#FemmesInspirantes : Diariatou Diallo, campaigner for women's rights in Guinea

Discover the inspiring story of Diariatou Diallo, an employee of Action Education but above all a campaigner for women's rights in Guinea. Today, Diariatou is a Territorial Dynamics Accompanist in the communes of Mali and Fougou in the Labé region.

Could you introduce yourself in a few words?

"My name is Diariatou Diallo, I'm Guinean, I'm 32 years old and I have a degree in business law and journalism. I've been working at Action Education for 4 years and I'm currently a Territorial Dynamics Coordinator in the communes of Mali and Fougou in the Labé region.  

Diariatou Diallo, campaigner for women's rights in Guinea

Can you tell us about your encounter with women's rights in Guinea?

"In my family, they wanted to give me in marriage to one of my cousins to guarantee my mother's inheritance. For the record, I come from a polygamous family and my mother only had daughters, and generally speaking, girls have almost no inheritance - that's reserved for boys. Since my cousin is in the family, marrying him was supposed to allow my mother to benefit from the inheritance after my father's death.  

I decided to refuse to get married at a very young age, when I was between 13 and 14, and this put me up against opposition and pressure from my whole family. My older sister had been the victim of an early, forced marriage, and in other close families it was also a socially normalised practice. So the family felt that there was no reason for me to refuse this arranged marriage. That was my first encounter with the issue of women's rights.

Right away I didn't realise what it was like, but from that moment on I decided that I was going to fight for my own fulfilment and allow my mother to live with dignity, even if she had to be removed from the family home.

What was the trigger for you? To say to yourself "this is something I need to do something about"?

"I had already started to get involved in youth organisations working on issues of citizenship and community involvement.

Just after university when I got my first job, it wasn't easy for me being a girl and at the same time the youngest in the company where I worked. I was confronted with advances from certain colleagues that ended up in harassment. I was subjected to moral pressure, harassment and injustices that ultimately led me to resign.  

And that's when I decided to fight for my rights and those of other girls and women. 

So the situations I experienced as a child (refusal of forced marriage, which led to stigmatisation and disengagement from most members of my family) and the violence I suffered at the start of my professional career prompted me to get involved in defending women's rights".

What obstacles have you had to face, or still have to face?

"It's more a question of social obstacles, because in our society, despite some progress, it's not considered right for a woman to be intellectual and to work normally like any ordinary person. Her priority should be to get married and have children, and it's her husband who should be looking after her.

Today, as an intellectual woman with a job that allows me to take care of myself, but single, I appear to my family as someone who does the opposite of the social norm. I'm seen as someone who dares to defend women's rights, who dares to challenge a man's word, who dares to speak out when you don't agree. So you're seen as a rebel, and these are things that, even when you take them on, are sometimes difficult to bear.

In society, we meet people who have been brought up under the domination of patriarchy who think that a woman must be submissive, that she must not raise her voice, that she must not speak out in certain contexts, which is why we are also subject to the same pressure within society.

In the workplace too, when you're competing with men and you get the job, you're labelled as being favoured because you're a woman and it's the gender perspective that has value, it's hard to recognise women's merit in front of men. There are times when it's hard to recognise and accept merit, but you think you're being favoured because you're a woman. Women have to deal with all these issues on a daily basis, whether in the family, in the workplace or in society in general".  

Is 8 March, International Women's Rights Day, celebrated in one way or another in Guinea and Africa?

"Of course 8 March is celebrated in Guinea and in Africa, but it's a political commitment. What's important is that beyond the festive celebrations, today there are organisations defending women's rights that take advantage of this day to take stock of the issue and call the State to account for cases of violations of women's rights and their empowerment. So it's a gentle celebration that glorifies women, but it's also a time to denounce the failure to respect women's rights and to call for international commitments to be respected.  

Does the rights-based approach help to change attitudes? How can this be done?

"The rights-based approach is a good way of making girls and women understand that they have rights. But it's also a good way of making girls and women understand that they have the power to act. It's an approach that makes you aware of what you are entitled to and how to take action to claim it. It's an approach that organisations are using today, for example, Action Education, on issues of girls' schooling and the empowerment of girls and women, uses this approach, which makes it possible to become aware of a given situation and how to act to change it.

For example, we don't necessarily tell a parent to send their daughter to school, but we explain the rights of every girl and the advantages she has if she has access to her rights. The parent then becomes aware of what their child needs. It also facilitates advocacy with duty-bearers (public authorities in particular), using the law to influence them".

What do you see as the main struggles for women in Guinea in the years ahead? Is education a current issue for girls in Guinea?

"With an overall illiteracy rate of 68%, 56.4% for men and 78% for women, the need for education among the population in Guinea is a major challenge, especially in rural areas. 

According to Guinea's Annuaire statistique Enseignement Primaire (2020-2021), the net enrolment rate for girls is 65.9% and the primary completion rate is 33.2 %. This means that for every 3 girls enrolled in CP1, only one has a chance of reaching CM2. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, in 2021, around 1 in 10 girls will go on to high school (10.8%). This shows that the current challenge for girls' education is more than enrolling them, it's keeping them there.

Do you think literacy and education are key factors in empowering women in Guinea and Africa? Tell us what you think.

"Yes, I think literacy and education are key factors in empowering women. Education enables women to be trained, strengthened and empowered to make decisions.

If I take the example of Women and palaver trees 2.0In a micro-project carried out by Action Education as part of its experiment in using digital technology to enhance women's skills, the creation of digital content in their mother tongue enabled these women to organise themselves and form market gardening groups, improve their skills, better manage their income and their relationships, make contact with the local authorities and speak out in public, whereas previously, even when issues of concern to these women were discussed, they were represented by a man. 

It's an essential element in enabling women to fulfil their potential, whether it's in the family, with the monitoring of their children's schooling, or in the management of day-to-day activities, relationships or partnerships with others.

If I take my example today, if I'm seen as an independent woman, it's because I was lucky enough to go to school and finish my studies. And I think it's the same today for any woman who is educated or literate.

If you have daughters, how do you see their future in Guinea? Or abroad? Are they proud to have a mother who is an activist and committed to girls' education?

"I see my daughters in a society where women have their place, where women have their say, where women's rights are respected, I see my daughters who will go to school, who will fight, who will be in front, who will not be singled out by others as if they have been favoured because they are girls, I see my daughters who will dare to walk in society without being harassed, abused, labelled.

I see my daughters getting a job and deserving it, working with dignity and not having all their efforts interpreted as favouritism. I see my daughters fulfilled and in a fairer society. I see my daughters continuing to fight for respect for women's rights. 

I hope that if I have daughters, they will be proud of my fight to defend their rights. When they become aware of all the struggles that have been made to enable them to live in a fairer world, I think they will be proud of all those who have contributed to making that a reality.

What girls' and women's rights projects are you currently working on? How are you contributing? What do you do on a daily basis to help these women?

"On a day-to-day basis, at Action Education, most of our actions are aimed at educating girls and empowering women. The projects we are developing in Guinea enable girls and women to go to school, integrate into socio-professional life, facilitate their self-expression and so on.

In addition to my work, I am involved in Guinean civil society organisations, in particular The Amazons of the Guinean Press where we do coaching for young girls to enable them to become aware of the careers of women they consider to be role models for them, but also to develop themselves.

We also run awareness campaigns and take advantage of the opportunities offered by social networks to deconstruct prejudice, motivate girls to continue their studies and empower them. 

I've also created a space called Club 4H Avec l'Humain. The club is a place for young people to read, talk, network and share ideas on all issues affecting them, sitting on the floor on mats or sheets. It meets once a month and promotes reading and educational talks. The centre also provides coaching for girls, helping them to speak out in public and to improve their knowledge of their rights. It is also a forum for discussing and referring cases of violence suffered by certain girls.

3 years ago, I sponsored 3 girls from my village whose parents didn't have the means. Thanks to this sponsorship, these girls are now at college and continuing their studies.

Do you think that women in Western countries can help to advance women's rights in Guinea and Africa? How can they do this?

"Of course Western women can contribute to the fight for women's rights in Guinea and Africa. But today I think it's a struggle for every society. Every society has its own history, its own practices, its own experiences. So for me, it's important for each society to start from its own experience, to start from the prejudices that exist in order to fight for respect for women's rights.

Of course, there are things that are cross-cutting or common to every country in the world, there are approaches that can be applied to any context, so they can contribute through debates, approaches, tools and sharing experiences.

For me, the fight today is individual before it is collective. In other words, each young girl must first fight this battle at her own level. Then we can achieve this collective fight. We need to fight collectively today to raise individual awareness.

At the moment, I see quite a few young girls in Guinea who are committed to respecting women's rights, who are feminists and who take responsibility for themselves. And I also see women who have asserted themselves in respect of women's rights, who are role models. For me, this fight, beyond certain aspects specific to a country or a society, remains common, it is universal. It's a fight that transcends borders and in which all women, whatever their origin, religion, social category or political affiliation, must take part".


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