Dakar, Senegal — In late 2017, as #MeToo spread from social media feeds in the United States, intensifying into a slew of global hashtags -- #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, and #QuellaVoltaChe among them -- two women in the Senegalese capital of Dakar decided to start a movement of their own: #Nopiwouma.
Translated from Wolof into English, it means, "I will not shut up."
But it's been difficult getting women to speak out.
"Nopiwouma was never going to work like Me Too, because in Senegalese culture it's hard for us to even get people to talk about it," Senegalese blogger Ndambaw Kama (NK) Thiat, who co-founded the movement with tech entrepreneur Olivia Codou, told CNN.
In the West African country, where the majority of the population is Muslim and traditional gender roles persist, speaking out about abuse is discouraged. Wolof words like "masla" (to tolerate), "soutoura" (discretion), and "muñ" (to exercise patience, to endure) -- often used when a woman is assaulted or harassed -- reinforce this culture of suppression.
Since Thiat and Codou launched #Nopiwouma on Twitter
in November 2017 and created a Google form for women to file anonymous reports, they've received more than 100 unverified accounts of harassment and abuse, many from women who had never before spoken about their experiences -- privately or publicly. Thiat and Codou say they've been sent even more via direct messages on social media platforms, texts, emails, and are often approached in person. Many who have gotten in touch are strangers, others are close friends.
"For 90% of people that write in, it's the first time they've talked about it. Many may have told their parents when they were young, but were asked not to speak out because it was going to impact their family's reputation," Thiat, 31, said over brunch at a tea and cake shop in Dakar's bustling business district.