By Mustapha K Darboe
BANJUL, Gambia (AA) - Hundreds of Gambian activists held a peaceful procession on Thursday expressing solidarity with the country’s former beauty queen who claimed she was raped by the country's former president.
Fatou Jallow, also known as Toufah in her home country, made public allegations for the first time against Yahya Jammeh on June 28 2019 at a press conference organized with several activists and human rights organizations.
Jallow was a Gambian beauty queen who won a beauty pageant held in 2014 sponsored by Jammeh.
While Jallow, then 18 years old, was to receive a scholarship to continue with her studies, she said Jammeh used the proximity he gained through the pageant to rape her.
"I am intimidated to [a] certain level but I am proud as well. When I was coming out with my story, I did not anticipate this level of public show of support," Jallow told journalists at a march organized by activists to support her movement.
Since Toufah made her story public, the country’s Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou issued a statement urging girls with similar stories to come out and speak.
The country’s Truth Commission, investigating human rights violations committed under the former president, is expected to look into sexual violence against women under the former ruler who now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea. Jallow told journalists the Commission already reached out to her and that she will testify against Jammeh.
Though rape is a rarely-discussed topic in Gambia, Jallow's experiences have resonated with dozens of women who came out with their own stories.
A top official in country's Foreign Ministry, Melville Roberts, has also been named by several girls as an alleged rapist. Roberts was immediately suspended with a criminal inquiry filed against him into the allegations.
"I am glad Gambian women have embraced it," Jallow said, adding that this was a step to "make women feel comfortable to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment."
Meanwhile, Gambia’s prominent human rights activists have joined the movement now called “#I am Toufah”. Prominent Gambian activist Madi Jobarteh told Anadolu Agency that Jallow had started a revolution changing "a very significant reality" in society.
"For Toufah to come out, that is so significant and that is what has led to this march because we feel these women need support," said Jobarteh.
Jammeh’s Alliance with the Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party denied the rape allegations against him as a "smear campaign".