My niece just told me I can’t do anything. I can’t cook. I can’t clean my clothes. I can’t sweep. I can’t clean the dishes. I can’t do anything. And due to these facts I will apparently never find a Senegalese husband.
Now you might think that here I should insert a feminist rant about stereotypical gender roles and how this is so unbearably sexist. This whole blog should be an argument about how women should be more than just housewives.
But honestly I don’t think I could be a Senegalese wife. Just to set the record straight I am capable of the things my niece claims I can’t do but she wasn’t completely lying either. I cannot do it nearly as well as all the other women in my house. Being a wife here is no easy feat. It’s a full time job. Day and night. It’s a profession that takes years of experience to master. From childhood Senegalese girls help with chores and cooking. They start training to be wives and mothers from a young age. The other day my 2 year old niece was walking around the house with a baby doll tied to her back, in the same way the women carry their babies here. I was at Allie’s house in Kebemer and her younger sisters were playing with a plastic cooking set and they were pretending to prepare traditional Senegalese dishes. They follow in the foot steps of their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins, and all the women they’re surrounded by.
And these women that they follow aren’t just housewives doing the cooking and cleaning. They run the house. My mom and sisters are powerful women. Like if Beyonce asked me, “Who run the world?” I’d say them. At the very least they’ve been ruling the world I’ve been living in for the last 5 months. They do the house work and they take care of the children and their husbands but they also have jobs too. My mom, for example, is deputy mayor of the whole town and runs a huge women’s group, lending money to women to help with their own finances.
My point is that it’s not some kind of cultural injustice that these women have these roles. These women are strong and they take on these roles with complete dignity.
That being said though it’s not always completely fair on the women’s side either. Sometimes when a family needs some extra hands in the house girls are taken out of school to come home and work. In some cases girls even go to live in other people’s houses to work as maids in order to make money for their family. Girls don’t have a choice in this and are forced to stop their education at an early age. And without further education they lose opportunities for possibilities in the future.
My 14 year old niece told me that she wants to be a midwife when she’s older and I know that she can absolutely do that if she wants. Our family is well off enough for her to follow her dreams but I know other families in Senegal aren’t quite so lucky.
So gender roles are complicated here. Women working in the house here should not be pitied. They certainly don’t want your pity. But at the same time there are girls who are not given a chance to be more than a wife or mother or maid. They are given immense responsibility and do a job not many could do but they don’t have a say in it. In summary it’s not black and white. There’s no easy fix to gender equality here or anywhere for that matter. In the day to day the best we can do is make sure we offer respect to each other.
And just for full disclosure I have received an overabundance of marriage proposals. I could totes get a me a Senegalese man if I so pleased!