Senegal: My voice counts now!

Even though Mariatta Diarra was illiterate, she decided to begin learning so that she could exercise her rights as a citizen.

May 10, 2023 by Dominique Ngoma Nkenzo, Education Out Loud
3 minutes read
Mariatta Diarra. Credit: Action Aid Senegal
Mariatta Diarra.
Credit: Action Aid Senegal

In eastern Senegal, the Bala community in the Tambacounda region is one of the most disadvantaged in the country. Here, women generally have not had much say in budget allocation to public services such as education. In addition, they had little awareness of their rights.

“The place of women in Bala, as in many societies here, was perceived to only be at home to nurture the children,” says El Hadji Moussa Sarr, project officer for the TaxEd Alliance at Action Aid Senegal.

Change through learning

However, some women in the community started questioning the system around public services and wanted to understand how things are supposed to function.

After meeting these women, the TaxEd Alliance team in Senegal (Action Aid Senegal) offered 80 women three days of intensive training in rights, policy processes, budget planning and allocation, as well as concrete guidance on how to seek knowledge and influence.

The training sessions were carried out in their local dialect and adjusted to accommodate those with little or no education.

One of the women in the group was Mariatta Diarra, 62 years old, who had never attended school. Despite being illiterate, Mariatta was determined to learn to understand governance and accountability processes.

“I could see that there were gaps in our public services. Even though I have not been to school, I thought I should still be able to contribute to the development of my community.”

Mariatta Diarra

Becoming a community advocate

In 2021, through support by Education Out Loud and as part of the TaxEd Alliance, Action Aid Senegal added a project focusing on female leadership in communities.

Mariatta and other women received further training on topics such as education funding, budget monitoring, resource mobilization and citizen control.

“But knowledge alone is not enough; as part of our strategy to champion women and girls and amplify their voices, we encouraged them to actively participate in the development of their community,” adds El Hadji Moussa Sarr. “We were happy to see that some of the women began to attend municipal meetings. And that was only the first step for several of them.”

Translating knowledge into influence

When Mariatta realized that municipality meetings were public, she decided to attend them. However, it proved far from easy to voice her opinions.

Despite her thorough training, Mariatta found it very hard to follow the discussions at meetings. She gained the impression that municipality members were deliberately complicating things to discourage her from participating.

At the same time, it was the custom that all materials and documents used by the municipality were in French only and therefore inaccessible to Mariatta and other women with limited education.

The reward of consistent commitment

Faced with these barriers, Mariatta took the documents home and asked her grandson to read and translate them for her. She then made an informed decision and voiced it at the next meeting. At the same time, she advocated for the municipality to use the national dialect instead.

The need to make the meetings more inclusive was soon acknowledged and the board changed its ways to allow more citizens to follow and influence their work. Mariatta has since taken this further than she had ever dreamed she could.

By 2021, she had already proved herself sufficiently and was elected to the municipal board. Subsequently, Mariatta was named deputy mayor of the community of Bala and member of the school management committee. She continues to contribute and create positive change.

“Thanks to the training and guidance I received, I now have access to the decision-making space. I can attend the parliamentary vote and make amendments; I have the power of decision and influence over the management of my community's resources. And I know how my tax is being used!"

Mariatta Diarra

This blog was repurposed from this piece published on the Education Out Loud website.

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Indeed educating girls and women is really helping a lot

Appreciation for the wonderful work done. I am from Northern Uganda Amuru District looking for education support for Children With Disability which are being neglected from Early Childhood Education in rural communities.

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