed by government but that was not the case with the former governments. He expressed fear that the same way people held former presidents Jammeh and Jawara is the same trend happening now with President Barrow. He said society makes us to believe that presidents are untouchable as they are our leaders. He added that until there is political awareness for people to change the way they see their leaders, the leaders will continue to abuse them.
“You don’t need to bring girls to a pageant in order to provide scholarship for them. Showcase and identify who to support and who not to. We have allowed our leadership to do those things and we have seen the repercussions of these things,” Mr. Jobarteh concludes.