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Awa SEYE: Life of a woman, rich in experience and marked by a tireless commitment to her own community and those of the coast

Awa, now in her 60s, is a woman from the traditional fishing village of Guet N'dar in northern Senegal. Like all women from traditional fishing families - especially in this village of Guet N'dar with its surviving rich cultural heritage - she is responsible for the marketing of products landed by the boat owned by the family. She also has, with his two sisters, a small space on the fish processing site called "Sine". The three take turns to process fresh fish into "braised" or "dried-salted" fishery products. The raw material may be a surplus of landings of their family boat or just the products purchased elsewhere. Even in 2011, we see that the processing sites, despite the preponderance of women who are the main actors, lack basic facilities leaving them almost in similar conditions to before independence in the 60s.

If Awa looks like other women in fisheries, she has a trajectory in life that is specific for her in many ways. This singularity is based on her experiences, but also her commitment that is not only unusual for women, but also for fishing communities in Senegal in general. Without being exhaustive, some of her achievements are mentioned here.

First, this woman has become the first and only home birth attendant (called matron) recognised by the official medical and health authorities of the country, from the 80's. This passion or mission did not fall from the sky. Living in a community where many deaths are recorded (mothers and newborns during childbirth), Awa herself has had 4 stillborn children. The fishing community is very Islamised and the loss of life at birth was accepted as divine will. As Astou, the woman met in Yoff and practicing the fish trade in the richer areas of Dakar, Awa also sold fish in the rich part of the city of St. Louis still characterised by the colonial-style houses.

Thus, she met a medical doctor at the hospital, who lived there and with whom she had a tacit but long-standing contract – to ensure fish delivery to his house. The doctor was very touched by the number of children Awa had lost. He offered her training as a midwife so she could help in return the wider community. Thus, for 10 years since 1985, Awa attended to large numbers of women giving birth in her living room, which is 5m by 3m. This was followed by a drastic reduction of deaths in that, once she meets the limits of her assistance, the medical doctors take over. Because she has saved many lives, she is one of the people who have the largest numbers of homonyms in the same place: many of the saved babies are named after her in their birth register, a kind of reward from the grateful and relieved parents. Her commitment and work to stem the scourge of deaths during childbirth became even more successful with the construction of a ward for maternal and child health, where she attends to delivering women and has trained girls with whom she also provides an important training component on HIV in a fishing community characterised by migration in West Africa.

Second, Awa symbolises the internal struggle of women within an organisation for their representation in decision-making. It is thanks to her that women occupy executive positions in the National Collective of Artisanal Fishermen of Senegal (CNPS). She is not only a member in the national executive, but fought for the establishment of a national women's chapter in the CNPS which she now chairs. Several articles were devoted to her referring to ".... A movement within a movement - Yemaya ICSF."

And lastly, Awa has been a force in the piece of land called Tongue of Barbary, in the real conflict over space between fishing and seaside tourism. In the area coveted by tourists, when the village of Guet N'dar faces a problem of space, Awa has awakened the consciousness of women whose access rights to land - if only for the needs processing activities - were questioned. Thus, with their group of women, they prevailed over the City Council to not only for having space to work but also to benefit from land registration in their name with a view to extending the present village where density per km2 is one of the highest in the world.

Her commitment to fight to preserve the right of access to land for women explains why the CREDETIP (a Senegalese fishing NGO) has always valued the experience of Awa in the various workshops the NGO that has conducted in Senegal on the theme of the difficult cohabitation between the fishing and tourism, this way sharing Awa's experience with women in other areas under the threat of land expropriation in favour of tourism.

In the following, a few more pictures give an impression of the extremely rudimentary and cramped conditions under which the women in Guet N'dar have to go about their fish processing business. Click here for a more comprehensive slide show on their working conditions.


Bridges can connect and divide: the bridge over the Senegal River in St. Louis, between the fishing village Guet N'dar on an island in the river (left) and the old colonial town (right) - here with a view towards the extremely cramped conditions of Guet N'darBridges can connect and divide: the bridge over the Senegal River in St. Louis, between the fishing village Guet N'dar on an island in the River (left) and the old colonial town (right) Bridges can connect and divide: the bridge over the Senegal River in St. Louis, between the fishing village Guet N'dar on an island in the river (left) and the old colonial town (right) - here a view towards the colonial townSada FALL is the National Secretary General of the National Collective of Artisanal Fishermen in Senegal(CNPS)Every free space is utilised: shark fin drying on the top of a brick wallFish curing in Guet N'darWorking conditions for the women fish processors are extremely cramped in Guet N'dar and not up to sanitary standards Cramped conditions of fish drying in Guet N'darCramped conditions for fish drying in Guet N'dar