A top executive of the Miss Senegal beauty pageant dismissed accusations made by last year's winner that she'd been raped, igniting furious debate across the West African nation about the treatment of women and the retrograde attitudes across society.
DAKAR — As a defense mechanism, Amina Badiane could not have done worse. It was last Thursday, Nov. 18, when the chairwoman of the Miss Senegal organizing committee spoke with Dakarbuzz, a website based in the capital.
The interview was an opportunity to respond to the revelations of Ndèye Fatima Dione, Miss Senegal 2020, who had revealed publicly the violence she'd suffered during her time as the nation's No. 1 beauty queen. Her mother had also revealed that Dione's pregnancy was the consequence of rape, committed during a trip organized by the committee.
"Rape is between two people, isn't it? It's not just about one individual," Badiane told reporters. "If she was raped, she must file a complaint." The contest organizer added that during the pageant's sponsored travels, the conditions of entry into young women's bedrooms are subject to very strict instructions.
An apology for rape culture
"No one is allowed in, not even friends. The girls receive a very strict education," Badiane said. Then after asking confirmation of her words from another Miss Senegal contestant, added in the regional Wolof language, without anyone around her objecting: "Kougnou violer, yaw la nekh". This translates to "If she was raped, it's because she asked for it." After making the outrageous remark, Badiane chuckled, and added: "After all, she is an adult."
Does the outcry over Badiane's comments reflect a growing awareness of violence against women?
It quickly set social media alight across Senegal, where the hashtags #JusticeforFatima proliferated. A petition from the platform "Ladies Club Senegal," demanded "the immediate withdrawal of the operating license of this committee and its dissolution." Within three days, it had already accumulated more than 50,000 signatures, while calls spread for Badiane's resignation.
By Friday, the company CFAO Motors Senegal announced that it was ending its partnership with the committee and would take its vehicles back. "CFAO Motors Senegal strongly condemns the allegations made by the president of the Miss Senegal committee. Such comments go against our values," the company said in a statement. Since then, several activists have called for the committee's other sponsors to be held accountable, including the Ministries of Culture and Health.
Senegalese society tends to find excuses for men and to blame women for the violences they experience.
While Amina Badiane's comments are particularly appalling, the substance of her remarks is nonetheless shared by large portions of Senegalese society. We are far from the progress that some would like to believe has been made, forgetting how quick Senegalese society is to find excuses for men and to blame women.
"Such comments are made every day in Senegal," said Jerry Azilinon, administrator of the Doyna movement combatting violence against women. The activist says the attitude includes professionals who are supposed to take care of the victims, police forces as well as health services officers. "Most of them are untrained on these issues, tending to put blame on the victim and make ironic comments… which contributes to trivializing the violence and feeding rape culture."
Does the outcry over Badiane's comments reflect a growing awareness of violence against women? "I don't know if we can talk about improvement, but there has definitely been an increase in awareness over recent years. The debate on rape culture is shifting to the public sphere," says Azilinon. "If people making such remarks have to deal with consequences, they will think twice before they act." Changing people's mentalities is bound to take much longer.
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