At age 9, Musu Bakoto Sawo was already active in advocacy and public speaking—with a strong desire to be a Lawyer. She was one of the brightest students in her school—representing her school on almost every important occasion.
In her seventh grade, it seemed the whole world was against her when one of her aunties approached her for marriage. At just fourteen then, Musu Bakoto Sawo thought the school system at large would fight for her but that just ended in her thoughts as she was married off against her will .
Despite being forced into marriage at a young age, Musu Bakoto Sawo is today a proud Lawyer. She is a women’s rights activist who advocates for the better treatment of women in the Gambia, Africa and the world at large.
In a conversation with The Sisters Show, the Lawyer and mother recounted her touching story of marriage at fourteen and widowhood at 21.
Musu revealed how the system failed her when she needed them the most and how child marriage robbed her of her childhood.
“It was one of the most shocking moments in my life to be someone’s wife at an early age. Robbed me off my childhood and caused me irreparable harm because I am never getting my childhood back. It forced me into adulthood. Being someone’s wife and being constantly under surveillance. I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the things I love because I was someone else’s wife and I had responsibilities.
There were times even I remember not wanting to go to school or not even going to school because people were talking about my marriage. It was quiet overwhelming because as a child those were not the issues I should be concerned with.I should be concerned with my academics and being a child and all of that was something that took away from me a lot. And as a result of that, it discouraged me, because I felt like the system failed me.Failed me in the sense I was a child rights activist.That was not supposed to happen to me or any other girl but it happened to me and nothing came out of it,”she lamented.
According to reports “there are 32 million out of school children of primary school age in Africa and 28 million out of school adolescents—the highest rates globally”. Musu Bakoto never wanted to be a statistic.
“It was one of the most difficult moments in my life,but I realized that if I gave up it means giving up on everything I dreamt of becoming and it meant like sacrificing my life as a person.It meant also becoming a statistic and I refused to be that.I had many dreams.I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be educated. Both my parents didn’t have the opportunity to be educated. I wanted to be able to break the cycle of poverty within my family—I dreamt of so many other things that I didn’t think a marriage would have resolved those issues because if there was anything, I was really good at it was at academics.I was having good grades in school and having outstanding results,”she recalled.
Opening up about survival and balancing her education with her matrimonial home, the Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of The Gambia shared her story of surviving some of the myths of the African culture.
“I remember as a child I would leave my house over the weekend and spend the weekend at his (my husband) house with his family while he wasn’t living around(he lived abroad). He would come twice a year.I’d be expected to cook, clean and do those adult things and that indeed would have impact on my education if I wasn’t determined. I was not going to allow anything to get in the way of my education. I knew that there was a likelihood of my marriage being consummated and me not getting the opportunity to continue my schooling so I threatened my family that I will kill myself if they didn’t let me go to school. So, they (my family) renegotiated with the groom’s family and the groom himself said that I would be at least allowed to complete high school.
By the time I graduated high school I was still a minor. I begged him (my husband) to allow me to go to university and that I wanted to be a Lawyer—and he supported those dreams despite the fact that within the family, there was lot of backlash. I remember there were instances when some family members will say I was not a proper wife because I was going to school.They thought I was not woman enough so it was quite difficult.
When I started university, I would wake up early to go to the market and cook before going to school because I was taking turns with my brother in-law’s wife. That’s how it was working for us, regardless of when it was, whether or not I had to go to school. So, I was going to university balancing that and I also had a baby.”
In Musu’s third year at law school, her husband passed away. At age 21, she was surviving being a single mother, a full-time university student and unemployed. Musu despite those trying times found no reason to give up the struggle. She was dedicated and determined to be the best version of herself even if it meant “sleeping less.”
HARD WOK PAYS OFF
Musu is now a proud Lawyer and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of The Gambia. Adding to her responsibilities has been a Law lecturer at the University of The Gambia, and National Coordinator for Think Young Women—an organization fighting for women’s empowerment.
She became the third ever Gambian student to gain placement in one of the best Law universities in Africa—the university of Pretoria in South Africa. Her admission came with a prestigious scholarship which made Musu feel “worthy” of getting admission to a world recognized Law school.
Her awards include, The Daily Trust African of the year 2020, 100 Most Influential Young Africans 2018, — Inspiring Gambian Award 2018, Vera Chirwa Award 2017. These recognitions are as a result of Musu’s endless fight and commitment to creating a safe space for women and girls.
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