Senegal, a good student who can do better

Senegal is taking women’s political representation in West Africa to a new level with a record proportion of female MPs in the recently elected parliament. But there is still a long way to go in a country where patriarchal attitudes and laws are deeply rooted.

More than 44% of the seats in the National Assembly elected in July will be held by women, the highest proportion in a parliament in West Africa. Progress counterbalanced by the realities of power and the forces of social inertia.

Aminata Touré was Prime Minister for ten months between 2013 and 2014 and served as President of the Economic and Social Council which made her one of the highest figures in the state. She enters Parliament for the presidential party.

Even she points out that in politics, pioneers always encounter resistance and suspicion. “We have a lot more eye on you, they don’t forgive you for any mistakes”she told AFP. “I think all women in power would tell you the same thing.”

Of the 165 parliamentary mandates, 73 have gone to women. The country, readily considered as a rule of law and an island of stability in a turbulent region, ranks fourth in Africa and 18th in the world for gender parity in Parliament, ahead of Switzerland, France, Great Britain. Britain and the United States, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organization based in Geneva.

Outside of Senegal, of the 111 parliamentary or ministerial posts filled in West Africa and the Sahel between December 2021 and June 2022, only 15 were filled by women, a recent UN report says. In Senegal, a 2010 law requires the “absolute parity” between the sexes in all elective institutions, with lists of candidates alternating between men and women.

Rape, abortion, marriage…

As the heads of the list are almost always men and the number of candidates elected on the same list is often odd, the female representation remains below 50%, explains a spokesperson for the National Assembly.

Beyond political representation, Senegal ranks 130th out of 189 in a UN ranking on gender equality. The strong presence in the National Assembly “allows women to have their say”on the budget and on their concerns, says former head of government Aminata Touré.

How much the new Parliament will do to address these concerns is uncertain. Senegal only criminalized rape in 2020. The Maputo Protocol, an African Union initiative to expand access to abortion that Senegal ratified in 2005, is still awaiting approval. fully reflected in national law.

Abortion is only allowed in Senegal to save the life of a pregnant woman. In 2020, a quarter of the female prison population was imprisoned for acts related to abortion, according to the NGO Africa Check. The legal age of marriage is 16 for girls, 18 for boys.

“So much to do”

“It should be raised to 18 so that girls can continue to go to school and be on an equal footing with boys in terms of rights”says Maimouna Yade, head of the women’s organization JGEN. “There’s so much to do”, says Mame Diarra Fam, new opposition parliamentarian. She talks about violence against women, girls’ education and access to healthcare.

Rights advocates recognize the advances made in recent years, such as the law on parity or the 2013 law allowing Senegalese women married to foreigners to transmit their nationality to their children, a right that Senegalese already enjoyed.

The law criminalizing rape has “widely been pushed” by female MPs, says activist Maimouna Yade. President Macky Sall is expected to appoint a Prime Minister soon and a new government will be formed. Women’s advocates will carefully observe the place given to them.

Aminata Touré is among those advocating for parity to be applied in government and the private sector. Civil society is campaigning for the President of the National Assembly to be a female president for the first time. “We hope that a woman will be at the head of Parliament”says Coumba Gueye, executive secretary of the Association of Senegalese Lawyers. “With a woman, many things can change.”


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