Professor Fall with students and faculty at Nazareth
Senegalese professor Babacar Fall recently lectured at Nazareth about “Youth in Africa: Challenges and Hopes for the Future.” A professor at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Sénégal, Fall is also a passionate advocate for gender equality in francophone West Africa, most recently completing a commission with the United Nations to study youth issues. Students from Dr. Mireille Le Breton’s class interviewed Fall on gender equality and education in his home country.
What events in your life have led you to become an advocate for women’s education and equality in Senegal?
There were two things in my life that led me to where I am now. First of all, when I was five years old I became the first member of my family to attend school. However, my two younger sisters did not have the same opportunity. When I asked my father, “Why is it that my sisters are not registered in school?” he told me “School is not for girls.” That was the beginning of my realization of the cultural constraint in Senegalese society, which prevented girls from receiving equal opportunities in terms of gender. Secondly, when I was in high school, I had a very good friend and classmate who got pregnant and had to drop out of her classes. At the time, there was no chance for her to return to school and her whole career was compromised. I realized from her experience that there is a lack of information provided to the youth. Unfortunately, this is still the case for many young and talented girls, and as long as Senegalese society is not mobilizing these talents, it cannot fully develop. This is why I think it is important to overcome these constraints, and why I am committed to promoting girl’s education.
How were you approached by the United Nations, and what role did you play as the Research Coordinator of GEEP*?
During my time as a university student, I organized arts and activities (such as guest presentations), as well as youth broadcasting programs called “Youth and Culture.” When I became a professor, I applied these important types of programs to involve students and organize panels in which students were given central roles. In 1989, some of my colleagues and I decided to set up an NGO group for “Etudes de la Population” (Population Studies) to promote the integration of the population into the general core curriculum. Doing this in a participatory way allows students to realize for themselves the importance of engaging in their education. We also began to organize presentations on sexual and reproductive health to prevent early pregnancies (the leading restriction on girls’ high school enrollment). My colleagues and I continued this for three years and traveled from one high school to another until we had spread the program throughout most of the country. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFP), the International Development Resource Center (IRCD), along with UNESCO, National Education programs and others recognized our work and common vision and asked to partner and collaborate.
Have you seen evidence of substantial progress since the implication of this initiative?
Yes. A statistical analysis was published six months ago depicting the impact of our program since its establishment. The data show that the effects of the program have touched many professional sectors and that those who participated in GEEP activities are better able to manage their professional and personal lives.
How can we, as Nazareth College students and Rochester community members, aid in the promotion of women’s education in Senegal?
I really appreciate that Nazareth College has started to build a bridge between the school and the community in such a variety of actions. It might be possible to develop a bridge like this with Senegal. For instance, I would be interested in promoting relations between Nazareth College and a broadcasting show called “MADARO FM – The Woman’s Voice.” It is a very important initiative undertaken by female leaders in Senegal to overcome the cultural constraints on women’s participation within the community. This includes an open dialogue on girls’ education. Promoting the radio show by using blogs and websites would make its voice louder would be a wonderful initiative to reinforce the support and technical capacity of the station.
What are your hopes and goals in building a connection between your University in Senegal (Université Cheikh Anta Diop) and Nazareth College? Do you think it would be a useful tool in promoting cultural understanding and community building?
The partnership between UCAD and Nazareth College is a reflection of shared values initiated through conversation by Dr. Mireille Le Breton and myself. We have been trading ideas to determine ways in which we can set up a cultural exchange. The goal is to create a link between two academic communities. Nazareth College in the United States and UCAD in Africa have their own academic and cultural specialized areas. This partnership would open faculty members on both sides to identify their similarities and improve the quality of education, while allowing generations of young people to be in contact. It would also allow students to experience another sense of reality. When you study Africa based only on documents, it is much different than when you are in touch with the community itself and can discover it yourself. By promoting a study abroad program in Senegal, Nazareth College is making progress in the quality of its education and promoting multi-cultural interests. As a result of this partnership, we will be able to build mutual respect, create a more open dialogue, and construct a partnership based on reciprocity. This is, to me, a step forward in the progress of humanity.
*GEEP (aka Group pour l’Etude et l’Enseignement de la Population) is a NGO based in Senegal that was established in May 1989. It advocates for young leadership, peer education, and the participatory integration of knowledge of current social problems.