Human rights, like the law, exist to serve the people.

While the law and grassroots human rights efforts are not always perfectly in sync, Tostan’s Peace and Security Project is working to bridge the two. Recently, Tostan partnered with the Senegalese Lawyers Association (SLA) to offer a training on the law to the project’s supervisors. This training focused specifically on human rights and their legal documentation, access to resources (property and financial), the civil state, and the issue of gender-based violence (GBV). The goal was provide new legal knowledge to the project supervisors so that they may better mediate and negotiate conflict resolution.

Like Tostan classes in the field, this training used a participatory approach, complete with group discussions and first-hand experiences from daily life. The training began with Marième Diop of the SLA asking participants a series of questions about their own rights. Next, she described human rights as “existing to protect people from abuse and violence to ultimately respect human dignity.” This, she argued, “is indispensable for total social cohesion.”

Diop reminded the participating supervisors that there are two fundamental values at play in a functional society: equality and dignity. “Equality between citizens forbids categorization. Dignity involves the duty to respect and not harm others.”

In support of the protection of human rights, Diop presented various international and national legal texts, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, written to reaffirm the importance of women in matters of peace and security, the Maputo Protocol, which completes the African Charter and is specific to women’s rights, and the Senegalese Constitution of January 22, 2001, specifically Articles 7 and 8, which further ensure basic public liberties.

However, and perhaps more importantly, Diop highlighted the fact that there were African texts created to protect human rights well before these modern agreements, such as the Mandé Charter of 1222 (The Hunters’ Oath) and the Kurukan Fuga Charter. While human rights in their current form need to be understood and lived at the grassroots level, these texts provide historical context and address the misconception that human rights are a foreign or “Western” invention.

Also essential to any fruitful society is access to resources. Ndéye Yandé of SLA explained that, “Access to land and credit are two fundamental pillars of sustainable development.” Current land regulations state that every citizen—men and women—have the right to use and own land. And with land ownership comes discussion of financing—both for individuals and businesses. Yandé focused specifically on different methods of obtaining credit, formally or informally, while maintaining that credit must come with the guarantee of timely and complete reimbursement.

Next came the topic of the role of the civil state, which Madame Yandé described as such: “If each person’s life has three stages—birth, marriage, and death—the civil state has been structured around these stages.” She explained that the state helps establish the lineage of an individual through documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates and allows the person to access basic social services, such as education, health, justice, jobs, etc.

Lastly, the group discussed the responsibility of the state—and community members—to intervene when violent acts are committed. Khady Ba of SLA underlined the harmful and dramatic consequences of GBV on the individual, but also on the family and society as a whole. She explained that violence is not just physical, it can also be sexual (including female genital cutting), economic (such as a sole income-provider abandoning his family), and psychological (threats and intimidation). Arguably the most important part of Ba’s presentation was how to take care of survivors of violence, namely providing them with resources to file official complaints and on how to access mediation through Peace Committees, which are established and trained by Tostan.

This legal training, which first took place in Senegal, is part of a regional effort. Trainings in all three countries where the Peace and Security Project is active—Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, and The Gambia—are currently in the works. While trainings are generally organized by language, rather than nationality, these seminars are specific to the laws and legal partners within each country. For example, the themes discussed in Guinea-Bissau in mid-June were slightly different than those in Senegal—the Bissauans prioritized laws on land ownership and succession, as well as electoral law and the duty to vote.

Providing these Peace and Security Project supervisors with additional knowledge on the legal contexts and implications of their work has helped to reinforce the principles of the project. These field agents are now better equipped to encourage peaceful and productive interactions within Tostan partner communities, and across social networks.


Contributions from Mamoudou Ndiaye, Peace and Security Project Assistant