Senegal: Mame Bassine Niang

I am the daughter of a chief and a daughter of the Republic. I chose the latter, since it is the Republic that gave me the instruments to emancipate myself as a woman writer and a woman jurist.

— Mame Bassine Niang

Mame Bassine Niang was born in Tambacounda in eastern Senegal. She (53) is Minister and High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Promotion of Peace to the Presidency of the Republic of Senegal. She began managing Unesco clubs in high schools and colleges, absorbing the ideals of peace and tolerance, and the principles of civic life. For example, in the Lycée John F. Kennedy in Dakar, she headed a project for girl students aimed at spreading civic virtues and solidarity through theater and poetry.

“A certain event influenced me greatly when I was a little girl. I once overheard one of my father’s councilors trying to convince him to put an end to my studies at secondary level. He argued that this was necessary to avoid the possibility of my being intellectually superior to my brothers, a situation that might upset the rights of succession and the traditional order. This profoundly wounded the little girl I was at the time.” Mame Bassine Niang, who would some day become one of the most brilliant legal specialists of her generation, also almost suffered a dreadful fate. Among the many ethnic groups living at her father’s court, there were some who practiced female circumcision. As a young woman moved by friendship and compassion, Mame Bassine thought it was her duty to share this ordeal with her friends. She was kept from doing so only by the vigilance and energetic intervention of members of the household. This experience was the origin of her ferocious battle against female genital mutilation. Her life story makes one think that the term “pioneer” was part of her destiny from the start. She was the first woman Laureate of French-language Bar Associations, the first woman to be admitted to the Bar Association of Senegal and the first woman among the founders of the first League of Human Rights in West Africa (ONDH). She was the first African woman member of the International Office and the Executive Council of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) which is based in Paris, and the Founding and Honorary President of the International Union of Human Rights (UIDH), which has its seat in Ouagadougou. Moreover, she was the first Senegalese woman Minister High Commissioner for Human Rights and Peace Promotion.