rose Challenges to women's rights in Senegal rose


Article 18
1. The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society. It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical health and moral.
2. The State shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values recognized by the community.
3. The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.

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)

Polygamy in Senegal is a right given only to men through the Article 133 of the Family Code. This article asks the groom to make a life-long option for monogamous, limited polygamous or polygamous (up to four wives) system when contracting his first marriage. Nevertheless not all people sign the contract before getting married, and even so, some of them don’t respect it, because no sanction is included in the law.
The practice of polygamy affects about 30 % of Senegalese marriages: approximately 50% of the women are married to polygamous husbands and even for the young generation, polygamy rates are about 25 %. Women’s education influences greatly their marriage choice, halving the polygamy rate: 50% of married uneducated women live in polygamous unions, against 25% for those with at least secondary school education. But the difference in polygamy rates between urban (40%) and rural areas (50%) is not substantial. The figures haven’t improved since 1988, when 70% of Senegalese men were in monogamous marriages, and only 24% of urban marriages were polygamous.
There are various justifications for the practice of polygamy: it is permitted by the Islamic religion, it is a tradition deeply rooted in African society and some claim that it benefits women and society, giving widows the opportunity to remarry, diminishing prostitution, and relieving wives of some marital chores. The practice of polygamy might then seem legitimate, since it doesn’t have immediately obvious human rights implications. However, it negates women some of their fundamental rights: the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to health and protection against sexually transmitted diseases, intra-family violence and unjustified domestic work burdens, and in some cases, even the right to life (as it has the potential to foster HIV/AIDS transmission).


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Yet, despite all the problems it causes, most women, especially poor ones, are coerced to accept polygamy. Their marriages are often arranged by their parents, who receive in exchange of their daughters the traditional bride price (the custom, although illegal, is still widely practiced in Senegal, and requires a man to give money or goods such as livestock and foodstuffs to his bride's family). When they accept this type of transaction, the girl's parents look only at the economical side of it and sometimes demand too much from the groom. Once the groom has paid for his wife, he regards her as property, which can lead him to abuse. After marriage, the wife will only have the product of what she earned, and since she usually is less educated than her husbands, she will generally have a lower level of income than him. Consequently, two economical factors keep women from leaving oppressive marriages: either they can’t afford the refund of the bride price their husbands ask when they separate, or, even if they are not asked to repay that price, divorcing or remarrying might still decrease their income.
The legal age for women’s marriage in Senegal is 18. But, in rural parts of the country, illegal child marriage adds up to the abusive practices of bride price and polygamy. Some parents, in order to avoid the dishonor of potential pre-marital pregnancies of their daughters, force them to marry at very young ages, sometime as young as eight-years-old.
Child marriage hampers girls from going to school, and therefore from being able, later in their lives, to find employment that can assure them economical independence from their husbands. Early sexual relations and adolescent pregnancy resulting from these marriages can cause health problems, while the shocks and fear girls experience in the process can degenerate into psychological traumas.