The Gambia is experiencing its own #MeToo movement as public testimony at the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which is looking into human rights violations during former President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year-long administration, brings attention to sexual abuse of women by powerful men. Toufah Jallow, a 23-year-old Gambian woman now living in Toronto, Canada, accused the former president of rape in June 2019. She quickly became the face of a Gambian movement calling for others to speak out against rape and sexual abuse, with the hashtag #IamToufah trending on social media.
Jallow made her allegation while participating in investigations coordinated by Human Rights Watch and Trial International. She later spoke at the TRRC in October, which helped create space for other victims of sexual violence, by Jammeh and others, to step forward. Haddy Mboge Barrow, a community nurse speaking to The New Humanitarian, lamented a “culture of silence” in Gambia that prioritizes “family honor being more important than the survivor”. Barrow is heading a project to assist the current government in responding to sexual and gender-based violence.
Other witnesses who have come forward spoke of a culture of impunity that thrived under Jammeh’s rule, allowing him, other government officials, and members of his security forces to sexually violate women. The TRRC completed its first year of televised hearings in December, bringing to light a prevailing attitude that did not disappear with Jammeh’s forced removal and exile to Equatorial Guinea in 2017. Jallow and other women who have come forward have faced a harsh backlash; Jallow believes Jammeh loyalists are behind a coordinated campaign of harassment. The TRRC issued a warning that it would use the law to punish efforts to discredit witnesses after a politically motivated backlash was launched against Bintou Nyabally, who accused two members of Jammeh’s infamous death squad, the Junglers, of raping her while in detention.