Spurred by Tragedy to a Lifetime of Feminine Empowerment

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THIAROYE-SUR-MER, Senegal — Typically when she’s alone and looking out on the sea, Yayi Bayam Diouf imagines the silhouette of her son passing over the waters offshore.

Not normally the sentimental sort, she softens when requested concerning the private tragedy that may spur her to problem her city’s conventional patriarchy and turn into a path breaker for feminine empowerment.

“C’est la vie,” Ms. Diouf, 62, says softly, of the tragedy — “that’s life.”

It occurred within the spring of 2006, when her son, Alioune, a 26-year-old fisherman, went on a yearly journey to the usually wealthy fishing grounds off Mauritania with others from their city of Thiaroye-sur-Mer, an impoverished suburb of the Senegalese capital, Dakar. However the catch was lean, they usually have been reluctant to return house with little to point out for his or her efforts.

As an alternative, he and about 80 others crowded onto his fishing boat and headed to the Canary Islands on a route known as “Barsa wala Barsakh,” or “Barcelona or die” within the native language, Wolof. They vanished alongside the best way, and their our bodies have been by no means discovered.

“I want I had at the very least seen his physique,” Ms. Diouf stated. “Typically I’m wondering if he actually died. In the future, I used to be out within the sea fishing and I actually thought I noticed him move by. It hurts loads. It’s very arduous to speak about him.”

That set her on a course that has led to a plethora of awards for group activism — a photograph in her home reveals her receiving a medal from Senegal’s president, Macky Sall. She has inspired dozens of ladies to arrange not simply fishing operations, but in addition hair and clothes outlets, in addition to companies making cleaning soap and make-up, all supported with microfinancing from authorities and nonprofit sources. In 2015, she used a grant from U.N. Girls Senegal to construct a farm to develop mussels, offering work for about 100 girls.

However all that got here later. Ms. Diouf says that after Alioune’s demise she felt drawn to the ocean and commenced considering of leaving her workplace job to fish. But she confronted resistance within the type of a patriarchal tradition that anticipated girls to remain within the house and males to work outdoors.

When she approached a gaggle of group leaders one evening after night prayers in search of permission to fish, she was instructed that “the water doesn’t want girls.” Furthermore, they stated, one of many traditions among the many Lebu ethnic group frequent within the space was that girls couldn’t contact the fish in the event that they have been menstruating.

“I instructed them, ‘That’s superb — I already went by means of menopause,’” stated Ms. Diouf, who’s herself Lebu. “I’m now feeling so self-confident, and I wish to transmit that to different girls.”

Ms. Diouf had one different card to play. For years, hundreds of males had left Thiaroye-sur-Mer in pursuit of higher lives overseas, or died attempting — 374 fatalities from 2003 to 2019, a neighborhood group estimates. There merely weren’t sufficient males left, she stated, warning that the city’s financial survival relied on incorporating girls into the work pressure. At size, they relented.

“I needed to win them over” she stated. “It takes energy of character and dedication to do that.”

Her first identify, “Yayi,” means “mom” in Wolof, and she or he thinks it’s becoming, as a result of she wasn’t glad with simply profitable the suitable to fish for herself. She was decided to increase the suitable to work to each lady.

However first she needed to get began fishing. She procured a license — the primary lady ever to get one — then borrowed a bit over $100, sufficient to hire a ship and pay for the gasoline. The fishing half got here naturally, she says. “I used to be born by the water,” she stated. “I swim higher than a fish.”

Ms. Diouf says she was additionally pushed by a way of the injustice girls that confronted in conventional Senegalese society.

“I grew up watching my mom carry 30 or 40 kilos of fish,” she stated, a backbreaking 65 to 90 kilos. “It all the time damage me that girls’s labor wasn’t acknowledged,” she added. “For years, I noticed girls working arduous processing the fish caught by their sons or husbands, promoting it on the market, they usually didn’t revenue from it.”

To treatment that, Ms. Diouf established a middle to coach girls to fish, to deal with their catch in higher sanitary circumstances and to deal with fish shares as an necessary useful resource reasonably than one thing to be plundered.

Across the identical time, she additionally created the Girls’s Collective for the Combat In opposition to Unlawful Immigration to steer younger males to withstand the harmful temptation to take to the excessive seas and as a substitute make a life at house.

Not surprisingly, she is consistently on the transfer. When she is just not busy on the coaching middle, she is pushing girls to begin small enterprises, discovering funds for micro credit or wrestling with authorities officers to bolster the struggling economic system of Thiaroye-sur-Mer.

On a Wednesday morning in January, a couple of girls arrange a small desk in entrance of the coaching middle to promote fish, juice and breakfast objects to the coming college students and the fishermen and ladies once they return from the ocean, one among many such micro-businesses she has inspired.

That morning, Ms. Diouf didn’t have a lot time for pleasantries or small discuss. Rapidly grabbing a plate from the ladies, she rushed into the coaching middle, which stands throughout the bay from the island of Gorée, a degree of departure for thousands and thousands of Africans after they have been bought into slavery.

Inside, the partitions of Ms. Diouf’s workplace are embellished with photographs of her in a pirogue and carrying an orange life jacket. She was scheduled to satisfy that day with a Fishing Ministry consultant to finish the paperwork for a donation of kit to enhance sanitary measures in fish processing.

She then turned into her work garments, went again outdoors to gather fish that had been cooking on the grill and set about making ready a meal for journalists at a neighborhood tv station.

Ms. Diouf was born right into a fishing household in Thiaroye-sur-Mer. As was typical then, her father did the fishing and her mom helped with the processing. On this polygamous tradition, she says she isn’t positive what number of siblings she has, possibly 15.

She lives alone whereas her husband, a authorities employee she married when she was 17, lives along with his stay-at-home second spouse. Ms. Diouf says she’s pleased with the association.

“I spotted that to be able to be autonomous I wanted to purchase my very own roof,” she stated. “I don’t wish to rely on my husband or on anybody.” She rents out rooms to households, and neighborhood youngsters repeatedly pop into her front room to look at instructional movies on her laptop.

One afternoon after work, she accompanied a younger fisherman to Dakar to hunt financing for his venture to revive conventional and sustainable fishing within the face of commercial fishing enterprises that badly deplete fish shares.

Ms. Diouf additionally has one other calling past her group work.

Standing on the seaside, she says she recollects her final dialog along with her son, when she urged him to not do one thing so silly as to gamble along with his life as a migrant. Now, she usually walks the garbage-strewn seaside to talk to different younger males, to steer them by no means to aim the perilous crossing to the Canaries.

“I inform them that regardless of the hardships, by no means get on the pirogues,” she stated. “I inform them, ‘Would you like what occurred to me to occur to your mom?’ I’ve satisfied some to remain that approach.”

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