In the West, pregnancy outside of marriage is acceptable, and abortion on demand is considered a woman’s right. But in the West African nation of Senegal, it is taboo to be pregnant while unmarried, and abortion is not legal.
The challenges for Binta, whose name was changed to protect her privacy, were even greater because her pregnancy was caused by someone in her extended family.
“I didn’t know how to tell my family about this. … The family is too sacred,” the 30-year-old said in a story reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“So Binta made up an elaborate story about finding a job and packed her bags for Guediawaye, a poor suburb on the outskirts of capital Dakar, where a social worker had told her she could find refuge at the Maison Rose, French for ‘pink house,'” the foundation reported.
The Pink House is a courthouse that has been transformed into a haven in Senegal for women whose pregnancy occurred outside of wedlock or who became pregnant because of rape or forced marriage.
In the nine years since Mona Chasserio, the French woman who founded the Pink House, opened its doors, hundreds of women — and their unborn and born babies — have found sanctuary there.
“Anything that can happen in Senegal, we’ve seen it,” Chasserio said.
Most women who come to the house do so to continue their pregnancies and give birth, the foundation reported.
The women also receive help dealing with their trauma through music, art, and other types of therapy.
“Six toddlers played in the sunny courtyard one morning while their mothers shared stories as part of a workshop,” the article said. “Binta sat across from a 16-year-old girl who was seven months pregnant from rape.”
A video posted on the BBC Africa’s Facebook page features life at the Pink House.
“I couldn’t accept my pregnancy,” one girl said in the video. “I didn’t think I would be able to take care of the child.”
“I was planning to give her up for adoption,” she said. “But the workers here helped me create a bond with the child before the birth.”
Women are taken to a nearby hospital to give birth, and they get help with their babies when they return to the Pink House. The hope is that the girls can reunite with their families, but they can stay at the Pink House for as long as they like.
“It’s not just a house that welcomes women who have had problems,” Chasserio said in the video. “But it is, above all, a place about rebirth — rebirth.”
“And that, to me, is very, very important,” Chasserio said.
The foundation reported that Chasserio is now also helping women learn how to support their children.
“The problem here is jobs for women are extremely limited,” Chasserio said, adding that women mostly work in traditionally female fields in Senegal, such as sewing, housekeeping, and hair salons.
Chasserio said she hopes to expand training programs, including joining forces with a local mill where women can learn to make bread.
A fashion website features handbags that women at the Pink House helped craft:
Christian Louboutin joined forces with longtime friend Valérie Schlumberger and the women of La Maison Rose to create the unique and vibrant Africaba day bag. A charity which focuses its work on assisting the most vulnerable women and children of Senegal, La Maison Rose offers a practical and reactive route to restoration whilst highlighting inherent talents of artisanal craftsmanship found within the region.
“It’s helped me a lot,” a 24-year-old woman said.
The woman’s mother took her to the Pink House after she got pregnant. She is now studying fashion and hopes to find a job in a clothing shop.
“I came to rebuild myself,” she said.