In one of Dakar’s poorer suburbs, Pikine, cases of domestic violence, rape and abuse were as commonplace as the district’s power outages and seasonal flash floods.
But in a country where discretion and forbearance are traditionally prized, Senegalese activist Fatou Warkha is hoping that the anonymity offered by the internet and its reach might encourage women to open up after generations of silence.
After she failed to raise awareness through grassroots activism, Warkha launched an online television channel in 2018 where her videos play a vital role in her campaign to expose and end violence against women in the country.
“When I started making video reports, that was when it seemed like things started changing,” Warkha told Reuters in her home in Pikine.
The project has sparked much-needed debate and helped bring about real change. Its videos of women or actors recounting true stories of trauma and abuse have been widely shared on social media and picked up by local television stations.
According to World Bank data, as of 2017 around half of the population of Senegal was using the internet.
Some of the videos played a role in a successful campaign for the criminalisation of rape, which was signed into law on January 10.
The channel now plans to produce reports explaining the new law and how rapists and abusers can be held accountable, Warkha said.
Women need to “know how to preserve the evidence so they can prove that a rape has happened,” Warkha said. “Other than that, more work needs to be done to raise awareness about the rights of women and children.”
Her mission to break the silence on society’s ills runs counter to deep-rooted cultural mores such as ‘Soutoura,’ which means to be discrete in the local Wolof language, ‘Massla’ – to tolerate and compromise, and ‘Mougne’ – to endure.
In one of the channel’s series, titled ’16 voices, 16 victims,’ a woman tells how as a child she watched her father beat her mother until she didn’t get up. Another report details the murder of a young woman at university.
Funding is a challenge. The station sells its production services to cover the cost of making its own videos and receives some NGO support. Slow internet speeds and the power outages are also an issue.
These difficulties have not dented Warkha’s belief in the importance of technology for activism.
“I often tell people that you can do great things with a just a mobile phone,” she said in her living-room, where the power had been out for several hours. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)