50.50: Opinion

Senegal failing to tackle misogyny amid growing violence against women

A Facebook group of men bonding over misogyny recently shocked the nation – but accountability is unlikely

Marame Gueye Khaita Sylla
8 December 2022, 1.43pm

La Maison Rose is a shelter for women and girls who have fled abuse, rape, forced marriage or other violence, Dakar, Senegal

|

REUTERS / Zohra Bensemra / Alamy Stock Photo

“If you ever have sex with a physically disabled woman, you will break the legs of any woman you sleep with next,” reads a post in Homme Choc, a private Facebook group set up by men in Senegal.

The group, whose name is French for ‘shocking men’, was launched in 2019, in response to Femme Chic, another private Facebook group where women in Senegal talk about their lives in a patriarchal society and initiate fundraising activities to support each other.

Today, Homme Choc’s membership has grown to more than 20,000 and includes many high-profile figures: journalists, artists, media executives, social media influencers, lawyers, and gender equality campaigners.

Misogynistic content from the group that was leaked in early November, including the post above, shows it does indeed live up to its name.

Get our free Daily Email

Get one whole story, direct to your inbox every weekday.

In the leaked posts and comments, members bond over lewd stereotypes about women with disabilities, albinism or nanism (restricted growth or dwarfism).

“Who here has tasted an albino woman? I hear they’re great with their blonde pubic hair!” reads one such post. In another, a man says he picked up a woman with nanism who was living on the street and took her home, but now regrets it. “Homme Choc, I will never forgive you because you enticed me to do this,” he wrote. Other members replied with laughing emojis.

The messages from the group reveal how Senegalese society mistreats people living with disabilities, said fashion model Yama Ndiaye, a disability rights activist who lives with mobility challenges herself.

The group’s posts are particularly worrying given the increasing number of femicides in Senegal over the past few years. Rape cases are also on the rise, despite the country having toughened its laws in 2020 to make rape a crime punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum of life.

This year, at least eight Senegalese women were killed, some after being raped, most recently 17-year-old Fatou Samb.

Authorities are often indifferent or silent about these crimes, as Senegalese journalist and filmmaker Mame Woury Thioubou points out. This leaves women to rely on mutual aid initiatives such as Femme Chic.

No action taken

Following a social media campaign by the Collective of Feminists of Senegal and disability rights defenders, the leaked Homme Choc content was denounced by both men and women from many spheres of public life. But those with the most power to tackle pervasive misogyny remained silent.

Senegal’s president Macky Sall, an active Twitter user, was called out several times on the social media platform by feminists urging him to say something, but did not respond – even though he was about to host the African Union’s second summit on “positive masculinity”.

In contrast, in May, Sall tweeted in support of leading Senegalese footballer Idrissa Gana Gueye, who was criticised for refusing to play in an anti-homophobia match in France.

Despite multiple complaints from Senagalese feminists, Facebook has taken no action against Homme Choc – in fact, the group’s membership appears to have grown since the scandal broke.

“We reported to various teams [at Facebook]. The West Africa team and the emergency response. Facebook has yet to get back to us, showing how little these platforms really do. We know key contacts, but still nothing is done,” one feminist told openDemocracy.

A representative from Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said the social media giant is investigating Homme Choc after being alerted to the page by openDemocracy.

Related story

senegal header.png
High-profile rape cases highlight the need for feminist media says the founder of Warkha TV, a media platform to promote and defend women’s rightsFrench

Many of Homme Choc’s members are far from remorseful. After their comments were shared publicly, many downplayed them, saying they were just joking and that the group organises social activities and charitable work, including supporting nurseries.

Some members issued apologies via social media, which calmed public opinion somewhat, but two weeks later, others verbally attacked leading members of the feminists collective, especially those who have been very vocal about Homme Choc. 

This incident should have been a pivotal moment to start a genuine dialogue about the plight of women in Senegal, and to seek corrective action not only for the communities of women targeted in the leaked comments, but all women who have been victims of such toxic masculinity.

But, once again, the opportunity is lost, thanks to the silence of the powerful and the general acceptance of the pervasive misogyny that results in gross and frequent violation of women’s rights and bodies in Senegal.

Instead, violence against women continues, even among the country’s political elite. Last week, on the floor of Parliament, a female MP was slapped and kicked to the ground by two male colleagues.

Ukrainian journalists share their stories of war

Hear Igor Burdyga and Kateryna Semchuk explain what it's like working in a homeland under threat. Plus British author Oliver Bullough and chair Daniel Trilling.

We've got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you're interested in, there's a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Get 50.50 emails Gender and social justice, in your inbox. Sign up to receive openDemocracy 50.50's monthly email newsletter.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData