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Young Senegalese Urban Women Try to Leave the Bar Scene


In cities, they turn heads with their tight jeans, sparkly makeup and fashionable jewelry. But, the cosmopolitan beauty of young African women can actually hide urban woes. In this fourth part of a series on challenges facing young African women, Phuong Tran reports from Dakar on two young women who face dilemmas about working in bars.

Inside the Spanish-owned Jet Set, there are blue track lighting, attractive women behind the bar and a number of mostly male clientele in the V.I.P. lounge, at the bar and in the front courtyard.

Two friends met working as waitresses here in an upscale residential area of Dakar. Mya, 22, worked there as a waitress for six months.

Her friend, 21-year-old Astou Kassé, bartended there for an additional three months before she also left. They say the owner did not pay them on time or regularly.

Mya's long earrings jangle when she shakes her head while explaining why she does not want to go back to working in nightclubs.

"I saw indecent proposals I could not accept. It happens a lot here in Senegal," she says. "Depends on where you work, but it happens in bars, restaurants, discotechs, you can get these bosses who will proposition you."

Her friend Astou now bartends at Nirvana, a similar bar-club-restaurant with upscale and mostly foreign clients.

"I agree with what she is saying, but this has not been my experience," she says. "In all the places I have worked, I have had good kind bosses who are good managers."

Estimates for the unemployment rate for Senegal range between 40 and 60 percent. Many high school and even college graduates cannot find jobs in the formal sector.

Based on current population trends, the International Labor Office estimates that by the year 2015, the number of young people will grow by 30 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Which may mean less choices for many youth like Mya, who will not settle for just any job.

"It is hard for me to find a job if I have conditions or standards. Perhaps I am too demanding," she says.

As a Muslim, Astou has second thoughts about working where she does.

"Religion does not permit us to work in places like discotechs and bars," she says, " but we do this because we do not have other things to do. If I had another job, I would not continue to do this. I do not have a choice."

She adds one final reason for staying in her job. She says she makes very good money.

Mya, Astou's friend, is in a training program to become an executive assistant. She will try to find an office position, after completing her studies next month.

Astou says her dream job is to travel as a flight attendant. For now, she continues to work at Nirvana club and bar from seven pm to two am, every night of the week, except Monday.

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