In 2015, Maréme Fall decided enough was enough so, at 45 years old, she was no more a doe-eyed, socially-compliant female who scared easily at life’s curveballs or cultural dictates that demanded that she stay a small, safe female; or even worse, a dispensable older female with no regard anymore from society. She believed herself, and agreeably so, a precious bottle of finely aged wine that had come into its own, and she was ready to put to use all the lessons and experiences she had painfully and painstakingly acquired throughout her growing years. These were females living in not only generational poverty, but also absolute poverty.
The kind of poverty that you are unable to break out of, or flee from because it is practically three-dimensional and alive, and it is sustained by too many factors around you for you to succeed in breaking free before you run out of energy, resources, support, finances, or even (the horror) life. It takes so long to break free from their poverty that they are unable to succeed before age and death catches up with them. This is how brutal the poverty surrounding Maréme and her women is.
With choking emotion, she talks of how many of the females work themselves to skin and bones on their husband’s lands for four grueling months in order to have some corn, beans, and millet in store for the nine months left in the year to feed themselves and their children; because all they have is their hands, their energy and their land and even selling their crop yield does not give them enough money to survive on for the rest of the year.
This leaves them with no means to commute, to pay for their health needs, or send their children to school, or purchase critical things for t heir upkeep. These same crops they save for the year, are therefore simply boiled using scanty, precious fuel r esources and consumed – with absolutely nothing else. No sauce, no vegetables, no meats or fish, no proteins, not even oils.
The most they are able to do is hide bissap leaves in the middle of their boiled corn or rice or beans, and wait till it seeps some flavour and colour, and begin to consume it. Bread, drinks, and even water are luxury to many of these families1. In 2015, she decided it was time to take a leap of faith. She registered and begun to operate an aromatherapy-cosmetology outfit that would utilize her family secrets in making essential oils, soaps, lotions and shampoos and selling them. She called the outfit BSM – Belle Sans Maquillage.
Translating as Beautiful Without Makeup or Cosmetics. This could have been an outright description of who Maréme is. A beautiful soul with ageless, clear skin and bright eyes that easily filled with tears every time you asked her about her women and their dreams for the future.
Then in 2018, Maréme met Anna Ndiaye and Amy Sarr – two older women – at a women’s artisan meeting in Thies and it felt like fate had conspired to bring the three of them together. We have all heard of the power of three. Well, here is one more reason to believe in it.
Since they met, Maréme (now 50 years old), Ann (53) and Amy (58) have made so much impact in the Thies - Sanghaï (Ndingler), Keur Samba Yacine and Dakar area that anything that suddenly takes them out of the space theycurrently work in will leave over 2000 women directly handicapped, absolutely impoverished, jobless, hopeless, and abandoned – immediately and for several months until an alternative is put in place to run on with the programme. They not only train these women in producing over 30.5% of women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in a union before age 18.
The adolescent birth rate is 68 per 1,000 women aged 15-19 as of 2017. In 2017, 12.2% of women aged 15-49 years reported that they had been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Moreover, women of reproductive age (15-49 years) often face barriers with respect to their sexual and reproductive health and rights: despite progress, in 2019, 53.2% of women had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
50 different kinds of internal- and external-use products, oils, and cosmetics; they also provide some of the women with products to retail for income; and they match them to other sources of livelihoods and training opportunities. The three ladies have also successfully begun the process of registering themselves with the Senegalese Standards Authority to ensure that they meet or rise to meet all the benchmarks and criteria needed for not only the country market, but also the West African, pan-African and global standards.
Asked what they want most for BSM, Maréme said:
“We want to scale up our production capacity and quality of our raw materials and financial means; to have machines for production, a well-equipped laboratory, a warehouse for raw materials, and a warehouse for finished products in Dakar; to augment our budget for stocking raw materials and packaging, marketing and communication; to have 2 liaison cars; have working capital; and finally, to have a borehole and solar panels.
But if you want to know what I dream about at night, it is to see BSM present in all local pharmacies including those in the sub-region in the next 10 years; to become a large international structure that can create and maintain jobs especially for women, and rural women in particular. Even if we cannot stop our children from begging and our young girls from working as maids, we would at least have built a large training complex to educate those who wish to, and prepare them for other opportunities.”
These are three female forces of social good and intervention for the future of women in Senegal. They do not only make products that beautify without cosmetics, and that heal; they are not only naturally beautiful women with real soul – these women also create opportunities and livelihoods, and bold new futures. There could have been no better name for their entity. BSM is not only cosmetics and aromatherapy – BSM is also economics and life.