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Senegal's colossal statue stirs big controversy

A towering statue is lambasted for being sexist, sexy and wasteful.

And now, the monument’s architect has suggested adding a concrete coverup to the woman’s bare legs, citing complaints he had received.

“I don’t see myself in that woman”

The woman gazes skyward as the man pulls her to the summit, her arms extended backward and a cloth blowing over her perky breasts.

In a country where women dress in floor-grazing boubous, carrying heavy loads on their heads and babies strapped to their backs, the artistic rendering seems a bit out of touch.
Indeed, from a woman selling vegetables on the side of the road to an educated office manager and single mother of four, there was a similar refrain when asked about the monument: “I don’t see myself in that woman.”

In Senegal women dress modestly and cover their bodies, said Magatte Sy of Siggil Jigeen, a Dakar-based women’s rights organization that runs a domestic violence counseling center.

But Sy is more concerned about the woman’s position and size in relation to the man’s, which she said are telling and troubling in a country whose family code still declares the man the head of the family and gives him the sole right to choose where his wife and family will live.

“It’s the man who is the head of the family, the man who is ahead. It’s the man who runs everything. Everything revolves around him,” Sy said. “That’s not the future for the African woman. I don’t want to see the woman behind of or in front of the man, I would like to see her next to him, on the same level.”

Female activists, like attorney Aminata Kebe, say they have been too busy trying to help women survive childbirth, escape domestic violence and become more financially independent to lose much sleep over a statue.

Kebe runs a free legal center in Dakar for the Senegalese Association of Female Lawyers, an organization that is working to reform the family code, make polygamy the exception rather than the rule, and get more women in political office.

“Sure, the woman in the statue is troubling, but I’m much more concerned about the women 50 meters below, on the ground, who are coming into my legal clinic,” Kebe said.

Then, cocking her head, she considered for a moment.
“But does this monument represent the African Renaissance for women? Does this statue represent the future [for the African woman]?” she added firmly. “No, absolutely not.” 

Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly describe the statue.