rose Challenges to women's rights in Senegal rose

Development and Social Change


Article 22
1. All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind. 2. States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.

(African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 - 1982)

The Banjul Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights includes an innovative approach to development: it is a person’s and a community’s right to develop, and a state’s duty to ensure that all its citizens enjoy this right. In this context, the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and of the Communal Nutrition Program (CNP) offers a good illustration of the relationship that exists between women’s rights and the right to development. Their outcomes demonstrate that development can’t take place in Senegal without addressing women’s problems. In order to address those problems and bring change, a joint grassroots level (women’s organizations) and national level (government) effort is required.

Negative effects of SAPs


SAP implies economic liberalization (state’s withdrawal from private sector, and gradual withdrawal from the social sectors, such as education and health) and implementation of state policies of elimination of subsidies on primary foodstuffs. The SAP increased social inequalities, poverty, unemployment, and decreased underprivileged classes’ and wage-earners’ purchasing power (through elimination of subsidies and cuts in health and education expenditures). Through their structural reform component, not only did the SAP negatively affect the Senegalese economy, causing poverty to progress, but also undermined the ability and authority of the government to address this issue.

Because of their already underprivileged situation, the women and children were the greatest victims of these changes. SAP increased women's unpaid labor, resulting in a decline of their purchasing power, and the number of households headed by women. However, it decreased the numbers of girls attending school.Women were often faced with increased workloads after the implementation of SAPs, because state health services became less accessible. Despite the progression and feminization of poverty, the citizens tried to overcome the negative effects of the policies in their lives by economic and social resistance. Urban and rural women were the center of a social change process, which aimed at improving Senegalese people’s living standards. Since the country’s government had lost the authority to address this issue, people, and especially women, relied only on the social relations and networks they built in order to solve the various problems they were confronted with.

An example of how this social process worked its way through in the Senegalese society is the creation and implementation of a public health program, the Communal Nutrition Program (CNP). The public health structures run by the government, which lacked the necessary resources, demonstrated their inability to efficiently fight malnutrition. This led to the idea of decentralizing the public health system, and of addressing nutrition issues at the community level. Active participation of communities and in particular of women’s associations was sought, as an element that can positively contribute to the fight against malnutrition. This is how the Communal Nutrition Program (CNP) was created. The project promoted self-management and the opening towards the private sector.


Operation of the CNP

The direct beneficiaries of the project (pregnant and breast-feeding women) were invited to participate in the fight against malnutrition through nutritional education activities at nutrition centers. These centers were places for collective learning managed by local NGOs. The trainings brought changes in women’s feeding and health behaviors, and significant improvements in their children’s health were noted. The information reached a wider audience as women involved in the project passed the knowledge they gained to others, making the whole community benefit from the program.

Among other things, participation in the project encouraged democratic management. It created very often contradictory collaboration and conflict relationship between men and women. The women, who didn’t traditionally hold leadership positions in the community, were this time deeply committed to the struggle of controlling CNP. The project, besides improving the general health of the population, also determined a restructuring of power relations within the community done in favor of women. The nutritional education increased women’s capacity to foster development and it facilitated activities of social change.

As they contributed to the spread of information and to the project’s success, women beneficiaries developed a sense of ownership of the project, and the ability to protect it. They started exerting strong pressures to transform the CNP into a classical development project, which would be more useful if it included an economic component. Some of the volunteers from the community could contribute to the fight against malnutrition by getting involved in paid activities that would increase household revenues. The women showed the limitations of the project: malnutrition can’t be eradicated without increasing household revenue. In order to fight against poverty a more comprehensive policy needed to be implemented.

At that point, the project needed the support of government funds, in order to protect the changes already made and to foster further positive transformations in the community. Women, empowered by education, needed also economic empowerment in order to maintain their newly acquired leadership positions and to continue their activity as community educators. But the government, which is in charge of sustaining development, was weakened by the SAP project. Senegal had to first repay its loans to the donor countries and only after could address internal problems. During this time it couldn’t fulfill its duties toward the population. Even if the state was aware of the importance of its resources and means to promote local development, in the process of structural adjustment it lost its capacity to manage social policies that were  in the best interest of the people.


Author : Johann Dréo; licenced under the Creative Commons "Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 France

In conclusion, there is a crucial link between women's rights and the right to development. Women cannot be empowered if they lack the resources, and development can’t take place without women’s empowerment. On the one hand, women's rights can't be protected only by grassroot organizations without new national policies that sustain economic, social and cultural development. Those policies are crucial for the empowerment of women. On the other hand, development will be greatly delayed if social changes in favor of women are not more actively encouraged in Senegal. Otherwise development will be deprived of some important components: women’s spirit of initiative and their deep understanding of hindrances to development and ways to overcome them.