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Developing Sustainable
Human Rights Cities

Thies, a Human Rights City

Steps towards developing human rights communities first started in Senegal in 1998 with ten villages naming themselves "Human Rights Villages". This commitment was a result of introducing holistic learning about human rights in the villages as part of efforts to abandon the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGM). Now more than 100 villages have issued declarations against FGM and declared themselves "Human Rights Villages". (In several villages women have been allotted parcels of land to grow crops of their choice by claiming: land is a human right.)

The first phase of developing the city of Thies (population: 300,000) as a human rights community was initiated in early 1999, involving eleven neighborhoods from the 52 in the city. Facilitators were selected from each of the neighborhoods and joined in a lively training programme on human rights and community organizing. This has resulted in numerous activities being undertaken in each of the neighborhoods to assess the immediate human rights needs of its members. Highlights of such activities include:

  • Children between the ages of nine and eighteen, upon learning about education as a human right, realized that that many of their friends did not go to school because they were not registered at birth. In response, they created small teams that went from house to house in the eleven neighborhoods, retrieved the necessary information and registered the 327 children they had identified. Next, a committee of these young activists went to the Mayor’s office to request that more school rooms be made available for these children.
  • Neighborhood members have identified the extreme poverty of widows in their community and pooled funds to buy sewing machines and millet grinders for these women who are now trained to open their own small businesses acting in the belief that work is a human right. Four education and vocational centers have been opened for several hundred young women who do not attend school. Each centers has a small store where cloth, food, and art effects made by these young women are sold (proceeds go to the maker of the item). As part of their learning about rights and responsibilities, each of the young women attending the "schools" has to pay 300 Saifa to become a "bone fide" student.
  • Men and women in several of the neighborhoods learning about health as a human right joined hands to clean up the mountains of garbage and established norms for garbage disposal and informed the community accordingly. They also called on the Mayor’s office to assume responsibility for garbage collection.
  • The facilitators call periodic meetings for neighbourhood dwellers to identify various human right violations in the community and discuss what actions to take. This has led to groups of men and women intervening in families regarding inheritance issues and violence against women.
  • On December 10th 1999 the community called for a city-wide march in which thousands of people participated.
  • Meetings with the Governor and other city agencies have also taken place to expand the learning process to city officials and the police. At a recent meeting of PDHRE facilitators with the Governor of Thies he was told about the citation " There is no other option but human rights". The Governor informed his aides to prepare posters with this sentence in English and French and post it in his office and around the city. More importantly, he asked to start a human rights training program with his staff and the police.

The next phase expects to engage at least fifteen more neighborhoods in the same learning and action process and have people from the eleven neighborhoods work as volunteers in these new places.

As with Rosario this first phase was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation as a one-off grant to support the initiation of the plan.

For more information, please contact PDHRE:

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA
tel: +1 212.749-3156; fax: +1 212.666-6325
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org