Senegal will take another step on Monday with the highest proportion of women parliamentarians ever in West Africa taking office, raising hopes for change in a country where patriarchal laws and attitudes are well anchored.
More than 44% of seats in Senegal’s next National Assembly will be held by women, the highest proportion of any country in the region.
But hopes for dramatic progress on issues ranging from reproductive rights to domestic violence must also be weighed against political reality.
Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister and future MP for President Macky Sall’s APR party, warned that in politics, pioneers always face resistance and suspicion.
“You are much more scrutinized… we do not forgive you for any mistakes“, she said. “I think all women in power would tell you the same thing.
Seventy-three of the 165 parliamentary seats will be filled by women following elections to be held in July across Senegal, widely seen as a beacon of democracy and stability in a conflict-ridden region.
The country ranks fourth in Africa and 18th in the world for gender parity in parliament, ahead of Switzerland, France, Britain and the United States, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based organization.
Outside of Senegal, only 15 of the 111 elected or appointed parliamentary or ministerial posts that opened up in West Africa and the Sahel between December and June were filled by women, according to a report. United Nations report.
Senegal’s high share is explained by a 2010 law requiring a “absolute gender parity” in all elective institutions, the lists of candidates must alternate between men and women.
The latest lawmakers tally is two more than before, and the highest ever under parity rules.
The law “allows women to have a say in the national budget, voice women’s concerns and needs in parliament, and show society that women are equally qualified,” Toure said. . Women “can bring another culture of governance”, she adds.
Candidate lists are often dominated by men and, when odd, tend to have one more man than woman, which explains why female representation remains below 50%, said a spokeswoman for The national assembly.
A gradual change
Activists denounce a mountain of tasks to be accomplished in a country which is ranked only 130th out of 189 states according to theUnited Nations Gender Equality Index.
But efforts to resolve them under the new assembly are likely to be incremental.
Rape was only criminalized in 2020, and national laws have yet to fully implement the Maputo Protocol, an African Union initiative to expand access to abortion that Senegal ratified in 2005.
It obliges state parties to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest, among others.
But in Senegal, abortion is only allowed to save a pregnant woman’s life, said Aissatou Ywa of Task Force, an alliance of civil society groups and doctors campaigning for rape and incest are included.
In 2020, a quarter of the female prison population had been imprisoned for abortion-related crimes, according to theNGO Africa Checkciting data provided by prison administrators in Senegal.
Other campaign groups are pushing for legal changes that would raise the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18. The legal age of marriage is already 18 for men.
“It should be increased to 18 for girls to allow them to continue their education and be on an equal footing, in terms of rights, with boys”said Maimouna Yade, director of the women’s organization JGEN.
Activists are also pushing to allow mothers to have the same parental authority as fathers under the law.
“There’s so much to do”said Mame Diarra Fam, a new deputy of the Senegalese Democratic Party (opposition).
She highlighted violence against women, girls’ education and access to healthcare, after a series of headline-grabbing tragedies in maternity hospitals over the past 18 months.
A coming test
Defenders and deputies attribute several successes to the law on parity.
In 2013, parliament enacted a law allowing Senegalese women married to foreigners to pass on their nationality to their children, a right that was already permitted for Senegalese men.
Aminata Touré had presented the bill as Minister of Justice.
Another advance was legislation criminalizing rape – a law “widely pushed” by women parliamentarians, Yade said.
Whether the growing number of women in parliament translates into executive power will soon face a key test. President Macky Hall will be scrutinized to see if he appoints a woman as prime minister, a post he cut in 2019 under the country’s presidential system.
Senegal’s first female prime minister was Mame Madior Boye, who held the post from 2001 to 2002. She was followed by Aminta Touré, who served from 2013 to 2014.
Another question is how many women Sall will appoint to ministerial posts. Mr. Touré is among those who want parity to be extended to the cabinet and even to the private sector.
Civil society groups, meanwhile, are campaigning hard for a female president of the assembly, a role that has never been filled by a woman.
“We really want a woman to lead the parliament from 2022-2027”, said Coumba Gueye, executive secretary of the Association of Senegalese Women Lawyers. “If we have a wife, a lot of things can be changed.”