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In Senegal, Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo addresses violence in schools

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010/Look
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo takes a seat at the head of the class at the Liberté VI A elementary school in Dakar, Senegal.

By Rouxanna Lokhat and Anne Look

DAKAR, Senegal, 20 December 2010 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo, known throughout West Africa and around the world for her powerful singing voice, urged students at a Dakar elementary school to speak up about what is often a silent crime: violence in schools.

“Keeping silent makes you a victim twice. Girls and boys must speak out,” she told a class of sixth-grade students.

It was Ms. Kidjo’s third visit to this school in the impoverished Dakar neighborhood of Liberté VI since 2006. “Oh, how the kids have grown up,” she said as students welcomed her at the schoolyard gates. The dynamic Beninese singer has traveled worldwide with UNICEF to advocate for girl's education.

Violence remains a reality

Though today more than half of the students at the Liberté VI school are girls, Ms. Kidjo said there was more work to be done. Violence in school remains a reality for many Senegalese children, especially for girls.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010/Look
In Dakar, Senegal, Grammy Award-winning artist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo dances with students in the courtyard of the Liberté VI A elementary school.

Student Aida Yacine Sy, 8, said girls must be careful. “My mom told me not to wear short clothing. I should not go into a room alone with a teacher or a group of boys. It is not smart,” she said as her friends nodded in agreement.

Other students at the school said violence could mean anything from bullying to rape. Seated alongside students at a small wooden desk, Ms. Kidjo listened to their stories. Violence, she told them, is never the answer.

“When I was young, kids bullied me because I was small. My dad told me that my brain is my best weapon,” she said. “You must have a strategy. You must speak to your teachers and parents.”

A safe learning environment

Ms. Kidjo urged school officials to respond to violence, which can be difficult in Senegal, where there are no formalized procedures for teachers to report abuse.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010/Look
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo plays basketball with students at the Liberté VI A elementary school.

“Kids trust adults to protect them,” she said. “That trauma lasts a lifetime.”

A safe learning environment is essential to keeping girls in school. In Senegal, violence in school, early marriage, sexual abuse, gender discrimination and poverty can impede a girl’s ability to learn.

Improving gender parity

West Africa has some of the world’s lowest gender parity and girls’ primary-school enrolment rates. In Senegal, fewer than one in five girls are able to go to secondary school – and later in life there are only 6 literate adult women for every 10 literate men.

“I have something to tell the boys,” Ms. Kidjo said in the schoolyard. “I encourage you to be the next generation of strong Senegalese men, to fight against practices like female genital cutting and early marriage. I want you to remember that women are not objects.”

During her morning visit, the Grammy Award-winning artist danced, tapped out drum beats on desks and sang with the students. She left them with homework to speak up for their rights. Students said she has become a godmother for the school, and they know she will be back.



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