Senegal’s women call for an end to election violence
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In the hours leading up to Sunday’s presidential election in Senegal, women’s groups in Senegal are demanding an end to the violence, much of it at the hands of the police, that has left at least ten people dead and many more injured.
By Dorothée Thiénot
As Senegal prepares for Sunday’s presidential election, a women’s collective in the country has called for an end to the violence that has blighted the run-up to the polls and left at least ten people dead.
Senegal’s “Women’s Survey for Peaceful Elections” collective has been training women to act as observers on polling day.
It has also been helping women whose sons and husbands have been caught in the crossfire between members of the security forces and demonstrators angry at incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, who has caused anger by changing the constitution so that he can run for a third term.
Activist Rokhhatou Gassama told FRANCE 24 how her 29-year-old son had been picked up by police on the sidelines of a protest and severely beaten.
“He had just left work and there were clashes between police and protesters in the streets,” she said. “He ran away, fell and was taken in by the police who thought he was one of the protesters.
“I got a call at 1 am and was told that he had fractures to his leg, arm and neck. The police had simply thrown him off the back of a pick-up truck in a different district.
“He had been punched, kicked and beaten with clubs. His face was so torn you can see his teeth and he has internal bleeding. He hasn’t been able to stand up since then.”
With the help of the Survey Group, Gassama created an association of women whose sons and husbands have been victims of police brutality since the election campaign began.
“We go to hospitals accompanied by lawyers so that we can gauge the number of victims,” she explained, hoping that her association’s activities would get the message through to the perpetrators that such violence was unacceptable.
At least ten people have been killed since pre-election protests began. The number of injured is unknown.
Women monitors in voting offices
Cataloguing the violence is just one of the missions of the Survey Group, which is supported by a number of local and international NGOs, including the United Nations Development Programme and UN Women.
The Group has trained scores of Senegalese women to work as monitors in voting offices across the country, on the lookout for evidence of fraud, intimidation and violence.
Fatou Sarr Sow, coordinator for the Senegalese “Caucus of Women Leaders’ told FRANCE 24 the Survey Group had decided to act after the death of Mamadou Diop on January 31. Police had fired a tear gas canister through his car window.
She said: “We are putting pressure on the wives of politicians to call for peace. We are not political. We simply want the candidates to sit down and negotiate, and we are offering our services as mediators.”
Fatou Sarr Sow believes that since the Survey Group began its activities there has been a reduction in police violence, but says the Survey Group has not yet met with President Wade.
“Perhaps if we do meet him he could explain why he has not said one word to encourage peace,” she said. “He sees himself as the man who has built this country. He should not allow himself to earn the reputation for being the man who subsequently destroyed it.”
“Anything is possible,” she added. “But the situation here is extremely tense. We are not fools - we understand that in an election campaign every candidate adopts a war-like stance.
“But people have been killed, and many more injured, and in these situations women are always victims.”
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