Valley News – Author to discuss book about #MeToo experience, advocacy at Bookstock

In December 2015, a young Gambian woman, Toufah Jallow, won a national competition in which she was asked to speak on a number of topics including how to reduce poverty, improving the lives of women and girls and his thoughts on how to better his country. Then 18, Jallow was one of 22 women who entered the pageant. Receiving the title meant a college scholarship, which would be a great help as Jallow continued his studies.

All of the candidates were then invited to an audience with then-President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a coup in 1994. In the months that followed, the nearly 50-year-old president years, paid special attention to Jallow, inviting her to have dinner with him at the State House in the capital Banjul, and also to appear alongside him at government functions, in her role as the winner of the competition.

He seemed to want to hear and appreciate what she was saying. He encouraged her to dream for her future, flattered her with comments about her genius and maturity, and was generous, avuncular, and fatherly. Until he isn’t anymore.

Jallow, 26, will appear this Saturday in Woodstock as part of the annual Bookstock Festival. She is the author, with Kim Pittaway, of Toufah: the woman who inspired an African #MeToo movement. It is published in the United States by Truth to Power, an imprint of Steerforth Press based in Lebanon, and in Canada by Penguin/Random House.

Steerforth editor Chip Fleischer will have a conversation with Jallow at the Town Hall Theatre, one of five venues in Bookstock where the public can listen to and meet 60 writers in conversation over the weekend.

Jallow, who now lives in Toronto, is ruthless in her account of the brutal rape perpetrated against her by Jammeh. She had been told that she would appear at an official ceremony with the other candidates. When she arrived at the State House, she was led to Jammeh’s private apartment instead.

“There’s no woman I want that I can’t have,” he said, before injecting her with an unknown drug and forcing her to lie on a bed.

The rape shattered her view of the world, she said in a Zoom interview from Toronto. Her ideals, her enthusiasm for what lay ahead, the illusion that she was in control were shattered.

But, she said, she was ready to shut up, to say to herself, “That never happened. Forget that. We move on.

She wouldn’t say anything. It was safer for her, safer for her family, she said.

What Jallow hadn’t anticipated was that Jammeh expected her to continue to submit to his onslaught. She had done all she could to avoid him, finding reasons not to meet. But then she received a phone call from a female protocol officer whose relationship with Jammeh was equivalent to that between Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. The woman ordered Jallow to come with Jammeh to visit her hometown.

Jallow then understood: “To think that I could say ‘No’ to such a powerful man and walk away, was not a reality.”

Jammeh was notorious, both in the Muslim-majority country and outside, for his human rights abuses, his stifling of a free press and his promulgation of bogus AIDS cures. Jallow knew she would be seized by Jammeh’s security men if she didn’t obey.

“It ignited the survival instinct. I had to go,” she said.

Within 24 hours of the phone call from the protocol officer, Jallow fled The Gambia. She dressed up in a hijab and, borrowing money from a relative in the UK, fled to neighboring Senegal. She did not tell her family that she was leaving. Every step of the way was marked by difficulty and danger.

Once she arrived in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, in June 2015, she aired her story on a radio channel run by a Gambian journalist in exile in the United States. She visited the American, British and Canadian embassies to apply for refugee status and spoke with people from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International about the charges she wanted to bring against Jammeh.

In the summer of 2015, Jallow finally got a permanent resident visa to travel to Canada and landed in Toronto on August 8.

And in a sense, the experiences to come were as difficult as the previous ones.

“I was not a young woman who had left home and gone to college, or left my town to explore another town. … He was actually being uprooted. And there is one thing to know that I will come back for a vacation or vacation. But it’s a different mindset when you know you’re leaving and not coming back. It was like a bereavement,” Jallow said.

It was a struggle to find work, to get used to a completely foreign culture, to make friends, to struggle privately with what had happened to her, to communicate with her family, who were at first stunned by her decision. She struggled with a deep depression.

“I think that’s why when I came to this part of the world it was very difficult to just struggle,” she said. “There are so many things I wear that don’t belong to me. I think that’s what people don’t understand. … It is a secret and a burden that does not belong to me. While all of this is happening, I am discovering myself as a human being.

In the years that followed, Jallow established the Toufah Foundation, which works to support survivors of sexual assault in The Gambia. She testified before her country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. She has also testified before the United Nations at a youth human rights forum and before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Jallow wrote the book for a number of reasons, she said. First, she wanted to continue to hold Jammeh to account, even though he was no longer president. He lost the 2016 presidential election, but refused to back down. He eventually resigned after the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States said he would be removed from office if he did not leave office. He found refuge in Equatorial Guinea.

Second, Jallow wanted other young women reading the book to understand what it was really like to live her life. It wasn’t enough for readers to walk away with a sense of admiration for her, or admire her, without also seeing themselves in her experiences.

“I want them to tell the truth even if they don’t know where it’s headed,” she said. “As I walk you through the book, I walk you through my thought process at the time. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know, I didn’t plan this.

When co-author Kim Pittaway first met Jallow, Pittaway saw her as “a young woman who knew what she wanted this book to do, and it wasn’t about getting down to business. It was about bringing this issue to the forefront.”

In a patriarchal Gambian culture where the word “rape” does not exist in the same sense as in English, but is rather understood through euphemisms, detours and metaphors, Jallow felt it was essential to be explicit, to leave nothing out. imagination.

“You can’t forget it, you can’t run away from it, you can’t mark it as something else,” she said. “But for once, it’s not misinterpreted at all, and that’s important to me.”

The book is “so well written and such a strong story,” Fleischer said in a phone interview.

Tufa is part of a series of books in the Truth to Power imprint that focus on stories that “need to be told”, he added, and “bring to light issues that are not sufficiently addressed and understood. “.

What Jallow cannot reconcile is the ongoing online vitriol and threats, slanderous rumors and verbal abuse directed at her, both in The Gambia and elsewhere. Even positive media reports, like some in The New York Timespersist in calling her a “beauty queen”.

“It’s exhausting to be misrepresented. But… what I can do is portray a version of myself and the stories I want to tell, and tell them on platforms bigger than someone’s Facebook status or someone’s Instagram stories . Let me get on bigger platforms and speak and showcase who I know I am – and what I do,” Jallow said.

Toufah Jallow and Chip Fleischer will talk about Toufah: The Woman Who Inspired an African #MeToo Movement at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at the Town Hall Theater in Woodstock.

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