Aminata currently works in parliament in Senegal, advocating on issues related to Gender-Based Violence (GBV). She used to lead a community network that focused on the protection and prevention of violence against girls, but she recently shifted to focus on issues linked to the financial and economic empowerment of women through formal and informal education.
Aminata has been a passionate advocate for the protection of children since 1990 when she had the opportunity to represent Senegal at the UN Summit in West Africa when she was just 12 years old. Even at her young age, she urged the Government of Senegal to increase their national budget for child-related issues. Her efforts paid off as the Government agreed to invest 74bn CFA on child protection-related programs in the country, recognizing that prior to the summit, no ministry had been directly focusing on child- or women-related issues.
Aminata is from the south of Senegal where there is a low attendance of girls in school. She also comes from an ethnic group where female genital mutilation (FGM) is commonly practiced, something that she experienced at the age of five. She has since dedicated her time to helping people understand the consequence of this harmful act, and has moved into parliament to make this issue a priority within the Government.
As a result of FGM, she is unable to have a natural birth, and has vowed to never commit this practice on her own children. She says that the rates of FGM have decreased in her community, and that the Senegalese government is working with other countries to implement cross-border laws that would prevent people from traveling beyond borders to perform the harmful practice.
“In some families, children are born to be leaders. I think I was born this way,” she says.
Aminata comes from a family of nine children, though three of them passed away at a young age from malaria and polio. “They passed away because they didn’t have the right vaccines,” she adds. “As a result of these events, I started working in public health.”
Over time, she shifted her focus to FGM once she heard others campaigning on the issue. “Previously, I used to think it was just a practice that people kept quiet about,” she says.
Aminata adds that “it [FGM] is a social norm, but not a good norm” and explains that fighting a social norm must begin in the classroom.
“FGM is always occurring in rural areas, but they use it as a deviation tool to scare girls away from engaging in any sexual activity. ‘If a boy touches you, you’ll get pregnant,’ they say. People then tell girls that if you undergo the cutting, you will be less likely to fall pregnant. This is their belief. In certain districts, there is such a fear among girls to be sexual, that they use FGM as a hook to influence their behavior,” she explains.
Through her lobbying efforts, Aminata is encouraging Parliament to put in a proposed law that would also charge and prosecute anyone complicit in the act of FGM.
“At first, my parents told me: ‘because you’re saying what people dare not say, and what others dare not do, you are going to die young’,” Aminata says.
“Despite the risks, I know that education is key to stopping harmful practices. Once you educate students, they’re better able to fight the issue in their community.”