Oumou is a vibrant, 19-year-old gender equality advocate, who lives in Senegal with her family. She’s in high school and her favourite subject is Science. When she grows up, Oumou wants to be a midwife.
In her local community, Oumou sees child marriage and early pregnancy as the two main challenges girls face. She believes these issues persist because local youth lack access to information about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Oumou is involved in a youth group called Education for Family Life (or EVF, as they call it) that meets once a month. There are about 15 members. This is a safe space for boys and girls to gather and learn about different topics they find interesting and relevant. They reach out to other youth, have fun together and don’t have taboo subjects – they talk about everything. Even things like contraception, long believed to be a girl’s responsibility which now boys are learning they also have a role to play in. Because of the club, they all know that contraception is available for free to everyone at their local health facility.
The club also takes to the streets and raises awareness about issues like child marriage and early pregnancy. They organized a march in their community and worked with their mayor, and have seen positive results in their community.
Through membership in the club or simply by gaining access to information from club members, more girls and women in Oumou’s community are empowered and gaining the confidence to stand up for their rights. Girls in the community are being encouraged to talk to their teachers or seek help from local authorities if they are being forced into early marriage.
Fighting for gender equality at home and beyond
At school Oumou feels there is gender equality, but less so at home. Girls don’t get to participate in family decisions the same way that boys do, but Oumou wants to be heard. “I believe if we raise family awareness and share information, the situation will change. Because men will find out that we have relevant ideas…”
A typical day for Oumou includes getting up early to shower, having breakfast, going to school and then coming home to do chores.
“Boys help in the house chores, but not often,” says Oumo. “This situation may change one day, because sometimes my younger brother helps me sweep the house. This did not happen before.”
Changing gender roles and norms takes time and although progress may seem slow, it’s clear that youth like Oumou are committed to making gender equality a reality in their lives.
One day, Oumou wants to find a husband who is educated, will help out at home and share the responsibilities of running a home with her. She also wants her future husband to be supportive of her career aspirations and her ability to make her own decisions.
“Apart from the member of the EVF club, I share information with my school fellows who are not members of the club and with some members of my family. Anyone can come and discuss a specific issue with me.”
At a family burial ceremony, where it is customary for women to do a lot of work, Oumou successfully advocated for her pregnant aunt to be able to rest and advised her to prioritize her health.
Changing the birth story in Senegal
The goal of our sexual and reproductive health and rights program in Senegal is to engage men and boys, empower women and girls, and improve the quality of health services. Oumou believes that Plan International Canada has given valuable training on gender equality, contraception and safe delivery through the EVF clubs, and is happy to see this information spreading in her community.
830 women and girls die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. But with leaders like Oumou at the helm, we are positive that prevention of child marriage and early pregnancy is achievable in the communities where we work.
Sign your name below to ensure a continued investment by Government of Canada in transformative programming that leverages the power of young people like Oumou to change the birth story in their community.
I stand with Canada to change the birth story because I believe that every adolescent girl, woman and child has the right to be healthy and to live a life free of discrimination.