Who is responsible for promoting gender equality and human rights in a community or a region? Building on the bold actions of their parents, and 25 years of grassroots social change, new youth leaders are emerging in rural Africa to carry this mantle.

On December 6th, 189 villages of the Goudiry and Bakel departments in the Tambacounda region of Senegal joined more than 7,300 other communities across Africa with a public declaration to promote human rights and gender equality by ending female genital cutting, child marriage and domestic violence. Hundreds of people from Pulaar, Mandinke and Soninke communities attended. This important decision was made after 55 communities received Tostan’s human rights-based educational program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). As a part of their process of spreading human rights education, people of all ages from the 55 communities reached out to many of their neighbors; sharing what they had learned and encouraging dialogue.  

Through the process of organized diffusion, class participants shared their knowledge (acquired in class) with their non-participating neighbors, friends and family. The members of the Community Management Committee (CMC) also organized awareness raising activities in the communities and villages (with which they share cultural and religious practices) who did not receive the program. These activities were in turn strengthened by campaigns led by groups traveling each month to roughly ten villages for a wider diffusion of the program’s themes. Many of them were youth.

This next generation organized and led caravans and forums to raise awareness and build engagement through their region, as well as to other youth in far off places. The day before the declaration, sixteen youth traveled from Sedhiou—another region where communities have decided to abandon harmful practices—to meet with the youth of Tambacounda, to deepen their shared commitment to human rights, while sharing knowledge from Tostan’s CEP.

These youth convened at the Departmental Center of Sports Education in Goudiry to hold their own forum on human rights and gender equality. They shared experiences and sought a path forward together as “Young Leaders and Human Rights Advocates:” a project funded by Johnson & Johnson, a partner with Tostan’s efforts to inspire and empower the next generation of West African human rights leaders. (Click here to watch a powerful short film about these youth’s engagement at the declaration and their vision for the future.) 

These bold efforts were borne from the communities specific focus around “preventing gender-based violence (GBV) through community empowerment.” They were to lead efforts to prevent domestic violence and other forms of GBV, as well as promote positive social norms within their extended social networks.

Just before the declaration on December 6th, the signatures from leaders of all 189 villages were handed to the Prefect of Goudiry, Ibra Fall.  He then presided over the ceremony, exclaiming “The brutality of the issue and the scope of the challenges that awaited the Ndimaagu (Pulaar word meaning dignity) project were many, especially in a location where certain practices do not encourage the respect of gender equality and human rights.” He was impressed by the success so far and encouraged Tostan to accompany the Departmental Committee of the Rights of the Child in the next challenge of sustaining them.

He assured those in attendance: “The commitment made here in favor of promoting human rights and the abandonment of harmful practices will be respected.”

With the leadership of the many youth who are already planning the steps needed to maintain this decision into the future, there is great hope that he is indeed correct!


With contributions from Malick Gueye, Tostan Senegal Communications Officer