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Human Rights and Community-led DevelopmentLessons from Tostan$

Ben Cislaghi

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474419796

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474419796.001.0001

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Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

(p.83) Chapter 4 Galle Toubaaco before the Programme
Human Rights and Community-led Development

Ben Cislaghi

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 4 pictures the rural community of Galle Toubaaco before the Tostan programme. It looks at three aspects of community members’ life that are tracked throughout the HRE part of their participation in the Tostan program. This chapter examines in particular how community members constructed gender relations, made decisions or had access to the decision-making process, and fulfilled roles available to them. It also uncovers existing social norms before the programme began, showing that some human-rights-inconsistent norms and practices were in place and offering an analysis of the reasons for it.

Keywords:   Social Norms, Child Marriage, Child Labour, Gender norms, Power relations, Human Development, Harmful practices, Child protection


By drawing on the empirical data, this chapter offers an understanding of how community members in Galle Toubaaco described their community before the HRE programme. The first part of the chapter presents the village of Galle Toubaaco, exploring the structural characteristics that help make sense of members’ relations that will be examined later.

In the second part I discuss gender roles and relations, decision-making processes and social practices that are inconsistent with human rights in place in the rural community. Gender norms in Galle Toubaaco granted men authority over women both in the family and in the village. As I looked in the data to understand the reasons for this gendered unequal distribution of power, two sets of resources seemed to be particularly important. I examine those two ‘resource sets’ (that I call labour and marriage resources) and their impact on women’s human rights and human development. I then look at the political structure of Galle Toubaaco and the decision-making processes. I examine the relations of power that tied community members, and suggest that ‘invisible’ power dynamics (hegemonic ideology) shaped women’s access to visible and hidden forms of power; that is, that gender roles and relations impacted on women’s capability to access decision-making and agenda-setting processes. I found that unequal capabilities to participate in the decision-making process (with women and young members being excluded from it) contributed to fostering (and reproducing) an uneven social and political status quo.

The last section analyses two human rights-inconsistent social practices in place in the community: CFM and child labour. I do so to explore whether participants came to understand those practices as harmful during or after the HRE programme.

(p.84) Galle Toubaaco

The village of Galle Toubaaco is located in the recently created administrative region of Kaffrine, in the rural community of Touba Mbella (Ministère de l’Intérieur 2008). The village is about 400 km from the capital Dakar and about 60 km from the urban centre of Kaolack, where major services (like hospitals or trade centres) are located. Distances are, however, difficult to cover due to the lack of roads and means of transportation (mainly horse carts) that can link the village with the closest urban centre.

The area surrounding the village is mostly desertified for nine months a year (i.e. always except during the rainy season), with some sporadic trees or other minor vegetation completing an arid landscape. The village is in a relatively isolated part of the region, in terms of both human settlements and natural resources. Families gather in households (wuro) of three or four houses that are relatively distant from each other.

Wolof villages resemble a dense agglomerate of houses, while Fulɓe villages look more like archipelagos of households, meeting animals’ needs to move and reach grazing fields. Grazing fields begin 4 km away from the village, while closer fields are used for cultivating subsistence crops (millet and peanuts). The French colonisation introduced single-crop cultivation systems and the newly independent Governments of Senegal incentivised the cultivation of peanuts, confident in privileged economic relations with France (White 2000). To maximise their profit, the community of Galle Toubaaco invested in peanut cultivation of the surrounding fields (which, since the colonial land reform, they could legally own: Faye 2008) and adapted their life to new sedentary circumstances: since 1930, the village has remained in the same place. Bambara and Serere male ‘slaves’ (as informants called them, most likely prisoners condemned to public works) sent by the colonial State cultivated the land until 1949. Mandinka male sharecroppers, employed by the community members, did it afterwards. The fact that the community could employ sharecroppers is an indicator of the wealth they enjoyed after World War II and until the end of the 1960s. The big drought of the beginning of the 1970s and the end of government’s incentives for peanut production in 1996 that followed the fall of international demand, instead seriously affected the community’s living conditions and considerably slowed its economic development. The series of severe droughts further compromised the entire country’s agricultural production and brought about a widespread famine (White 2000).

(p.85) This international economic juncture impacted on the life of the small community of Galle Toubaaco. Informants said that, from 1970, community members started to eat the product of their crops (with the health implications that a low-nutrition diet based just on millet and peanuts implies), rather than selling them (and buying with the money a wider range of food: rice, vegetables and meat, for instance). The village’s economy shifted from one of accumulation, where the surplus value generated by sharecroppers could be reinvested, to one of subsistence, where the family farmers cultivated their own (and sole) source of nutrition.

When this economic juncture required Galle Toubaaco to stop exporting peanuts, men – according to informants – withdrew from agriculture (or from managing cultivation) and dedicated themselves to other practices, mostly (as discussed later) looking for jobs in the weekly markets. Women, instead, continued to take care of subsistence cropping even though, often, they did not own the land they worked. As in Boserup’s (1970) analysis, in Galle Toubaaco the colonial rule had an impact on women’s role in farming, benefiting the men. Men – considered by colonial powers to be the ones meant to farm – were given the means to cultivate the land to generate capital, while women were relegated to subsistence crop production. The international economic juncture, in other words, indirectly contributed to fostering the gender distribution of labour analysed later in this chapter.

Every family in the village possesses a variable portion of land following lines of descent and past inheritances. Land is inherited from (or given by) parents and is owned in large percentage by men. There are no facilities of any kind (e.g. educational, religious, health or labour) in the village. At the time of the research, the building of a mosque had begun, but the project had then been abandoned due to lack of funds. The closest health post is about 15 km away, three hours by horse cart (the only transportation available in the village) in the desert. As a consequence, community members cannot visit the health post as much as their health status, according to the nurse at the local health post, would recommend. In the village there are two public water facilities and three private taps in the household (installed before the public ones). Therefore, not all women gather at the well tap (three families out of six have private water facilities), which might impact on the quality of social relations they enjoy in their household.

Due to the village’s location, the contact that non-travelling community members have with the outside world is seriously challenged by the lack of electricity (and might in turn influence the speed of processes (p.86) of social change compared with more urban areas). Battery radios are the only media present in the village. Cell phones are charged at weekly markets. Isolation is problematic because it can limit community members’ ability to envision alternatives to local daily life.

The Fulɓe living in Galle Toubaaco identified themselves as a Fulɓe ethnic sub-group, the Haaboɓe (literally: those who get angry easily). Family relations link all community members of the rural community. At the time of fieldwork, in Galle Toubaaco there were 318 community members, 182 males and 136 females.

Gender Roles and Relations: Invisible Power

The relations between human beings in the production of goods to meet their material needs contribute to constructing human societies differently in distinctive geographical and historical contexts, which, in turn, gives shape to different social interactions between categories of individuals. Rural communities in particular are socially structured according to the relationships amongst community members caused by (and in turn regulating) relations of production (Meillassoux 1991). In sub-Saharan Africa, the power relations involved in the gender distribution of labour and property can limit women’s bargaining power and force them to acquiesce to the unequal status quo (Folbre 1982). Unequal access to resources and gender segregation, then, contributes to the shaping of uneven distributions of power in the household (as analysed in this section) and in the community (as analysed in the next section). Gender roles, in particular, shape (and are shaped by) invisible power dynamics: the creation of biases, the process that gives form to psychological and ideological boundaries of participation (see Chapter 2; Gaventa 2006).

In Galle Toubaaco, community and family roles are socially constructed around the allocation of daily work; the gendered distribution of labour in the village and, more generally, a gendered life impacts on the access women and men enjoy to two different sets of key resources (i.e. labour and marriage resources). Unequal access to those key resources fosters the social status quo and limits women’s (and hence the community’s) human development. Findings show that resistance to men’s power was reported, but in episodic and isolated form.

I will discuss these findings in greater detail below, as I intend to suggest that a change in social practices that regulate gender roles and (p.87) relations might then spark and structure an alternative access to some (or all) of those resources. Rather than at a normative level (e.g. granting women’s legal access to land), it is at a cognitive level that human development programmes must operate, allowing participants to unveil different social roles for each other, by sharing the struggles and challenges that the current social status quo poses to both genders.

Access to Labour Resources

In Galle Toubaaco everyone is called to contribute to the development of the village according to social and family roles. Men and women play different parts in the community and in the family and engage in different activities. Labour distribution in Galle Toubaaco mainly assigns productive tasks to men and reproductive ones to women, although some exceptions (analysed later) exist (Benerìa 1979, 2003; Benerìa and Sen 1981; Boserup 1970).

Men’s roles in Galle Toubaaco are linked to economic production and the associated social value. To be a man in Galle Toubaaco means having the responsibility for generating revenue and providing for the family’s subsistence. Amadou, a 27-year-old man who recently got married, explained to me that: ‘a man should be working in his farm, herding cattle or doing some kind of business to generate money so he can provide for the family’ [S2I9AB].4 Fatou Diallo, a mature woman who described gender roles drawing on her experience in two marriages, said that: ‘The men are the ones who go out and work, the women do not have the means to go out [of the village] and work’ [S3I11FD]; a man in Galle Toubaaco:

after having prayed, goes and checks out the cows, milks the cows, eats breakfast and goes off to business [then] he gets [back] home around 6 p.m. and then goes and checks to see if the kids are back from herding the cattle and makes sure everything is OK. Then he eats dinner, enjoys the family and goes to bed.


One night, Samba Diallo, having returned from a hard day of work with his cattle, told me what it means to be a man in Galle Toubaaco: ‘respecting and taking care of your parents, working hard, building a house, starting a family and taking care of [them]’ [S3I6SD]; that is, make a family and provide the basic goods that women will use (p.88) to respond to the family’s basic needs. Men take care of the animals and, during the rainy season, prepare the land that is then farmed by women and children during the rest of the year. Most of the men in Galle Toubaaco also buy and sell animals in the weekly markets in the region. There are no markets held nearby, so men who work as sellers or middlemen travel to bigger town centres, where they meet people from the surrounding areas and access facilities they do not have in their village (e.g. electricity, media, hot and clean water, hospitals or banks).

Being a woman in Galle Toubaaco means taking care of the house and the family through various activities, including food production (some women farm in the fields) and preparation. Talking about what his mother does in her typical day, the ‘young’ Amadou (aged 19) said that she:

wakes up in the morning, prays, sweeps the house, makes breakfast, fetches drinking water, makes lunch, after lunch she rests for a while, after her rest she makes dinner, after dinner she gets the chickens in, sits around and talks for a bit and then goes to bed.


Penda, the third wife of Ndene (one of the elders of the village), described her day by saying:

Once I wake up in the morning, I take a bath, make breakfast for the family, after that I go get water and then go out and fetch fire-wood for cooking lunch. In the evening I make dinner and after dinner my work is over so I rest and go to bed.


Ami, when asked about women’s role in the community, said: ‘the most important things a woman should do are praying every day, keeping clean and being polite and greeting everyone, doing laundry, dishes, and cooking and cleaning the house’ [S1I6AS]. In summary, then, as Mas said:

[Both] men and women are important to this village’s future; everyone does their best to make sure the village evolves […] It has always been organised this way […] men farm and herd cattle and women stay at home cook, clean and take care of the kids.


(p.89) African farming has been understood as a female agricultural system where easy access to land, together with low population density and little class differentiation, resulted in men preparing land for farming during the rainy season and women cultivating subsistence crops (all year long) (Boserup 1970). Fatou Diallo, in her first interview, spoke of the work women do in the fields:

To contribute to the development of the village the women farm millet and peanuts […] The men also contribute to the development of the village by farming on a larger scale. They are much stronger and use horses to help them plough the fields but the women do everything by hand so that is why men have much bigger fields.


In Galle Toubaaco, while men are dedicated to revenue-generating activities, women’s work mainly includes a number of reproductive functions: taking care of the children, gathering and preparing their food and farming subsistence crops. Deviance from this distribution exists. Fatou, in the same interview cited above, said that after having harvested the field, women ‘will sell the peanuts’ [S1I11FDY] but neither the observational data nor any other informant confirmed that women would sell the products of their work in the field. The fact that Fatou was a widow (with both higher revenue-generating responsibilities and freedoms) and that she had a little commerce in the village might explain her view on the potential for women to sell the products of their work in the fields. Generally speaking, informants included little deviance in their understanding of gender division of labour. Mas, the village griot – the entertainer, the ‘master of the word’ (Leymarie 1978; Mbaye 2007) – said that if in a house a wife is sick, ‘I call for another woman to come and cook for us […] the work is shared, the men have their work and the women have theirs […] [if] men [were] cooking [there] would be a problem’ [S3I4MD]. When I asked Djombo, a young man, what he would think of a woman who works and generates revenue (e.g. selling bread), he said:

If you have work then it’s not good to sell bread. If you are supposed to fetch water, you have to cook, wash the kids and do other housework, it’s not good to try and take on selling something like bread because it will take away from your other work.


(p.90) The ‘old’ Amadou also confirmed that:

It’s not good [for a girl to leave the house], if she gets out too much her parents-in-law won’t respect her and they will start disliking her. She can get herself into trouble; she might go to the wrong place or say the wrong thing to someone. […] When a man goes out he is looking to find a living for the family but when a woman goes out it’s to entertain herself.


It can be hypothesised that, as suggested by Boserup (1970), following the creation of a neo-liberal economic order in post-colonial Senegal, men of Galle Toubaaco abandoned the fields for the markets, leaving to women the roles of subsistence farmers, caretakers and housekeepers (Benerìa and Sen 1981; Boserup 1970). It is possible that, following dynamics similar to those analysed by Kevane (2004), a similar distribution of labour then contributed to building a social equilibrium where labour and identity strongly intertwined, with the former contributing to defining the latter. As suggested by Mas’s quote above, in Galle Toubaaco labour distribution plays a key role in defining gender norms (women have their tasks, men have theirs). In taking care of what they are expected to, men and women hold a social role and fulfil the social expectations for their gender that they learnt to comply with when they were children. That social role, then, in turn reproduces the existing gendered distribution of labour and fosters the social norms that regulate it.

From a human rights and human development perspective, a gendered distribution of labour does not pose any problem in itself, as long as this distribution respects people’s freedoms, offers equal opportunities for development of capabilities, and protects their human rights. Issues come with the fact that, as seen later, women’s work is considerably harder and unhealthier, hinders women’s freedoms and development of capabilities and limits women’s access to key resources, which, in turn, restrains their power within the family and the rural community. In particular, the division of labour discussed above gives men privileged access to money, information and services. Access to these three resources is granted by the work and travel a person does outside the village, money mostly resulting from work in the market, information and services being accessed in bigger urban centres or villages where they are available. I therefore call these three resources ‘labour’ resources.

The first labour resource is the revenue that work can generate. Men, in Galle Toubaaco’s families, are the breadwinners. They generate revenue through their work and control how much money goes to other (p.91) family members and how they spend it. The entire family, and women in particular, are considered to be under the eldest male’s responsibility. Amadou Ba Mbaring, who at the time of the interview had been married to his first wife for three months, made sense of his responsibility for his wife by saying: ‘It can be hard [to manage a woman] because you are responsible for her. You brought her into your home and if you are not able to support her it can be very difficult’ [S1I16ABM].

Having control over economic resources means deciding how much money a wife will receive, as the young Djombo exemplified: ‘men here give to women 20,000 FCFA5 at Tabaski,6 the rest they give them is to buy what they need to cook’ [S1I5DS]. An entry in my diary contributes to this analysis:

Today I saw Abdoulaye taking 1,000 FCFA from his bum bag and I realised he has a lot of money. However, I have never seen him give any to his wife; when she asks, he often says he doesn’t have any. Korka (interpreter) heard men talking about this as a behaviour men share around here, motivated by the idea that ‘women spend their money on futile things’.

[Diary, 07.05.2010]

The father/husband’s control over economic resources makes the entire family dependent upon him. Men’s privileged access to revenue generation grants them a strong source of bargaining power they can use to reproduce the social and familiar status quo.

Next, men in Galle Toubaaco enjoy wider access to another labour resource: information. When travelling to urban centres or bigger villages, they can talk to people who often come from different backgrounds and areas of the country (or even from other countries). Besides, in the urban centres the amount of information available is obviously much larger than in Galle Toubaaco. Mas, for instance, said he would: ‘watch TV some times when I go to a different village’ [S1I4MD]. Almost all female informants instead never watched television.

In his interview, Moudi Sow showed some knowledge of international politics and alternative social roles (to the ones in Galle Toubaaco). Asked about where he learnt such things, Moudi told me without any hesitation:

You know I have travelled a lot, I lived in the Gambia for five years, I have been to Kaolack and Dakar so I have experienced a lot. I have never been to school but I know a lot because of the exposure I got from travelling and talking to different people.


(p.92) Women instead have little to no opportunity to travel. The 77-year-old Hawa, for instance, said: ‘I didn’t get the chance to travel anywhere; I have been here since the day I got married’ [S1I12HB] and the 20-year-old Fatou said: ‘I haven’t left the village yet’ [S3I8FDY]. Mobile phones are also a source of information; every male informant possessed a mobile phone, while not a single female informant had one. Knowledge is an important resource because it grants the power to shape the social truth, the doxa, and the biases that reproduce the status quo (Bourdieu 1977; Dewey [1916] 1966; Gaventa 1980, 2003, 2006). Limited access to knowledge means limited opportunity to develop capacity to aspire and to question the status quo (Appadurai 2004).

The third labour resource that men enjoy when travelling is the access to services that are not available in Galle Toubaaco. In big villages and urban centres, there are health posts, electricity and water facilities, and means of transportation. Access to services means the ability to control, for instance, the recharging of cell phones (strategic communication tools) and the chance to multiply access to the first two resources (e.g. by taking a bus and reaching bigger centres). Also, access to services means more opportunities to visit a doctor and enjoy clean water and a wider variety of foods, that is, access to better health conditions. After my first month in the village, Korka (my interpreter) told me that she overheard men talking of ‘historic food performances outside Galle Toubaaco’:

Men around here are all bandits [laughs] they practise alimentary banditry!

What do you mean?

I mean that they don’t like the food they get at home so as soon as they can they go to a village and eat in a little restaurant.

Then they go home and pretend nothing has happened, because otherwise they should take some back home. It’s normal though, all Peul [Fulɓe] do that.

[Diary, 22.03.2010]

Some variation in the distribution of labour discussed above is reported. In the village, there are three women who sell a few products. Two of these three women are widows, though, that is, they are independent from the control of a male elder, and, due to their age, they cannot exit the village to gather the products they need. Rather, they send their sons to the closest weekly market. The third woman instead would sell bread on behalf of her husband; a male cousin would bring the bread (p.93) from a neighbouring village. Access to money, knowledge and services granted men in Galle Toubaaco a position of power within the household. Men possessed authority on choices regarding both the family as a whole and its members individually and, as seen later, influenced women’s outlook on themselves and on social hierarchies.

A second set of resources contributes to shaping family and social power relations between men and women: land and the network of relationships. I called these ‘marriage’ resources because they are influenced by members’ marriage patterns. Those resources differ from labour resources in that, while women’s access to labour resources is hampered by a social understanding of male adults as family breadwinners, uneven access to marriage resources is shaped by male and female children’s different marriage patterns. That difference is still built upon an instrumental understanding of women and, as demonstrated below, contributes in structuring uneven access to arable land and to a wide local network of relationships.

Access to Marriage Resources

In Galle Toubaaco, endogamous marriages (with husband and wife both from Galle Toubaaco) are very rare and the husbands generally bring their future women to their family house from other communities. Aisata Ba, who abandoned her home village and arrived in Galle Toubaaco at the age of 14, explained to me that her daughter (aged 13) also left her village of origin (Galle Toubaaco) to get married because ‘when a couple get married it’s always the woman from another village that goes to the man’s house, never the other way around. This is our tradition and it has always been done like this’ [S1I10AIB]. I reconstructed the family tree of the village with the help of a large group of male members, taking note of the village of origin of all community members. The near totality of the women living in Galle Toubaaco were born elsewhere, while almost all men were originally from Galle Toubaaco. Similar paths of ‘gyneco-mobility’ (the fact that wives relocate from their villages of origin to their husbands’ villages) are a strategic response to the structural productive and reproductive needs of the community. Gyneco-mobility expands the reproductive capacity of the community over its original capacity (constrained by the number of women born in the community) to the bargaining capacity of the single families. In other words, and in line with the perspective suggested by Meillassoux (1973, 1991), the families of Galle Toubaaco need women from other (p.94) villages to expand their community beyond the limits imposed by the limited number of possible marriage combinations within the community. At the same time, men are needed in productive labour, away from the village, so they cannot defend their families in case of kidnapping or attack. As a result, there is social pressure for non-violent regulation of marriage patterns amongst communities (conciliatory – finding marriage agreements – rather than predatory – for instance, kidnapping women). To meet productive and reproductive needs, families in Galle Toubaaco engage in a multilateral exchange of women that to be functional cannot include women’s possibility to refuse a marriage. Galle Toubaaco’s need for exogenous marriages (with the subsequent practice of wife eradication from the community of origin) contributed to shaping uneven gender access to land and network of relationships (marriage resources) that in turn impacted on visible and hidden power structures in the community and the family.

According to informants, marriage represented a rite of passage towards full membership; it was considered the official threshold between infancy and adulthood for both genders, consistent with Fulɓe customs observed elsewhere (Riesman 1992): ‘To be a complete person a man has to get married’ [S2I12ABM]; ‘you are not allowed to sit with the grown-ups until you are married’ [S1I5DS]; ‘I realised my daughter was grown up when she was getting married, she was 15 years old’ [S1I4MD]; ‘My friends are still not married and I think once we get married then we will consider ourselves grown-ups’ [S1I13SB].

Often, although not always, marriage is used as a means to strengthen geographically distant intra-familiar relations. Mas, for instance, said: ‘My wife is a relative and it’s our parents that united us, my dad went to ask my wife’s parents for me. […] I didn’t choose my wife but I was lucky that my parents chose somebody I actually liked’ [S1I4MD]. Sidi Ba (a 38-year-old man who had been married to his wife for 21 years) said: ‘My wife is my cousin’ [S1I3SB]. Ami explained that: ‘My parents chose him [the husband] because he was a good person; he was a relative and a hard worker’ [S1I5AS], and Penda, talking of her wedding with Ndene, said: ‘My parents talked about him [the husband] before because he was a relative but we never saw each other’ [S1I9PS].

Various male informants, asked about the qualities that a woman has to possess for them to marry her, made reference to the help she could guarantee through her physiological reproductive functioning (giving birth) or material reproductive working ability (managing the house, preparing food), rather than to the characteristics of her personality:

(p.95) If you are looking for a good woman to marry what would you look for?

I would look for a woman who is hard working and someone who is into her religion.


Why did he [the husband] divorce the other women?

He married but she couldn’t have kids so he divorced her.


What characters should a woman have for you to marry her?

Someone who doesn’t cause trouble and takes care of the family.


Why does a man get married?

You get married to have a woman at your side to have kids with you.


To me the best [the most important thing in my marriage] is that my mum is finally able to rest a little from housework. Now she has someone who can take over cooking and cleaning and give her a break, she was getting really tired from doing all of the work.


From the sample, one case only stood out for expressing a different view about his wife, that of Sidi Ba, who said: ‘My wife is the most important person in my life. She knows me very well and takes care of me and I trust her with my life’ [S1I3SB]. The way other men talked of the qualities to be sought in a wife suggests that they value their contribution to family work for social reproduction.

Local dowry practices also support a similar understanding. When asked about his marriage, Sidi Ba said: ‘I gave the dowry when she was only 8 and I just really liked her and I didn’t want someone else to come and marry her off’ [S1I3SB]. The dowry for the first wife is usually paid by the elders (the parents in Sidi Ba’s case above), since young people are excluded from the reproductive organisation of the community. Ami, for instance, talked about her son’s marriage in these terms:

My son chose his wife while she was very young […]. Since my son’s wife was too young, he asked for us to save her for him. We the parents agreed with his request and saved the girl until she was old enough to marry. […] once she turned 15 she agreed and we brought her to our family home.


The dowry is a form of credit that binds in a contract the family that gives it and the family that receives it; as such, it ties the two families within (p.96) the same conceptual aire matrimoniale (marriage area), an alliance for the reciprocal help in absolving reproductive functions (Meillassoux 1960, 1991). The dowry is often shown to possible competitors and allies with a concrete object. In the case of Galle Toubaaco, as Ami said, continuing her narration above, it is a necklace: ‘Once a girl is promised to someone, she wears a promise necklace so everyone knows she is engaged’ [S1I6AS].

Finally, I would like for the reader to consider the verbs commonly used for ‘to marry’ in Fulfulde by members of Galle Toubaaco: hoowude (to copulate, from a man’s perspective) and ɓaŋude (to bring the bride to the husband’s village). I am not suggesting that men and women in Galle Toubaaco were not capable of mutual love and respect, as I observed the opposite to be true. Rather, what I am saying is that people’s shared narrative used to describe women’s and men’s roles and relations (including marriage) – that is, the choice of words that people used to talk about those – conveyed a sense of superiority and dominance over men that partially contributed to sustaining gender inequality in the village.

Marriage patterns unveil a structure of the family and the society where women were unlikely to gain the full status of social and political equals. Women in Galle Toubaaco were caretakers and cooks that would live in other communities, rather than revenue generators, breadwinners or political leaders. It is unlikely that men would change their view of women before being challenged with the task of acknowledging their human dignity – this process being, inter alia, the task of problem-posing education (Mergner 2004). As has already been suggested over a century ago by Stuart Mill, if men are raised in the idea of being superior to women, it is implausible that this will not impact on their social behaviour or that they will not shape a society that raises children in the same belief (Mill [1869] 2008).

These power relations, where women had little chances of being socially empowered, were also shaped by (and in turn contributed to regulating) access to marriage resources: land and network of relationships. Informants helped make sense of the reasons for a patriarchal lineage in access to ownership of land. They reported that in Galle Toubaaco, parents give the land to male children so that they can farm crops on it and provide for their families. Their female children instead will leave the village, so there is no point in giving them land. Women would get a ‘mobile’ dowry when they get married: bed sheets, some (p.97) goats and maybe one or two cows. These are still valuable assets in absolute terms, but offer less sustainable economic stability (animals can die, be eaten or sold). Talking of heritage rules, Sidi Ba, for instance, said:

Which one of your kids is going to inherit your land?

The boys are going to inherit the land; they are going to share the land.

What about the animals?

The same thing for the animals.

What about the house?

It will be their house just like everything else.

What about the women, do they inherit anything?

Women can only inherit animals but not land. Women get married and go off to different places and can own land where they are married at but not their fathers’ land.


Informants reported that married women would work small parcels of land in the village of destination; land would not be theirs, though, since if their marriage ended after divorce, ‘my husband would take back the field in which I used to farm’ [S1I11FDY]. Often women did not own land in their village of origin either, due to the same social norms regulating dowry practices linked to traditional marriage patterns, as in Sidi Ba’s case above. Their access to land was then always conditioned by working for the patriarch in producing subsistence food for the family.

Land is a crucial form of power; arable land is an important form of private property, and access to it is a vital factor influencing the gender gap in economic well-being, empowerment and social status (Amanor-Wilks 2009; Kevane and Gray 1999). Access to land, then, represented a challenge both in human rights terms and from a human development perspective for the community of Galle Toubaaco. The need to increase women’s land access in sub-Saharan Africa has been defined as vital, especially at times where food security is compromised (as in recent years in Senegal) (Kuiper and Sap 1995; Pearson and Sweetman 2011; Toulmin 2007; Tsikata 2009). Another study on Fulɓe customs has evidenced that women do not own land due to other factors as well; they are also ashamed of doing so because of social norms regulating what women are expected to possess or the way in which labour is expected to be distributed between genders (Buhl 1999). Due (p.98) to the resistance of similar customary traditions, supported by power relations amongst community members, State normative intervention and law enforcement in this direction has been proved weak in the past (Amanor 2007). Structural power relations influence access to land and, dialectically, access to land grants men that power. It is at the level of power relations, then, that development programmes can foster women’s empowerment in realities like the one in Galle Toubaaco. Later, therefore, it will be seen whether Tostan’s programme impacted on those relations.

The second key marriage resource is the network of relationships. Most of the married women in Galle Toubaaco left their village of origin, where they were part of a relational network built during childhood. They arrived in Galle Toubaaco as their husbands’ wives to take on house-caring responsibilities and with fewer opportunities (in terms of time) to build deep friendship relationships with other women in the community of destination. With marriage, girls exit the relational network built during childhood and face the challenge of developing a new one in the village of destination. Kardiata, a 70-year-old woman, said with regret during her first interview: ‘I haven’t seen my childhood friends for a long time, they all have gotten married and gone to different villages. I have one friend who is still here with me, her name is Diallo’ [S1I7KS]. Most female informants told me they found it difficult to ‘open their heart’ with each other. Dembaye Sow, another female elder of the village, at the end of the first interview murmured: ‘Alas! The things I think about I can’t talk about at all. I don’t talk about things I think about with others’ [S1I1DS].

The men of Galle Toubaaco, instead, are still part of their childhood relational network. Asked to list their friends, male informants could easily name many people still living in Galle Toubaaco and with whom they still spent time. Take, for instance, what 27-year-old Amadou Ba said: ‘My childhood male friends are still here, my best friend is a Abdoulaye Sow […] Back when we were little kids there weren’t many young girls in the village’ [S1I8AB].

A weak network of relationships affects people’s opportunities to affiliate and overcome a group social inequality. If the oppressed social sectors have fewer opportunities to structure individual concerns into a programme of action than the social sectors who are oppressing them, the former cannot coordinate to challenge the social status quo fostered by the latter. People’s associative and decisional liberties are strongly connected: limiting the former means hindering the latter (Nussbaum 2000).

(p.99) Internal and External Segregation

Some forms of gender seclusion and segregation conflict with human development when they limit the development of members’ full human functionings, with particular reference to the capabilities of imagination and affiliation, framed conceptually earlier in the book (see Chapter 2; Nussbaum 2000). Data from Galle Toubaaco suggest that gender internal and external segregation contributes to fostering unequal power dynamics within the household and the rural community that hindered a reconsideration of the unequal gender access to strategic resources. A gendered life, with little or no opportunity for sharing mutual concerns over social norms in place in the village, contributes to protecting the social status quo by hindering women’s opportunities to renegotiate their status by challenging men’s outlook. In similar conditions of segregation, isolated and episodic resistance, such as that reported in the village, struggles to challenge the status quo: information about sharing the same conditions, the same fate, is fundamental to renegotiating relations of power amongst different social groups (Clegg 1989; Mann 1986). To challenge social power structures influenced by (and at the same time regulating) access to key resources, community members had to overcome gender segregation, if not in their daily life, at least in new places structured for this purpose (e.g. the HRE class).

Gender segregation in Galle Toubaaco has a double facet: it is amongst people of different gender (men/women) – external segregation – and amongst people of the same gender but of different age (young men/old men and young women/old women) – internal segregation. The differences in patterns of internal segregation have social causes and consequences; causes are to be sought in how children experience their parents’ authority and in the different relational networks men and women enjoy. Consequences are in the relations of power amongst and within gender-homogenous groups of men and women. In Galle Toubaaco, relations of power shape different hierarchies within the group of men and the group of women that had an influence on the different way young women’s and men’s participation in decision-making changed after the HRE programme.

Male and female members do not have many occasions for meeting up and sharing time together. A gendered division of labour limits the opportunities they have to interact. Their social roles within the family narrow down those interactions further by structuring a network of relationships where men and women are limited to no (p.100) opportunities of sharing ideas or opinions. Ami Sow, for instance, when asked about her motivation to go to classes, reported that this was her only opportunity to talk with other members: ‘If I stay home I have nobody to talk to, all of my kids are boys’ [S2I11AS]. Asked to give more detail, Ami explained that boys and men are not interested in talking with women and vice versa, while if she had at least one daughter, they could spend some time together talking. Talking of relations between men and women, Samba Diallo said: ‘I don’t go to the women’s meetings […] The only time I see everybody is during events like baptisms or weddings’ [S2I15SD]. Confirming the limited opportunities for men and women to talk and interact, Mas identified the reason for little contact between men and women in terms of a natural predisposition to share time with people of the same gender: ‘It has always been organised this way, the women have their group and the men have theirs. I think this is how things are because women feel more comfortable amongst women and men feel comfortable amongst each other’ [S1I4MD].

Gender segregation is rarely perceived as problematic (as in Mas’s case above); rather, people believed that it is natural, fostering a higher moral order, and they do not see it as the result of social biases that force men and women into assuming social behaviours and roles (Saltzman Chafetz 2006). Adolescent and young men also reported limited or no contact with women. Djombo, a 22-year-old man, was (and probably still is) the strongest player of chokki (a game similar to chequers) in the community. When I asked him if he ever played chokki with a woman, he answered that could never happen: ‘we [the men] have never tried to play with women. The only time we play with the women is when there is an event and we play the drums and the women clap and dance’ [S1I5DS]. Although recent research conducted with American adolescents suggests that gender segregation during adolescence might be physiological to a certain extent (at least in certain societies) (Mehta and Strough 2010), in Galle Toubaaco that segregation is aggravated by the different social roles that girls are called to cover after their wedding, when they reach puberty.

Child marriages contribute to fostering gender segregation. This is because they limit young girls’ interactions with their brothers or local friends by segregating them within the household where they take up the role of wife and comply with their husband’s authority. Different marriage patterns might impact on members’ social behaviour when they reach adulthood: it has been argued that the gender segregation that boys and girls experience during their childhood influences their (p.101) adult relations by fostering the same segregation (Maccoby 1995). This seems to be the case in Galle Toubaaco, where men and women have opportunities to share the same space: marriages, baptisms or assemblies are just some examples of those opportunities. Even then, though, members do not behave differently from the social order they are used to: women and men are not used to talking together, and during social events they replicate the external segregation they experience in other moments:

Today Mamadou Sow is getting married for the second time and has prepared a great celebration. We have been dancing and playing all night. Mas, the griot, has shouted for hours entertaining all the public. When I first arrived I couldn’t see any women around. Ndene tells me they are taking care of cooking the food after the men killed the cow. Other women are preparing the bride and the house (Dembaye is burning some plants in the house to keep out evil spirits). The men are playing cards with the groom and are making fun of Mamadou.

[Diary, 04.05.2010]

Also during baptisms men and women are separated from each other: the women take care of the baby and congratulate the wife, while the men choose the goat to slaughter or drink tea:

Today I was invited to a baptism. I have been told the baby will be called Ben after me although Korka says it’s a lie – he will be called Djombo. I entered the baby’s room, where the mother and other women gathered. It’s Fatou Diallo’s grandchild who will be baptised. I feel weird for being the only man in the hut (apart from Abdoulaye who brought me in) and I see the mother of the baby is not completely at ease with me (and possibly Abdoulaye) being there. But Fatou is very welcoming and gives me the baby to hold. She is very happy today. Abdoulaye insists on taking a picture of me holding the baby. When we go out of the hut, the men are slaughtering the goat and making tea. Amadou Sow shouted, ‘Ben come here with the men, where your place belongs,’ and laughed.

[Diary, 12.05.2010]

Other village gatherings reproduced gender segregation: Figure 5.1 offers an example of gender distribution during a village meeting and Figure 5.2 shows participants’ distribution during two of the first HRE classes. (p.102)

Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

Figure 5.1 Distribution of community members in a village meeting held on 10 April 2010

Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

Figure 5.2 Distribution of participants during two HRE classes held on 26 April 2010 and 30 April 2010

Both figures show that there is a strong tendency to sit beside people of the same gender, following gender segregation practices as described above. Gender segregation seems to be a normal practice in the other villages around Galle Toubaaco:

Abdoulaye, Amadou and I went to Mbos today for the weekly market. There is a ceremony of the socialist party, there must be around 3,000 people and I am the only white person. All women are sat on one side of the square and all men on another side. I asked Abdoulaye and Amadou why men and women sit segregated. They answered, embarrassed: ‘that’s the way it has to be’. (p.103) They asked me if in Italy ‘it’s different’. I said yes, we can sit close together and nothing happens. They replied that in Senegal if men and women sit one beside the other they would kiss, and laughed vigorously.

[Diary, 08.05.2010]

In addition to these forms of external segregation, in Galle Toubaaco there are also practices of internal segregation within gender-homogenous groups. Internal segregation, however, impacts differently in women’s and men’s groups. Men are split into age segments with limited interactions among them. Women have more interaction with other women of different ages. In Galle Toubaaco, young women and men question the elders differently: Omar Ba (one of the intellectuals of the village) and Fatou Diallo, for instance, reported that ‘in the men’s meetings the older men speak the most and make all of the decisions and the young men respect the decisions, it’s not the same in the women’s meetings’ [S2IS2OB]; and that ‘The men respect their elders much more than the women do’ [S2I8FD].

According to informants, relations between young and older women are more informal and frequent than between young and older men. Data analysis suggests that the causes of this difference are to be found in child and polygamous marriages. Young first wives need older women’s advice on how to deal with a wife’s tasks. Young Fatoumata Diallo (who had the same name as the older Fatou), for instance, told me that all her friends would visit an older woman to ask for advice, and that: ‘There is an old lady here named Metta that I go to every time I need to talk to someone’ [S2IF5DY]. Young girls have much contact with older women while men (as seen later) tended to stick to men of their age when seeking advice. When they are not first wives, rather, young girls have to defend the legitimacy of their role with other co-wives – usually older women. Or, vice versa, older women might feel threatened by younger wives. They might be afraid that the higher reproductive capacity of the young girls might threaten their source of power in the relation with the husband (Meillassoux 1991). The relation between young and old women, then, becomes problematic by virtue of the renegotiation of the power equilibrium into which the presence of a younger (and supposedly more attractive and fertile) woman engages older women:

I see it [discrimination] all the time, I see some men for example marry several women and he will start favouring one woman over the others. […]

(p.104) Can you give me an example of discrimination that has happened here before?

For example you have a first wife and then you marry a second wife and after that stop taking care of your first wife, it happens here all the time.


[…] the first wives are discriminated against when the husband marries a second wife. In some cases, he starts treating his first wife badly and doesn’t talk to her much.


The changing power dynamics in the household, following the arrival of a new wife, frequently generate jealousy and tension amongst co-wives. Fatou and Dembaye, for instance, said: ‘I fought against my husband’s first wife because of our kids […] She is jealous that my husband married me and we started having kids’ [S1I2FD]; ‘I had several fights with my co-wife, especially when we were younger, even over little things’ [S2I2DS]. Similar fights are usually settled by the husband: ‘my husband came and decided for us’ [S1I2FD]; when this happens, women experience both the higher authority of their husband (acting as a judge in the fight) and their equal conditions in terms of the resources they can mobilise to gain power. In gaining their husband’s approval, young women can count on the power that comes from their reproductive capacity and older women can use age and experience.

Women, then, experience fluid relations of power within their gender group. Young girls – possibly strengthened by their higher fertility that gives them a position of advantage in the family – can question the authority of the female elders, hoping to be backed up by their husband’s support by virtue of their higher reproductive capacity rate. Women see young women fighting – or fight themselves – against older women and, possibly, see the young woman winning the conflict (obtaining her husband’s favour). In other words, women learn to challenge same-gender elders.

Men, instead, experience more hierarchical power dynamics within their group. Young men learn that everyone in the family recognises the eldest male as embodying the highest authority. In Galle Toubaaco, respect for the male elders is likely to be derived from a patriarchal structure of the family, shaped by capitalist relations of production. Young men learn that the family works and produces for the patriarch, family members work for him, and he, in turn, grants them protection (Meillassoux 1991). It is made even stronger by the fact that the patriarchal structure is embodied in the ethnic tradition of the Fulɓe (p.105) (Buhl 1999) that, in Senegal, contributes to defining their identity against the cultural imperialism of the ethnic majority (see Chapter 2; McLaughlin 1995; Riesman 1992).

Data suggest that women in Galle Toubaaco have limited freedoms and decision-making power within the family. This lack of power is evident in family and society because of the limited access women have to ‘travel’ and ‘marriage’ resources (which, in turn, replicates and fosters unequal access to these resources). In addition, gender segregation in place in Galle Toubaaco contributes to reproducing an unequal social status quo, where women’s human development and human rights are not fully protected. Gender segregation limits social interactions between genders that are essential for men and women to problematise that status quo and change it together. Women do have a space of autonomy: they enjoy time together while gathering water, cooking during marriages or baptisms, and possibly in other moments inaccessible to a male researcher (or to Korka, who visited the village sporadically for the interviews) and that therefore cannot be documented. However, women lacked both moments of full social interaction with the men and the capacity to problematise social behaviours as a changeable status quo.

Women would need to problematise their social reality together with the men, overcoming gender segregation and collaborating with them in renegotiating gender roles and relations. The different components analysed above (access to travel and marriage resources, and gender external and internal segregation) intertwined, affecting the distribution of power among men and women within the household.

Power Distribution in the Household

In Galle Toubaaco, gender segregation and access to labour and marriage resources contributed in shaping power as domination. Gaventa (1980) argued that power holders make use of available social mechanisms to obtain passive agreement of subjugated groups to the social status quo they want to reproduce. In Galle Toubaaco, power distribution among genders does not only impact on overt processes of decision-making and covert processes of definition of the political agenda (as analysed in the next section on decision-making); it also influences members’ perceptions of men’s and women’s social status and roles. The fact that women in the first set of interviews described their position within the household as defined by tradition or culture (that it ‘has (p.106) always been like this’ [S1I10AIB]) helps to explain why women tended to comply with unequal distribution of freedoms and uneven access to resources.

Unequal access to labour and marriage resources contributes to structuring the power that men in Galle Toubaaco exercise in the family. In the interviews, many informants referred to the fact that the husband could choose, for instance, how much money the wife received for her personal needs, could decide whether she could try to find a job, could influence her vote during election periods, could engage her in duties (such as the Tostan classes) without having asked her opinion before, and could have control over her religious practices and sexual intercourse. Some informants depicted the situation of the women as without any power to make decisions. For example, the ‘young’ Fatou, who wanted to join Tostan classes, said: ‘My husband didn’t permit me to take the class’ [S1I11FDY] and in a later interview said: ‘if my husband tells me to stop doing something I will stop […] if I make a decision I make sure my husband will accept it, because he brought me here so I have to respect him’ [S3I8FDY]. Amadou Ba Mbaring, talking about his wife participating in the classes, said: ‘If I wasn’t happy she would not be taking the class’ and added: ‘[A woman’s role is] to respect her husband and do as he says’ [S1I16ABM]. The ‘young’ Amadou also said:

[if a mother asks something of a child and a father asks him to do something else] He should do what the father sent him to do. The father is the man of the house and has priority over everyone in the house.


However, resistance to men’s authority was reported. For example, informants recalled some arguments in married couples, mostly because of women refusing to have sexual intercourse with their spouses. That refusal generated male normative counter-resistance actions and domestic violence: ‘if you see a husband beat his wife it’s maybe because she refused to sleep with him’ [S1I12HB] ‘The worst thing a wife could do is refuse to sleep with her husband’ [S1I16ABM]. According to informants, such forms of behaviour challenging men’s authority (such as an argument between co-wives, contradicting the husband’s prescription of a peaceful family setting) could lead to domestic violence, with the husband beating up his wife. The nurse at the local health post reported that domestic violence was widespread in the area: ‘[There are] a lot [of women that come to the health post with signs of violence] and even (p.107) women that are pregnant […] when they arrive they always say it’s their husbands that beat them’ [S3IS1HP]. Penda, talking of her sister who lived in another village, said:

After getting back home from the hospital the husband started beating her. […] He beat her because he was stronger and she was just a kid. She was still healing so she was in bed resting a lot and he would always ask her to do things she could not. There were certain things the doctors had told my sister she could not do but the husband didn’t care and he insisted that she had to do all of the work.


This does not mean that women in Galle Toubaaco are totally powerless. Although rarely, it happened that at night some wives and husbands argued so loudly that they could be heard from the other side of the village. Also, during a human rights class, women revealed having tried various times (before the programme) to convince the men of their need to practise family planning. Data show resistance in the village to men’s power in the form of women refusing to sleep with their husbands; however, female informants considered this as dangerous due to the violent consequences that might follow that refusal. In the data, there is little evidence of diverging trajectories from the public roles that men and women covered and claimed to cover; a reason for this could likely be, for instance, that informants in their first interviews could have been reluctant to declare their divergence from behavioural norms, especially to an outsider. Alternatively, the high value which the Fulɓe place on respecting the role they are expected to play within their society might have impacted on their capacity to conform with behavioural norms in public spaces where I could observe their behaviour (Botte et al. 1999; Riesman 1992). However, there seems to be little doubt that the social norms regulating power between men and women gave men authority over women, and not vice versa; that authority had its foundation in power coming from privileged access to labour and marriage resources.

Those power relations were not completely static and, since they were influenced by structural conditions that had changed over time, were open to change again. I spent two hours with Hawa Ba, the oldest woman in the village, talking about the difference between what life was like in the 1950s and today. She saw in the modernisation processes of the last 50 years (and the related technology) the cause for (p.108) women having more time to get together, having more public speaking skills and a changing (more flexible) role:

Women have more free time to do whatever they want, they have a lot more clothing and the women communicate better and are more organised. It’s not much about more time but maybe a little bit more flexibility to do more. Women still work just like I did before, they still go work in the farms and come home, cook and clean. But there is always time for other stuff.


Kardiatou, Fatou and Dembaye also confirmed that life had changed for the women in Galle Toubaaco in the last 50 years. Thus, the power equilibrium that influences gender roles in Galle Toubaaco seems to be dynamic and likely to follow the variations in the structural factors that contribute towards shaping it. HRE’s potential to challenge those roles might therefore be based on the fact that those roles are not static and that change happened over the years, only very slowly.

So far, I have argued that unequal access to labour and marriage resources in Galle Toubaaco structured uneven power relations that in turn created domestic violence, unequal healthcare and unequal educational opportunities. Similar power relations have been understood as limiting women’s human development and hindering their access to basic freedoms and human rights (Nussbaum 2000). Nussbaum (2000) saw in the family a social construct that has been the major site of women’s oppression. The social relation built within the family and the report that informants gave of it suggest that in their control over (or struggle to control) their wives’ lives, husbands saw in them a tool for social reproduction, not a human being having freedoms and capabilities that deserved recognition of their dignity and expansion.

Reasons for lack of ‘revolutionary’ social change may vary. A revolutionary power renegotiation, with a woman demanding, for instance, the right to work against her husband’s will, was possibly hampered by the interrelation of three factors. First, women lacked capacity to conceptualise a social alternative. Gaventa (1980, 2006) called ‘dynamic of invisible power’ the processes that construct people’s understanding of the reality as the only one possible. In exercising their daily roles, men and women of Galle Toubaaco reproduce the social norms that both regulate access to power in the household and foster mental schemata and biases that uphold that status quo. To break the reproduction of (p.109) power (and powerlessness) relations, members of Galle Toubaaco had to affiliate together and develop the capacity to aspire to a different distribution of power within the household by having the experience of alternative possible courses of action.

Second, if women possessed the capacity to aspire, their limited access to key resources might give reasons to fear isolation from the family anyway. A wife might fear that challenging male authority could result in her husband divorcing her, and she might want to avoid the social humiliation and the economic disadvantages of that (a woman had no land or revenue). As Folbre (1986) argued, poorer women are more likely to behave in their husbands’ interest, fearing the welfare reduction that might occur with divorce (or cooperation breakdown). While the social situation analysed before the programme put women in a disadvantaged condition (limited power in the household for economic safety), breaking up with that situation might have led to even worse conditions (excessive economic burden and social isolation). Women need to comply with a position of limited gain because they cannot exit that condition, at least not individually. Only if all women in the community challenged that social condition, would men then need to renegotiate their role (Bicchieri 2006; Nash 1952; Osborne 2000). A woman’s reproductive function is replaceable with that of another woman (Meillassoux 1991), but that function would become inalienable if all women stood on the same ideological position: one of equality, for instance. A woman alone cannot, however, refuse to abide by household dynamics (when they do not exit from the socially accepted), the risk passing from a limited disadvantage and gain, to a totally disadvantaged condition.

Third, when women tried to renegotiate certain behaviours (as in the case of family planning or sexual intercourse), men showed resistance to change and implicitly refused to renegotiate the power relations that ultimately granted them the authority to deny women’s requests. Men could not be forced to change power dynamics, since they could use violence and authority to reinforce them.

Room for change existed, though. The way informants justified different gender roles admitted different trajectories for the future. Informants did not refer to biological or religious reasons to justify differences in gender roles and responsibilities. Instead, they mostly referred to the fact that ‘the things have always been like this amongst the Fulɓe [S2I13MS]. The words of the ‘young’ Amadou Ba Mbaring are (p.110) paradigmatic: ‘[A woman’s role is] to respect her husband and do as he says. We found things this way in our culture’ [S1I16ABM]. The way participants explained gender differences is of paramount importance for analysing possible room for social change within the rural community. The low resistance to men’s authority helps understand women’s difficulty when it comes to enhancing their bargaining power in the household within the limits of existing social norms (Kevane 2004). The renegotiation process of gender identity was possible because participants did not understand gender differences as based on immutable circumstances (say, for instance, religious will or ‘nature’). Beliefs that societal roles follow processes beyond natural human influence would threaten the relationship between political action and change in the collective future status quo (Kashima et al. 2011). An appeal to biology or theology, external forces or ‘authorities’ would lead to determinism, and perhaps to the impossibility of renegotiating relationships. In contrast, in the HRE programme, social practices could be re-examined and reconsidered for their fairness, practicality or long-term well-being of the community.

Political Structure and Decision-Making: Visible and Hidden Power

The idea of demokaraasi that in Galle Toubaaco gives form to the political structure in place in the village perpetuates uneven access to visible and hidden power and, as such, limits the community’s empowerment and members’ human development. It reproduces the patriarchal relations of power-regulating gender dynamics analysed above. Male elders control agenda-setting and decision-making in the political arena. They hold a traditional form of authority which, being built upon tacit norms of power, cannot be questioned without the conceptualisation of it as unjust and changeable.

Political Structure

In Galle Toubaaco, the political decision-making process is structured over three different layers accessible to a variable number of people: a governing level accessible to three men only, a consultative level open to an elite of male elders and a direct-democratic level open to the entire village. The ‘triumvirate’ includes Abdoulaye Ba, the village (p.111) chief, Sidi Sow, the Imam and Ndene Ba, the self-appointed ‘responsible for political activities’, a role that does not exist in Senegalese law: ‘Ndene and Abdoulaye make decisions for the village. They are both very important for the village’ [S1I10AIB]; ‘Apart from the Chief and the Imam, Ndene is the only other influential person [decision-maker] in the village […]’ [S1I3SB].

According to Senegalese law, the village chief must be democratically elected since he represents the Government of Senegal in the village and is the sole legally recognised local administrative authority. The village chief is responsible for the respect and the execution of the law in the village; controls the application of State measures; takes care of the village census; collects all taxes; and promotes the economic, social, cultural, environmental and health development of the village (République du Sénégal 1996). In Galle Toubaaco, Abdoulaye Ba had been designated village chief through line of descent at his father’s death when he was 32 years old. Due to his young age, he was considered unfit for leading by many informants. Informants reported respect for him due to the ‘legal’ authority he embodied, rather than the charisma they instead found in other elders or intellectuels.

Ndene, uncle of Abdoulaye Ba and ‘responsible for political activities’, also plays a key role in the decision-making of the community. According to informants (including the village chief himself), Abdoulaye consults Ndene on every political decision to be taken. Ndene did not have a pre-defined role (either administrative or religious); however, he built his power through age, experience and knowledge. At the death of the former village chief (Geladjo, Abdoulaye’s father), Ndene tried to embody the charismatic authority held by the previous chief, delegating the legal-traditional authority to Abdoulaye (who became village chief). He did not succeed; rather, community members’ respect for him was based on his ‘dangerous’ knowledge and attitude. Omar, who brought forward his candidature after Geladjo’s death, explained:

Why did Ndene want Abdoulaye to be chief?

When the elections for chief occurred I went to the government officials four times because I was against Ndene’s decision but eventually the rest of the village backed Ndene on his decision because they were afraid of him […] Whenever you talk with Ndene he talks about the law, he likes the law too much but the people here are afraid of the law.


(p.112) Sidi Sow, the Imam, represents a key political figure and is taken into consideration by Abdoulaye and Ndene for most of the political decisions taken. His authority is directly derived from his religious role. Before becoming the village’s Imam, he was one of the marabouts of the community. He took on the role on the death of the previous Imam (his father).

At the second level of decision-making stand the elders and wealthy married men. Less often, and only in certain circumstances (either dictated by contingency or rational deliberation), the three men described above consult a wider group of male community members, either because of their positions of elders, intellectuels, rich members, or due to the nature of the decisions to be taken (which, for instance, might regard a particular family):

I finally have made sense of what happened the other day. Ndene was coming back from Mbirkilane and started talking with some young people. Two of them, who took iassi (a talisman that causes those who drink it to faint – if they become angry – so that they avoid hurting other people), lost consciousness (and who knows though, they might have been just drunk). A third one, Aliou, insulted Ndene. Ndene’s son (Moussa) was about to fight with Aliou, but Kebe (the Tostan facilitator) calmed him down. The following day, Aliou went to Ndene’s house and cut the leaves of the trees there, as a form of offence. Ndene was about to hit him, but Omar intervened. Ndene then called the forest rangers who took Aliou to prison. Abdoulaye then summoned a meeting with Ndene, Sidi Sow, Omar, and other intellectuels to settle the dispute. The following day, Aliou went to Mbirkilane and paid a bail of 25,000 CFA.

[Diary, 02.05.2010]

At the third level of decision-making are village assemblies, in which every community member (with no limitations of age or gender) is free to participate. The assemblies observed during fieldwork took place in Abdoulaye’s courtyard. In all the assemblies observed before the HRE programme, Ndene spoke for the largest amount of time (compared with other members individually). Other interventions, in equal measure, were made by Abdoulaye and the elders. Dembaye (the female elder) also spoke once. No other women or young male members ever took the floor.

The spatial distribution of people during village meetings also helps us understand the roles that community members held during those (p.113)

Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

Figure 5.3 Distribution of community members during a meeting held on 10 April 2010

assemblies. It is common sense that the direction in which people look depends on whom they are listening to and/or whom they expect to talk, that is, who leads the meeting. In Galle Toubaaco, the seating order represented in Figure 5.3 remained the same during all village assemblies.

On a mat at the centre of the meeting, the male elders sat together with, at the edge of the mat, Dembaye. Ndene sat in the middle of the group of elders. Abdoulaye (the village chief) sat amongst the young married men of the village. The women sat on the right, men on the left. Mas – the griot – sat on a plastic canister, between men and women. Kebe, the Tostan facilitator, sat on a chair. The distance from the centre of the meeting seems to reflect members’ age: the older, the closer. Members’ distribution suggests a meeting held by the people sitting on the mat: Ndene in particular. Abdoulaye’s position was consistent with data about members’ perception of his role related to his age.

Figure 5.4 offers a representation of power distribution and participation in the decision-making process among population clusters that emerged during data analysis and shows the demographic distribution of community members within the same population clusters.

In human rights and human development terms, this political configuration does not pose problems in itself: modern liberal democracies (p.114)

Galle Toubaaco before the Programme

Figure 5.4 Population distribution and decision-making power in Galle Toubaaco

are built on the idea that political decision-making must be delegated to elected representatives (see, for instance, the referential work of Dahl 1971). Issues come both with the democratic capacity of the system and with the power distribution in the processes of decision-making and setting the political agenda. It is hence necessary to understand how community members succeed in making use of that political structure to exercise their visible and hidden power and to contribute to the human development of their community.

As seen earlier, instead of being elected through a democratic procedure, Abdoulaye was designated by line of descent at the death of his father. At that time, Omar put his name forward for the position. He did so by claiming that the line of descent had been erroneously interpreted, rather than demanding a fair democratic election. Ndene, however, convinced community members that Abdoulaye was the one to be supported: ‘Ndene is the one who installed Abdoulaye as chief and has decided Abdoulaye will be chief for as long as he is alive’ [S3I2PS]. Once the decision was taken, Ndene requested community members to vote accordingly and votes were then taken to the local urban prefecture to be validated. Rather than being democratically elected, then, the political authorities in the village governed following an arbitrary justification of their authority. This use of democracy as a tool for the formal justification of political power recalls national election customs in place in the village: in the year 2007, the village voted united for Wade, under pressure from Ndene. The decision was taken through a village assembly held to decide (or communicate) who the village should vote for at the forthcoming (p.115) elections: ‘we hold a meeting to decide who to vote for and whoever the elders decide on, that is the person we will vote for’ [S2I12ABM]:

I realised today Ndene’s influence over members’ votes. Abdoulaye yesterday, in front of Ndene, openly praised Wade’s government. Today we went to Mbos, where the Socialist party opposing Wade is holding a public ceremony. When I asked him again what he thought of Wade, Abdoulaye told me ‘oo co … fou’ – he’s crazy.

[Diary, 08.05.2010]

Although collective voting in itself is not necessarily problematic (I mentioned this in Chapter 2), demokaraasi in Galle Toubaaco did have implications for members’ lives from a human rights and human development perspective. Sen (1999) considered the existence of a fair democratic political system to be an essential component of the development process: it is intrinsically important because it is associated with certain basic capabilities; it is instrumentally important because it enhances the opportunities for people’s concerns to be heard; and it is constructively important because it helps the conceptualisation of local needs and priorities. In human rights terms, also, democracy is considered the natural environment for the realisation of human rights, without which basic entitlements can be seriously threatened (United Nations 1948: Art. 21(3)). The problem lies not in the local interpretation of democratic principles: it lies in the fact that such interpretation limits access to the political arena for certain segments of the society and does not grant them the opportunity to influence the political life of their community.

Furthermore, it is important to analyse how community members participate in their local political system. An understanding of that interaction is important for analysing possible shifts in community members’ behaviours after the HRE programme. Since village assemblies are formally accessible by every member, room for all community members to exercise visible decision-making power exists. Also, members can theoretically be influential in setting the political agenda by calling a meeting or intervening during a meeting with a new topic to be discussed. However, as discussed in the next two sections, invisible power dynamics and social norms in place in the village hinder access to the remaining two faces of power for all community members, except male elders.

(p.116) Gender Factor in Decision-Making and Agenda-Setting

In Galle Toubaaco, women exercise very limited visible power in all three layers of the decision-making processes and have no say in setting the political agenda. As Penda said very clearly: ‘the men are the ones who make the decisions’ [S2I4PS]; Amadou reiterated:

Do you think a woman can be a chief?

I only see a man be a chief. It’s always a man who commands a woman here so I just don’t see a woman being a chief; […] it’s not easy to develop a woman without the help of a man. Everything a woman decides has to be accepted by a man first otherwise it should not be done. A man should always be the head of the decision-making, not a woman.


The first level of decision-making is closed to women’s access: traditional customs require the village chief to be chosen via patriarchal lines of descent and the Imam’s gender is dictated by the Qur’an. The second level of decision-making includes a group of male elders and Dembaye (the female elder). According to Dembaye’s description of it, she did not have an active role. In the meetings, Ndene and Abdoulaye also confirmed that Dembaye would only be consulted on specific topics rather than invited to contribute to the political agenda or the making of key decisions. When interviewed about her role in the decision-making of the community, Dembaye declared: ‘the fact that the men take all decisions is the way we have done things for many years and it works for us’ [S1I1DS]; ‘we [the women] are still not involved in the decision-making process’ [S2I2DS]. Her power in setting the political agenda, then, is related to what the ruling authorities grant her: she can suggest issues to be discussed, but only when requested to do so. The direct-democratic third level of the political structure (the village assembly) offers community members the most accessible opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. In those meetings, though, the agenda (usually including just one topic) is not discussed with the floor and can be influenced only by those actively participating in the assembly. All members of the community are granted access to village meetings and are allowed to speak: ‘If we [the women] have something to say we will say something, there is nothing that says women can’t talk in meetings’ [S1I6AS]; ‘When (p.117) meetings are held men and women are free to talk, anyone who has something to say can say it’ [S1I5DS]. However, data from interviews and observations reported little or no women’s participation in village assemblies before the HRE programme. When asked about the reasons for this, informants referred to customs and habits, that is, those prejudices that Gaventa (2006) included within the dynamics of invisible power:

The thing is we grew up like this and saw that women don’t talk in meetings […] Women are not going to speak at meetings with men.


Men tend to make most of the decisions because women are too shy and don’t speak up and sometimes they are afraid to speak because they are women.


Informants said women do not speak out in the meetings because they are shy, not used to talking in public and because they are used to men taking decisions. Asked about the possibility of this situation changing, female informants could not imagine any variation, as in the case of Hawa: ‘Men will always make decisions instead of women’ [S1I12HB] Alternatively, they could only imagine being empowered by the men, rather than claiming their own social and political dignity. The old Kardiata, discussing opportunities for women’s empowerment, said:

I think it’s possible for us to make a change so women can be part of the decision-making process in our village. Change is very hard in our culture but we will try. We will ask the men to work hard and allow everyone to have a voice.


Kardiata’s capacity to imagine a different social alternative was limited by the invisible power of the social status quo that fostered her quiescence with male authority. She could not imagine a different self. She did not possess the capacity to aspire to a diverging future social reality, where the women themselves would stand up and talk in the meetings, getting the social empowerment they deserve as human beings, rather than having to ask men’s permission to do so.

Women’s power in decision-making and in setting the political agenda is hindered by the same norms that relegated them to the (p.118) role of second-class family member, of tools for social reproduction. Gender roles and relations in Galle Toubaaco are socially biased, the result of socially constructed norms built on the reproduction of an unequal status quo influenced by (and replicating) unequal access to key resources. Those biases that influenced power distribution in the family also went beyond the household to enter the political administration of the community. Relations of power among gender in the family were thus reproduced in the society by following dynamics also observed in other contexts (Kevane 2004; Kevane and Gray 1999; Mill [1869] 2008; Nussbaum 2000). As they did when talking of gender roles, informants reported on women’s lack of participation as a social construct, rather than as the result of a religious or biological difference. As per gender roles, then, this shared belief indicates that room for change exists and resides in how members challenge together those social constructs.

Age Factor in Decision-Making and Agenda-Setting

According to anthropologists who studied the Fulɓe customs, members of Fulɓe communities hold knowledge in the highest regard. The elders obtain social prestige mainly from the belief that their life experiences granted them knowledge and wisdom (Azarya and Eguchi 1993; Botte et al. 1999; Clark 1997; Riesman 1992). Besides, it has been suggested that the elders’ power can be based on their control over the reproductive functions of the community, that is, on their control over the exogamous exchange of wives with other communities (e.g. with the dowry practices examined above) (Meillassoux 1991). In Galle Toubaaco, the elders could exercise wide visible and hidden power over decision-making and agenda-setting.

Informants described the elders’ authority as natural and unquestioned. For instance, when asked about the most important person in the community, Amadou Ba Mbaring said: ‘There is an elderly person here named Eladji Diao, he is the oldest man in the village’ [S1I16ABM]. Penda described the duty of a child as follows: ‘A good child is someone who […] always respects the elders and helps others’ [S1I9PS]; and Sidi Ba stated very clearly: ‘When changes are made they are made by the elders of the village. We all accept decisions the elders make and don’t say anything against them’ [S1I3SB]. The elders’ power influenced the political and social life of the community members. They (p.119) held, for instance, the power to influence the entire village’s electoral vote: ‘We hold a meeting to decide who to vote for [at political elections] and whoever the elders decide on, that is the person we will vote for’ [S2I12ABM]. They are also recognised as having the right to settle family disagreements: ‘[The second wife and I] started fighting and our husband came and broke it up, she ran but I didn’t and our husband whipped me. After the fight was over the village elders came to help settle the situation’ [S1I2FD]. Also, the elders regulated the legitimacy of marriage: ‘There are rules here and people do respect these rules. For example, for a marriage to be solidified the elders of the village have to be part of it and agree and bless it’ [S1I2FD].

The elders’ presence is influential at all layers of decision-making. At the first level, Ndene, the eldest member of the triumvirate, can exercise visible and hidden power, even trumping the authority of the village chief: ‘Abdoulaye is the [village] chief but Ndene is the one that makes most of the decisions here’ [S2I4PS]; ‘He [Ndene] chose him [as village chief] because Abdoulaye didn’t know anything so Ndene knew he could manipulate him but he couldn’t manipulate the others’ [S2IS2OB]; ‘Who makes the decisions for the village? Ndene does’ [S3I6SD]; ‘Ndene is […] the leader of the village’ [S2I8FD]. At the second level, the elders’ presence is ensured by the fact that they are de facto members of the consultative group of the ruling authorities. They can exercise both visible and invisible power, by contributing to making decisions that would affect the entire community and by summoning village assemblies. At the third level as well, that is, during village meetings, I found a very strong influence of the elders over the decisions taken in the village. In all the assemblies I observed before the HRE programme, the elders contributed with the quasi-totality of the observed interventions.

In sum, the elders cover a major role in orienting the political and social life of the rural community due to their presence and influence at all layers of decision-making. Informants believed this social order to be natural and unproblematic. Fatou, for instance, demonstrated compliance with the status quo by saying: ‘I think it [the fact the old people are in charge of decisions] is right, the older people should always be making the decisions, this is the way things have been done here for a long time’ [S2I8FD]. Being a male elder in Galle Toubaaco, then, means having access to visible, hidden and invisible power in the family and the society.

(p.120) Weber (1968) analysed gerontocracies and, more generally, the social status quo dominated by the elders’ authority as a good example of social systems dominated by traditional authority. Obedience, in Weber’s model, is owed to the elders as persons, rather than to impersonal regulations as in the case of legal authority. In Galle Toubaaco, elders’ domination is shaped by the same rules that regulate inheritance and is translated from the structure of the family into the political organisation of the village. Their power is unquestioned and unquestionable: while legal authority (such as Abdoulaye’s) can be contested (and members in Galle Toubaaco actually did so by questioning his young age), elders’ dominance is based on customs, and cannot be challenged without unveiling the entire issue of power distribution within the community. In other words, the community would need to reframe their entire understanding of community roles to renegotiate the role that age played in decision-making. A similar distribution of power is problematic because social change, as a process in which people abandon quiescence for political participation, requires young members to participate in the political life of their community by exercising visible and hidden power. It would not need an inversion of the traditional structure of the rural community, with the young members taking over the elders’ role, that would threaten the elder’s role.

While current socio-political patterns in Senegal seem to suggest that roles will inevitably change in the future, with young people gaining individual and political autonomy, this possibility was not included in members’ understanding of future development before the HRE programme. Not only did community members not contemplate different concrete alternatives, they also did not understand alternatives as necessary; that is, they did not understand age discrimination as perpetuating political inequality. Community members knew exceptions, as in the case of Djombo (a politically active and clever young member of the community) or Dembaye (who had some political influence), but did not understand other young and female members as capable of being politically active or influential. They did not see young members as able to contribute to decision-making more than the elders, with their knowledge, could do.

Other Human Rights-Inconsistent Social Practices

The analysis of the human rights challenges faced by the country of Senegal frames the identification of those practices: child and forced marriages and hazardous child labour. Female genital cutting completed (p.121) the framework of Senegal’s current human rights challenges as analysed in Chapter 3. Data gathered during fieldwork, however, did not allow an analysis of the practice; however, indirect reports (female members who spoke privately with Korka) suggest that the community members had abandoned it a decade before my fieldwork. Due to the sensitiveness of the issue, no data could be gathered to allow an understanding of the reasons behind this abandonment. However, this seems to be consistent with what the nurse of the local health post said, referring to the whole area:

I have been here four years but haven’t seen any [‘circumcised’ women or girls]; I have talked to some women that said they were circumcised.

How old were they?

Some were in their 20s some in their 30s.

At what age are women usually circumcised [cut]?

Around 8 years old.


If the youngest ‘circumcised’ woman that the nurse met was 20 and FGC happens at the age of eight, that might mean that the practice started declining from 2002. On the basis of the literature on the abandonment of FGC, it can be speculated that the ongoing ‘modernisation’ process in the country and the end of the social function of the practice brought about its abandonment in Galle Toubaaco (Mackie 2000). CFM and child labour, instead, were social practices in place at the time of fieldwork and are discussed here as a benchmark to understand a potential shift after the programme.

Child and Forced Marriages

The practice of CFM represents a form of gender subjugation and is the result of a patriarchal structure of power that bargains women’s reproductive functions with the neighbouring communities (Meillassoux 1973). This subjugation is not necessarily (or consciously) implemented against girls’ interest. A series of studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa analysed parents’ motivations behind the practice of CFM (Stockman and Barnes 1997; UNICEF 2001). The studies demonstrated that parents implement the practice in their daughters’ interest, genuinely thinking that young girls would be better under the protection (p.122) of a male guardian or that outside marriage they might risk becoming pregnant from pre-marital sex.

In Galle Toubaaco, the practice of child marriage for girls was extremely common. Until recent years, marriage also used to be forced (generally for girls and, in rare cases, also for boys):

I have one daughter, she is 13 years old. She has been married for a month now […].


The girl I married was promised to me when she was 8 years old. I was 18 and she was 15 when we got married.


I was 23 years old and my wife was 12 [when we got married]; my parents chose [my wife for me].


I first saw my husband the day my dad told me I was going to marry him.


I was a little girl, only 16 when I arrived here [after getting married] […] back in those days Fulɓe would just give away their daughters and it didn’t matter if she liked the husband or not. You like it or not you will stay because you have to respect your parents and do what they say. […] My husband was well off and was a relative and that is why they forced me to marry him.


My wife is a relative and it’s our parents that united us, my dad went and asked my wife’s parents for me. My wife was 14 years old but I can’t remember how old I was, 20-something. I didn’t choose my wife but I was lucky that my parents chose somebody I actually liked.


I did it [forcing someone to marry someone else] but I will never do that again. I forced my daughter to marry someone and it hasn’t worked out very well.


Informants reported that the community had dropped the practice of controlling girls’ decisions; however, they were very inconsistent and unsure about when this had happened. Rather than forcing girls to marry their husbands, community members reported that young girls would now be only ‘asked’ to do so:

We no longer force girls into marriages they don’t want. This stopped a couple of years ago, after we started listening to the (p.123) radio and hearing it’s not good to force your daughter to marry; you should ask them first if they actually like the man.


[Informant is talking of a couple who had got married eight years before] When she was young it was possible for her to say she didn’t like the guy she was going to marry. Things have changed and girls are now able to say no to someone if they don’t like them. It was not accepted to say no before but now you can.


Our village is evolving and changing, we used to pound our corn for flour all the time but now there is a machine at Mbose or Touba Mbella that we can go and use. Now men and women decide who they would like to marry and before it was the parents that chose for them. […] It’s OK for parents to choose for their children but it’s OK for the kids to choose too.


I was introduced to him on a Wednesday and I was asked if I liked him. After seeing him and talking to him a little that day I decided I liked him. He went and slept at a nearby village and we ended up getting married that coming Friday.


Five factors emerged during data analysis suggesting that change in the practice of forced marriage was not yet effective. First, the words that informants used to say that girls were now allowed to refuse to marry someone (they were ‘asked’ to do so) are the same as used by older female informants to describe their own marriages decades ago. However, those same women then gave an understanding of their marriage as forced; ‘old’ Fatou, aged 60, for instance, said: ‘My husband came to my village and asked me if I liked him and I said yes I liked him. I was 13 years old when I married my husband’ [S1I2FD]; in a following interview, however, she said: ‘I didn’t like being forced to marry someone’ [S2I8FD]. This suggests an unclear conceptual distinction between being forced and being asked (possibly due to the difficulty of translating in Fulfulde the nuance between the two verbs). Thus, one cannot claim with certainty that there has been a real change in the practice over the generations.

Second, the power to say yes or no might also be granted to girls, but that is not enough for them to exercise it. Access to visible power is hindered by hidden and invisible power dynamics (Gaventa 2006). There are at least serious doubts that 12-year-old girls who learnt to respect the authority of the elders as absolute and who had experience of self as a second-class gender would disagree with their parents’ opinion, or with what they perceive as such. This might happen, for sure, but only (p.124) in rare circumstances and within exceptional family dynamics; take, for instance, what Ami said:

Can a young woman change her parents’ decisions?

No, whatever your parents tell you is what you are supposed to do.


Third, language analysis of the way in which informants spoke about their girls’ right to disagree shows inconsistencies. Ami, talking about her son’s wife, said: ‘We first mentioned to the girl who she was going to marry at the age of 10 and once she turned 15 she agreed and we brought her to our family home […]’ [S1I6AS]. It is difficult to understand how it is possible to communicate to someone who she will be going to marry if the choice is still hers to be taken in five years. Being told of going to marry someone seems not to leave any room for personal choice; rather, it suggests communicating a decision that has already been taken, and with which the girl will have to comply (to ‘agree’) at the right time (in this case, five years later).

Fourth, no data exist showing a single case of a girl refusing to marry her chosen husband within the community of Galle Toubaaco. Aisata, for instance, could not understand why a friend’s daughter would have said no to a man who wanted to marry her:

When she was young it was possible for her to say she didn’t like the guy she was going to marry but I don’t see why she would have done that. […] I have never seen or heard of anyone saying they didn’t like the person they are planned to be married to.


Fifth, when this happened (in other communities), informants said it produced isolation, which might be feared by both parents and girls. The old Kardiata said that, in her entire life, she could only recall one episode of a girl refusing to marry a man:

There was once that I saw someone who refused her marriage and she is 18 years old now and she was 14 at the time. She hasn’t found the person she is to marry yet. Nobody has asked for her hand yet since that time. I am not sure why someone still hasn’t asked for her hand but I think it might have to do with her refusing her first proposal.


(p.125) Control over marriage choice has the social purpose of controlling reproductive patterns by guaranteeing gyneco-mobility (wives following husbands to their villages) and demonstrating adherence to a patriarchal marriage network of communities that grants the possibility of integrating women from other villages (Meillassoux 1991). Women’s choices are controlled because marriage is used as a means of granting reproduction for production purposes. In the complex marriage network, families control their daughters’ decisions by virtue of long-term mechanisms of reciprocity in reproduction patterns. Fertility, the reproductive functioning, is maximised by marrying girls immediately after puberty (responding to local challenges of high infant mortality rates, by increasing the number of children that women can have). Dembaye said sadly: ‘It hurt to be forced to marry but […] I was too young to understand everything’ [S1I1DS]. Like Dembaye, other women in Galle Toubaaco did not like being forced to get married. However, they did not necessarily characterise their situation as unequal, as they had little access to the tools through which they could reimagine social reality unveiling the biases created by invisible power dynamics (Appadurai 2004; Gaventa 2006).

Community members had to renegotiate marriage dynamics between them and with the neighbouring community, and restructure new ways of fulfilling the reproductive needs of their communities. The influence of external factors brought change in the way members of Galle Toubaaco understood CFM. However, that influence produced only a shift in the form (from forcing to asking girls to marry someone) but not in the substance (girls have no real access to the necessary power to contest elders’ decisions). The practice is then problematic from a human rights and a human development perspective, and participants might come to take it into consideration during the HRE classes.

From a human rights perspective, CFM infringes upon people’s rights to freely choose their spouses (ACRWC Art. XXI; UDHR Art. 16(2); United Nations 1966: Art. 10; CEDAW Art. 16(1a)) and even when they agree, marriage of children is supposed to have no legal effect (CEDAW Art. 16(2)), since children are not yet considered able to give free and fully mature consent. According to human development theory, CFM impacts on girls’ capabilities as both a health and an educational issue: it impacts on girls’ perinatal health and limits children’s opportunities to access formal education. More importantly, child marriage hinders girls’ range of capabilities and limits their development as full human beings (Nussbaum 2000; Sen 1999). (p.126) Human rights education might give community members the opportunity to reframe their daily practice within a human rights perspective. Whether this brought about change or not (and the implications of it for the reproductive needs of the community) is analysed later in the book.

Child Labour

The Government of Senegal is actively fighting against the worst forms of child labour, yet it still stands as a major human rights challenge in the country. In Galle Toubaaco, children of both genders contribute to family work. The amount and type of labour they carry out in certain cases would take time that could otherwise be employed in playing or for their education:

As a child [aged six] once I woke up, I would sweep the compound, do dishes, pound millet, cook and fetch water. I have two younger brothers. We would all wake up at the same time, I would do housework and they would go out in the woods to herd our cattle.


What are other differences do you see between your childhood and children’s childhood today?

Apart from having all the toys, the kids pretty much do the same things we used to do. They still go out and herd cattle every day and help out with housework.


Growing up I lived with my uncle and I would herd cattle and work with my aunt around the house, learning how to cook and clean.


[When I was six years old] I would herd our sheep and cattle all day.


Child labour poses problematic challenges; since it occurs because of parents’ concern for the household’s survival, debate has been spurred over whether it should be prohibited or not (Basu 1998; Basu and Hoang Van 1998; IPEC 2011; Nieuwenhuys 1996). The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) defined child labour in domestic and agricultural work (including herding) as highly hazardous and linked to a very high number of injuries (IPEC 2011 (p.127) ). These injuries are related, for instance, to a series of hazards like carrying heavy loads, using sharp objects or isolation that in turn could result in back pain, depression, exhaustion and behavioural disorders. According to the ILO, children are particularly at risk due to vulnerabilities arising from their incomplete physical and mental development.

Nieuwenhuys (1996), on the other hand, argued that children have been ideologically considered as a separate category of human beings excluded from the production of value; the dissociation of children from the performance of valued work has been considered a yardstick of modernity and has its origins in the modern bourgeois society. In her view, child labour would be morally condemned today by Western agencies that attach to it concepts like ‘sacrificed childhood’; that view, however, fails to admit child work as a form of self-esteem and functional social interaction (Nieuwenhuys 1996). In Galle Toubaaco, child labour contributes to the formation of children’s identity and role within the society. Through their labour, children gain self and social consideration, they slowly gain full membership of the communities they are part of (the family, their peer group, the village).

Nussbaum (2000) studied the various dynamics of child labour and suggested that normative approaches keeping children from helping their families would produce more harm than benefit. However, excessive child labour may be problematic from a human development perspective because it can hinder children’s opportunities to develop their full personality (including receiving education that contributes to their human development). Since participation in public life requires knowledge and basic education skills, it is contrary to the essential conditions of participatory freedom on which Sen grounded his approach to development (Sen 1999). A human development-respectful approach to the problem would tackle that part of child labour that hinders children’s learning and socialising opportunities. If child labour limits children’s access to wider processes of education (and not schooling only), then it limits their capacity to aspire to different alternatives; that is, it hinders their future possibility to question the status quo, to unveil invisible power dynamics that reproduce inequalities and foster unjust social relations (Nussbaum 2011). From a human rights perspective, whilst there are restrictions placed on the dangerous aspects of child labour, child work that does not threaten the child’s health and does not keep the child from having time to play and go to school is not legally prohibited (a position that does not take into consideration alternative (p.128) forms of education). In its worst and most hazardous forms, though, child labour is condemned as a practice that goes against children’s right to a fully healthy childhood (United Nations 1989: Arts 24, 28, 32; United Nations 1999: Art. 1).


The analysis of power dynamics in Galle Toubaaco offers an understanding of both members’ compliance with and resistance to the unequal social status quo. ‘Invisible’ power dynamics (the way members understood each other’s roles) influence members’ access to visible and hidden power. Those dynamics are built through different access to resources that shape power in the household and in turn shape women’s social and political roles.

A gendered distribution of labour and different marriage patterns in Galle Toubaaco influence members’ access to strategic resources. That access dialectically contributes to structuring gender roles and relations. Men control access to land, revenue, knowledge and services, and enjoy a more stable network of relationships. Unequal access to land and revenue shapes the family’s economic dependency on the patriarch. Unequal access to knowledge limits the community’s capacity to aspire, to conceptualise a different status quo: a woman travelling could pay attention to (and hence take back home) a different set of information than a man (e.g. about women’s roles elsewhere in the world). Unequal access to services (e.g. to health structures) contributes to the creation of a wide social gender inequality issue and multiplies men’s opportunities of access to an even greater range of resources (e.g. by accessing fast public transportation that could take them to bigger urban centres or other countries). Access to these resources shapes participants’ understanding of gender roles and relations (that, dialectically, reinforce the status quo): men are those who take decisions and generate revenue, women are those who guarantee progeny and take care of the family. The way community members socially understand those gender roles and relations creates invisible power dynamics that shape visible and hidden power in the household: the eldest male, the patriarch, controls decision-making and agenda-setting in the family. Women’s quiescence with the status quo in the family limits resistance to episodic and isolated events: women understand defiance of male power as exposing them to a greater risk than quiescence with the status quo. (p.129) Women enjoy limited power in the family (related to their reproductive capacity, their fertility) and negotiate with their husband within the limits allowed by social norms of gender roles. Rebellion against power (with possible negative consequences, such as divorce) is understood as dangerous and results in episodic actions that, often, generate normative responses (such as domestic violence). Also, resistance is isolated: external gender segregation in the village hinders women’s affiliation and their capacity as a group to renegotiate respective social roles with the rest of the community.

Power relations extend beyond the household and are replicated within the social and political arena of the community. Male elders, the patriarchs of the community, control decision-making processes and agenda-setting at different levels: from the subjective interpretation of the rules regulating access to positions of legal authority (election of the village chief) to the control over number and agenda of village assemblies. Female and young male members could not challenge dynamics of visible and hidden power since they could not interpret them as unequal: ‘invisible’ power dynamics (but with very tangible consequences) structure social norms that hinder their participation in village assemblies and other places of decision-making. Male elders control the political life of the community and regulate their social stability by acting as judges within family discussions. They control the reproductive capacity of the community by regulating the dynamics of CFM that guarantee endogenous gyneco-mobility. The social function of CFMs is that of overcoming conciliatory (rather than predatorily) the internal reproductive limit of the community to guarantee, at the same time, their productive capacity (with men free to leave the household). To fulfil its productive needs, the community also employs child labour. Forms of labour like the one carried out in Galle Toubaaco (from the age of six onwards) have been studied by scholars as potentially threatening young children’s human development.

These aspects of the community’s social organisation have a negative impact on members’ lives in human rights and human development terms. Power distribution in the household and in the society limits the community’s empowerment and members’ development of capabilities. CFM and child labour are also (albeit differently) potentially harmful for Galle Toubaaco children’s well-being and have a negative impact on the community’s life in human rights terms. Room for change exists, however; informants made sense of gender roles as (p.130) traditional (i.e. socially constructed) rather than dictated by religion or biology. Those roles can thus be socially reconstructed: members could build and share a new social understanding of roles and relations. HRE could unveil those social norms and dynamics of power and help participants in questioning them. The next chapter offers an understanding of how Tostan delivered an HRE programme with that aim.


(4.) Identifiers for participants’ quotes include: (1) the moment of the interview (S1: before the HRE classes; S2: during the HRE classes; and S3: at the end of the HRE classes); the number of the interview for that set; and participants’ initials. Note that names have been changed to protect participants’ anonymity.

(5.) Around £26.

(6.) The Wolof word used in Senegal for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.