The Monument of the African Renaissance in Dakar, Senegal, is magnificent. Enormous. Glowing and majestic. It’s the first thing visitors see when they’re flying into the airport, and on its hilltop perch it’s visible for miles and miles.
A pet project of President Abdoulaye Wade, the monument is bigger than the Statue of Liberty and cost about $27 million. Wade says the monument is a major tourist attraction and will bring lots of money to the country.
But not everyone is excited about it. In a country that’s 95 percent Muslim, a statue of a woman with bare legs is shocking. The price tag is a bit of a shock too, especially considering the country’s great need for improved health care and education. And while the man wears a Muslim taqiya cap like many modern Senegalese men, both he and the woman are barely draped in scanty clothing that hasn’t been the standard for a century or more. It’s a bit confusing.
The biggest question in my mind when I visited the monument, though, was, “Who’s that lady?” Because I haven’t seen her around here. Swept up in the man’s arm and straddling his leg, the woman is wispy and weak, floating in his wake. Basically the exact opposite of pretty much every Senegalese woman I met.
The women of this country are powerful. They have to be, because most of the hard work falls to them. They fetch the firewood, tend the children, feed the animals, clean the pens, help in the fields, cook and clean. Their necks and shoulders are solid enough to support the weight of 10-gallon water buckets on their heads, and their backs are muscled from carrying babies tied up in slings.
On a two-hour drive over bumpy roads, Senegal Country Director Francis Bouba-Dalambaye pulled over to put on a back support so he wouldn’t get sore muscles. “If you worked as hard as the women your back would be strong,” I told him.
“We accept, we accept!” Francis and the other men in the car said, laughing. A big part of Heifer’s program in Senegal focuses on gender equity, giving women the rights and opportunities due to them, and Francis and the rest of the country staff are dedicated to this mission. Progress is definitely being made.
But even when equality is reached, I doubt the women of Senegal will want a new statue with a more realistic depiction of them. They’re more likely to put their money toward schools and savings, and anyway they’re too busy for things like statues.
You can read more about Heifer’s projects in Senegal in an upcoming issue of World Ark.