7 questions to Odette Zézé Niang

Odette Zézé Niang Co-founder of Jigéen Jàmbaar

Hello Odette, you are the co-founder of the association Jigèen Jàmbaar, an association that campaigns in favor of Senegalese women living in rural areas, and partner of the women's gallery, the Melem France house. Can you tell us a little more about your association?

Jigéen Jàmbaar is a solidarity network that works for the economic recognition and capitalization of women's achievements in rural Senegal. The network relies on art as a tool for awareness and valorization. A sensitization and a valorization that takes on a double cap:

  • To accompany the women to become aware of the socio-economic impact they have in their community through their daily work in the house and in the fields. It is important that they know that managing a house means acquiring management skills: organization, human and collective management, financial and operational resource management... Skills that they can put to use in the community in order to play a professionally and politically recognized role.

  • Accompany the view of civil society, state, non-governmental on the skills and legitimate capabilities of rural women. It seems essential to us to switch from the etymology "economic autonomy" to "economic recognition" so that the actors of the social and solidarity economy that we are the first to recognize their daily involvement in order to be the most faithful to the socio-economic role that they play and to claim the valorization by a socio-economic recognition.

One thing leading to another, anchored in the daily life of women, we become aware that talking about women's autonomy is a tautology. Women are autonomous. They do everything! They organize their daily lives with the means at their disposal. They constantly adapt.

It is this invisible work that we wish to make visible through art and the valorization of capacities.

Jigéen Jàmbaar, as I like to say, is the fruit of multidisciplinary encounters. The first one was photographic. One March 8th, I came across photos of women from the Pink Lake carrying large basins of salt. The photos were published by my brother who is a Senegalese artist. To this end, I proposed to him a collaboration on gender, society and image around the working conditions of women in rural areas. This first collaboration gave birth to the visual exhibition JIGÉEN JÀMBAAR. At the same time, my sister, who was doing theater workshops, proposed awareness-raising theater for children during our free consultation tours with my mother, who is a master midwife in rural areas. A device that we called kay ñou fo (come and play with us) that addresses with humor, the education of young girls, the place of girls and women in Senegalese society.

Yes! All the skills of the family were put to contribution because in its beginnings JIGÉEN JÀMBAAR lived on my own funds and the goodwill of the family.

From then on, art became part of the project as a matter of course, the heart that makes the project beat in its daily life.

We obtained a first financing from the Occitanie region and the Toulouse theater company Les point nommées joined the adventure within the framework of the region's international mobility program.

JIGÉEN JÀMBAAR is, today, a network of women, men and children who live in Sakal, Lompoul and Coubanao. The products processed range from syrup and vegetable preservation to the artisanal production of soap. The women benefit from time spent sharing skills, marketing tools adapted to their reality, in-depth training in health and sustainable development while taking into account their entire world under the principle of a mini intelligent village.

JIGÉEN JÀMBAAR is also a network of Solidaires, Senegalese companies such as New Structural Design, Africa Electronic, Daba Plus, Mathydy and an artistic community such as Wakhart, Sup'Imax, yourself - La Maison MELEM who accompany us in the construction of the house, the medical equipment, the donation of human capital. Women and men of African origin who put the pan-African spirit into action alongside us.

Why did you choose to advocate for women?

The women of the association Jigéen Jàmbaar in action

A family awareness in this first bastion of society which is the family.

It is from the top of my 11 years that polygamy interferes in my daily life, what is until then for me just a word and the evils of the others, of the house of next door, constitutes the thorn in the foot which obliges me to walk differently on the road of the life. A right that the Muslim religion confers to man then comes to shake the family house like an earthquake. We are faced with cracks that scratch the walls of the house, leave traces and destabilize the foundations.

What is then for the man of the family that a religious right of which he makes use, awakens in me a series of questions. Am I condemned to share my lover tomorrow whether I want to or not because it is written in a book and it is my feminine destiny?

Am I condemned to do, say and follow whatever men like because it is written? Why am I the weaker sex? Tomorrow, because they were born male, will my little brothers be my kilifa, my leaders and responsible?

Since then, I have navigated between respectful obedience and civil disobedience. My first steps in the Senegalese society are, at first, tumultuous, turbulent, chaotic, contested but lucky, surly and determined. Determined to take the right step, however shaky it may be, thanks to my luck to benefit from the right to education and the determination to fight for my rights, the rights of those imprisoned behind the walls of social attributes.

My first steps in building female stature are based on this shift from awareness to action.

My African soul of matriarchal fame is taking shape in my home and in my everyday life. I realize that women are everywhere and nowhere at the same time in Senegal. In the streets, in the houses, they manage daily life with a child in the hand, a child on their back, a table at the entrance of the house and the cutlery in the house. On the other hand, as soon as they have to take place in the public space, notably through politics and decision making, the question of their legitimacy to lead and govern arises. Ordinary sexism that we have borrowed from Western and Arab-Muslim colonialism. Historically, the Senegalese woman, like Ndaté Yalla, the last language of Walo with her beautiful pipe, is emancipated and governs.

So this choice is above all to give back to Ndaté Yalla which belongs to Ndaté Yalla naturally.

What is your background?

When I got my BAC in social sciences and humanities, I did two years of financial engineering in Morocco. I quickly realized that even though my grades were good, I was not on the right professional track. I therefore chose to apply for a degree in political science at the University of Paris 10.

The political sociology courses allowed me to have a more global look at women's conditions, struggles and rights. During my master's degree in political science, I already questioned myself about women, religions and politics. This research confirmed my desire to specialize in gender issues. I am doing a Master 2 in Gender, Equality and Social Policies. At the same time, I work with children in an elementary school and I see that social constructions start very early. I decided to do a second Master's degree in Child and Youth Policies. I take pleasure in setting up educational and pedagogical tools from a gender perspective.

I invest myself in associations around the accompaniment of women on caf, stay rights. In 2016, I carried out my first mission in rural Senegal where once again the theory was in perpetual questioning. I learn to rethink the tools of accompaniment for women so that each literate and illiterate woman can find her way.

I am writing my first play in 2020 as part of the 16 days of activism on gender-based violence.

This is a journey that I hope will continue to make its way and overcome the barriers to a world of equals.

According to you, what place does the woman occupy in our current society?

In my opinion, women are still looking for their place in today's society. And this is the biggest problem in my eyes. She doesn't take her place nor does she take the place!

I will use the sports metaphor to illustrate what I think. It's like when I ask at a sports tournament that all teams be mixed. To avoid ordinary sexism, I put as many girls as boys on the field. I remind people that the rules are the same for girls as for boys. I remind you that free kicks, corners and penalties will be taken alternately by girls and boys. And I am there to watch out for sexist acts and comments.

And then I say to myself, you are all right Odette. All the conditions are there for girls and boys to touch the ball. And as soon as I turn around, I see them waiting for the boys to pass the ball to them to play. And then I answer, he wants to play, he keeps the ball. You want to play, you go get the ball and you ask for it. Stop girls waiting for boys to pass the ball to you.

Women have to accept that in our patriarchal societies we have never had anything without a fight or a struggle and that's not going to happen anytime soon. So we have to start by stopping asking and taking what is rightfully ours.

Odette Zézé Niang during an exhibition in Senegal

Tell us about a woman who inspires you?

My mother. She is both humanly and professionally everything I want to be and not be. She is for me what we call the paradox of the Doxa. Graduated from a scientific series at a time when girls are mostly oriented in literature if they went further than the patent.

She may seem submissive but in reality, she is a fighter. She fits into the social order but often gets lost in it because of love, passion and conviction. She can be a "class act" and an angry lioness.

She doesn't mind a lot of social injections in real life, but will quickly become afraid because she cares a lot about what people will say.

This duality in her inspires me. Seeing her between the social hammer and the emancipating anvil makes me vigilant every day. To quote Simone DE BEAUVOIR "What is scandalous about the scandal is that you get used to it". And for me, the inequality between women and men is a scandal to which we must not get used!

Do you have new projects for Jigéen Jàambar?

Stars in my eyes!

A play is being written about the risks of pregnancy.

A writing project linked to portraits of women in the JIGÉEN JÀMBAAR courtyard is also underway. It will combine a duality between shadow and light by the technique of light painting and pinhole under the lights of a theatrical walk.

We will acquire land so that women no longer have to buy their raw materials and can cultivate in the eco-feminist values that we cherish so much.

On the health front, the CASE project is slowly and surely spreading its wings. Les Causeries Autonomes Solidaires et Émancipatrices (CASE) is a capitalization device around primary and preventive health, sorority through cards and cowries.

And to finish with art as a faithful companion, we are thinking about how to make art live in the village through the house with artist residencies and temporary exhibitions.

What advice would you give to a young woman who, like you, would like to become a feminist activist?

First of all, I welcome him. Welcome to the struggle that continues and must continue for justice, equity, equality, ecology. All these values are necessary to humanity that feminism contains.

Now that I have reached out to her, I advise her to do the same. Reaching out to do with others is my perception of feminism.

We must open doors, windows and even roof windows. Female solidarity, sisterhood to implement it, it is important to overcome one of the barriers of feminism: judgment. It doesn't matter how the other person next to you is active in the struggle, the main thing is that she is active and that you are both there to defend but also to carry high the banner of the rights of girls and women in the world. Don't look at how she does it but ask yourself if her actions can add up to yours. To paraphrase Desmond TUTU, "Do good in little bits, where you are. For it is these little bits of good, when gathered together, that transform the world."

And so lives the cause, eco-feminist that I am!