Could this be Gambia’s ‘Me Too’? The Hashtag #IamToufah movement

Hashtag IamToufah (IamToufah) has spread all over the social media to mobilise support and solidarity with victims of rape (not only Jammeh’s victims) but for all the other victims of sexual violence.

Social movements are not positive or negative agents of history, of modernisation, or of the liberation of mankind, rather they act in a given type of social production and organisation. Like the #Metoo movement which arose in 2017 October; a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault and began to spread virally as a hashtag on social media campaign in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the work place. Thus, this was followed by sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Similarly, the hashtag #IamToufah movement is promulgated by the story of a former Beauty Queen Fatou Toufah Jallow[Toufah] about her how she was raped by former president of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh.

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Women in procession against sexual violence during the match pass 4th July 2019.

In her story, she narrated how Jammeh sexually took advantage of her on the pretext that he was going to sponsor her education[as the winner of the 2014 22nd July Beauty Pageant]. This was in 2015 following her rejection of the president’s proposal to marry her. Which she believes had infuriated Jammeh that he even denied her the proposed scholarship that comes with the trooohy of a beauty queen. This is as disgusting as if the whole idea of the beauty pageant was to fish for his intractable desire for s**×. Obviously, there were another victims like toufah who also gave account of their experiences at state house while appointed as protocol officers. This is heartwrenching and more than mind boggling to have a president who used his office to abuse young women. That’s morally, ethically and legally unacceptable. As Toufah’s story was released in an interview with BBC, followed by Human Right Watch and other international NGOs and media outlets, it inspired myriad other victims of sexual violence particularly rape and sexual assault. Hence, social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter suddenly become smeared with hashtag (#IBelieveHer, #IamToufah). Thus it became the movement that inspires hope and courage to stand up and break the culture of silent on rape and other sexual violence which have been perceived as ‘taboo’ to talk about more or less to try to address it in Gambian setting, even though there are good and powerful literatures to bank on. As a result of this ingenuine syndrome, for far too long sexual violence has alway been swept under the carpet – letting perpetrators work free. Our young girls and women never have the opportunity to hold these culprits to account because society keeps them safe on the pretext of “Sutura”(a local rhetoric to keep things quiet and unaccounted for), inadvertently rapists and sexual predators continuously persist because they’re covered by the society.

Hashtag IamToufah movement at TANGO photo taken after the press conference. Photo: #IamToufahmovement

Advertently, this promulgated Toufah Jallow and her colleagues to stand up with resilience and courage to press for legal and social reforms  to eradicate it. Hashtag IamToufah (IamToufah) has spread all over the social media to mobilise support and solidarity with victims of rape (not only Jammeh’s victims) but for all the other victims of sexual violence. Already, #IamToufah is popularised by activists, civil society, NGOs, the media and even the international community. Certainly, there would be justice as we speak, as the quest for justice for these rape allegations are a public outcry, already trending in the social media with many other victims are coming out with their stories.

Just as Alyssa Milano(an American actress) did with the #Metoo campaign on twitter in 2017 October when she encouraged victims to tweet about sexual harassment in a bid to show and tell people the magnitude of the problem; thereof, a number of posts, response and comments emerged from famous American celebrities, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman and others. Therefore, Toufah Jallow speaking up about being raped is not just the story of a former beauty queen but a striking hope for all other victims of Jammeh’s sexual abuses. As Toufah blew the trumpet, two other women confessed that Jammeh sexually assaulted them. After this revelations, over 19 other victims also speak up about being sexually violated – among these include rape allegations against a top senior government official, now on smeared social media campaign hashtag #SurivivingMelville, this is spearheaded by a poet, a women right and youth activist. She, Fatoumatta Sandeng and others are as determined as Toufah to bring their perpetrators to justice. Their zeal for and commitment to stand up for their fellow women and young girls is empowering. The #IamToufah movement is motivated by the need to end sexual violence against women and to break the culture of silence on sexual violence, while giving the younger generation a shoulder on hope, strength and dignity as a woman in a patriarchy society. In her words to BBC Toufah said “we want to create an atmosphere where women feel safer to talk about rape and sexual assault”. “And when many women speak up it becomes safer and safer”, she said.

It became vivid that #IamToufah movement is envisioned to give voice to the women and young girls to speak up about sexual violence and to stand up to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to justice, vitally to break the culture of silence.

This is not strange but an interesting and a progressive step towards inculcating the culture of democracy in the Gambian society – the camaraderie, zeal, courage and energy demonstrated by these brave young ladies is astonishing.

Like they said, actions express intentions better. 28 June 2019 #IamToufah had their first press conference with civil society organisations and prominent human rights activists in the Gambia at TANGO conference hall, (TANGO satnds for: The Association of Non – Governmental Organisations) an umbrella body for civil society organisations and NGOs in the Gambia. This press conference became the turning point as other women also narrates their experiences from sexual assault and harassment, it magnifies their objective to bring their perpetrators to justice first by speaking out and loud about sexual violence, break the culture of silence on sexual violence, expose culprits and quest justice for victims.

Notwithstanding, entreat state to implement the laws protectin women; the sexual offence act, the domestic violence act and the women act – together with regional and international instrments respectively.

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Fatima Zahra Jarjust with a placard during he procession – a women rights activist.

Action has been exemplified by the match pass on 4th July 2019, when youth and women activists, civil society organisations of different facets converged in Africel Junction, Kairaba Avenue to show solidarity to victims of sexual violence and to send a message to the perpetrators that they’re have not escaped justice for they will come for them in her words “we are coming for you” “No means No” “we match, we speak no more silence” those were the slogans during the procession –  something i haven’t seen in the Gambia for a long time. These young people were robustly speaking up in procession against sexual violence, rape in particular. It is definitely unprecedented in the history of women rights activitism in the Gambia, decades ago.  However, is not strange but an interesting and a progressive step towards inculcating the culture of democracy in the Gambian society – the camaraderie, zeal, courage and energy demonstrated by these brave young ladies in speaking up against this social menace is astonishing.

sharing common cause with others in response to the crises that affects all of us brings forth incredible feelings of solidarity, camaraderie, empowerment, and joy.

Equivocably, this might be the #metoo for Gambia, as social media campaign is taking center stage in fighting sexual violence. The courage, zeal and enthusiasm indicated by these young women and other few men who had been actively demonstrating against injustices for the pass few years, and having men in the middle of this made things much befitting and speaks volume of unity and solidarity. Unity is important in forging a common identity among activists – and advocates in a movement. That’s why, it has to be men and women in solidarity against what’s wrong that will render us justice and combat injustice. At the end of the day, sharing common cause with others in response to the crises that affects of us brings forth incredible feelings of solidarity, camaraderie, empowerment, and joy.

The shared conviction that arises from standing up against what is plainly wrong is tremendously positive and sustaining experience, it is without doubt the most effective remedy to feelings of hopelessness, despair, surrender and stigma. Besides, unity builds a movement in many ways, such as the drawing of boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’ focuses the fight, generating energy, enthusiasm and passion.

And the fact that society has shortcomings to address sexual violence, because it is patriarchy society activists are appalled  by victims stories and touched by their unpleasant ordeals obtained from being sexually violated or assaulted. The love for human life and regard for women dignity become the fuel to this movement. As a promise, #IamToufahmovement shall embark on nation wide awareness raising holistically on sexual violence against women.

In all said, the most important thing I concluded on is that, our people  [Gambians, youths in particular] shall never sit back and watch their fundamental freedoms, basic rights, dignity and sovereignty be dwindled and do nothing about it. Gone are those days! To be optimistic, this movement could be ‘Gambia’s Me Too’. Looking at the participants, many of them prominent human rights activists who had good track record in the activism.

It would be human enough to acknowledge that perfection is God’s only, yet we have to do our bits to add value to life. Abusing women, disrespecting women and taking advantage of their vulnerability should not be entertained, nor condone at any level, of any kind. In a society like Gambia, it is prudent to always look out for our women. Do not beat your wife, do not take advantage of young girls. Particularly those in high positions, must not use their position and influence to take advantage of girls and young women. Lets speak up and talk about rape, domestic violence and women abuse where ever you see it happened. Together we can put an end to these babaric acts.

Writes!

_ Njie Baa

 

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