It’s Saturday, July 3, in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and the streets are anything but quiet. Dozens of demonstrators are protesting the national justice system and excessive tolerance towards violence against women.
Aissatou Sène is a spokeswoman at the protest held at the Place de la Nation. She says: “We expect the state to provide mechanisms, shelters, and everything needed to support victims. What we want from the state today is for women, who make up more than half the population, to feel safe.”
She explains that they are protesting in support of “Louise,” a minor whose rape was filmed and shared.
Mrs. Sène continues: “The author [of the video] did not worry until we, the feminists, denounced it. … If justice and the law were applied and rapists received the sentences they deserved, we wouldn’t be here today.”
In January 2020, the Senegalese government passed a law that criminalizes rape and pedophilia, which is defined as sexual interest in or attempts to engage in sexual acts with children. The law aims to tighten the restrictions on sexual violence against women and children. For perpetrators of these crimes, the law prescribes a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of 10 years.
Before the law was passed, rape was considered a minor offence in Senegal. However, a massive campaign that followed the rape and murder of two women in 2019 pushed the government to draft the newly-adopted law.
Earlier in 2021, tensions broke out in the country after popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested over an alleged rape case. The protests which resulted brought the subject of rape, again, to front of mind.
The allegations against Mr. Sonko emerged in February after a salon attendant accused him of rape. He was reported to have frequented the salon for massages.
The accuser, a young woman by the name of Adji Sarr, came forward and granted interviews in a rare, bold, and unprecedented move in Senegal.
She says: “If Ousmane Sonko has never slept with me, let him swear on the Koran,” and stresses that Mr. Sonko forced her to have sex on several occasions and threatened retribution if she did not comply.
Mr. Sonko is allegedly a devout Muslim, with a considerable following amongst Senegalese youth. He has repeatedly denied the allegations.
This story is based on an article written by Jerry Fisayo-Bambi and published by Africa News on July 7, 2021, titled “Senegal: Women demonstrate against ‘rape culture’ in Dakar.” To read the full story, go to: https://www.africanews.com/2021/07/04/senegal-protesters-denounce-violence-against-women/ 
Photo: Aïssatou Sene speaks to the press at the protest in Dakar, Senegal on 3 July, 2021. Credit: Fatou Warkha Sambe.