An all-female hip hop collective are using rap to fight cultural stereotypes and gender violence in Dakar, Senegal.
Named the Genji Hip Hop collective, the group of approximately 70 women are comprised of Senegalese rappers, singers, DJs and graffiti artists. Initially starting as a Whatsapp group, the collective has since evolved into a both local and global focused group that hold regular concerts and workshops addressing important issues.
Topics that are typically found in their lyrics and workshops include social taboos surrounding women’s rights, such as incest, family pressure and rape.
Twenty-seven year old Aminata Gaye goes by Mina la voilée (Mina the veiled one) when onstage, who - as a veiled Muslim - woman, experienced a lot of backlack when she first started rapping.
“When I sing, I am someone else,” she says. “I don’t feel anything anymore. I’m unwound. It’s like I’m another person when I’m on stage. When you are a woman, normally in our country, they tell you how you must be. ‘You must, you must, you must’. When they are always telling you what you should do, you won’t have confidence in who you really are, but when you are a rapper, you have confidence.”
Hawa Ba, Senegal director for the Open Society Initiative of West Africa believes that Senegal is lagging far behind other countries in the region when it comes to legally protecting women against domestic violence and rape, atributing this partly to conservative religious forces in the 95% Muslim country, where leaders of religious brotherhoods often wield enormous power on policymaking.
Of particular importance to Genji is to fight against Senegal’s rape law, which is treated as a misdemeanour crime – the women want it upgraded to felony status.
“There is not a family in Senegal where someone does not see a case of rape, but no one discusses it because often the perpetrator is a family member,” states Genji’s secretary general, Wasso Tankoura. “It is very difficult to speak about it because the person who is raped is the one who is judged.”
“We hold onto everything,” nods Gaye. “The woman must put up with everything. Marriage is like that. Even if you speak to your own parents, they will say that you have to endure it. Hip-hop allows the women to go against the grain. It talks about everything. Everything society does not want you to talk about. Rap does not shut up, rap does not have muñ.”
“Hip-hop has proven it can change things in Senegal, whether it's social or political, it’s very engaged,” says Tankoura, who says that the cultural concept of muñ is a thread that runs through the issues facing women in Senegal.
The Wolof language word embodies the idea of societal expectations that dictate a woman must have patience and silently endure any harsh realities – even rape – for fear that speaking out will upset the social fabric of the family and community.
Genji are currently in the studio producing an ensemble song about rape and the changes they want to see.