Author Talk: TOUFAH | Toufah Jallow in conversation with Kim Pittaway
Time & Location
About the Event
An incandescent and inspiring memoir of resilience from a courageous young woman whose powerful advocacy brings to mind the presence, resolve, and moral authority of Amanda Gorman and Greta Thunberg Before launching an unprecedented protest movement, Toufah Jallow was just a 19-year-old dreaming of a scholarship. Encouraged by her mother to pursue her own ambitions, Toufah entered a presidential competition purportedly designed to identify the country’s smart young women and support their educational and career goals. Toufah won. Yahya Jammeh, the dictator who had ruled The Gambia all of Toufah’s life, styled himself as a pious yet progressive protector of women. At first he behaved in a fatherly fashion toward Toufah, but then proposed marriage, and she turned him down. On a pretext, his female cousin then lured Toufah to the palace, where he drugged and raped her. Toufah could not tell anyone. There was literally no word for rape in her native language. If she told her parents, they would take action, and incur Jammeh’s wrath. Wearing a niqab to hide her identity, she gave Jammeh’s security operatives the slip and fled to Senegal. Her eventual route to safety in Canada is full of close calls and intrigue. 18 months after Jammeh was deposed, Toufah Jallow became the first woman in The Gambia to make a public accusation of rape against him, sparking marches of support and a social media outpouring of shared stories among West African women under #IAmToufah. Each brave and bold decision she made set Toufah on the path to reclaim the personal growth and education that Jammeh had tried to steal from her, a future also of leadership and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, especially in heavily patriarchal countries lacking resources and laws to protect women and even the language with which to speak openly about sexual threats and violence.
TOUFAH JALLOW heads The Toufah Foundation in support of survivors of sexual assault in The Gambia. She has spoken before the United Nations as part of a young people's forum on human rights, presented at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, and testified at The Gambia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is a leader and advocate for survivors of sexual violence, especially in heavily patriarchal countries lacking resources and laws to protect women and even the language with which to speak openly about sexual threats and violence. She lives in Toronto, where she is studying to become a sexual assault victim advocate.
KIM PITTAWAY is the Executive Director of the MFA in Creative Writing Nonfiction program at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the former editor-in-chief of Chatelaine magazine, a recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Canadian National Magazine Awards Foundation (and an 8-time NMAF finalist), and a finalist for the American Society of Journalists and Authors service writing award.