rose Challenges to women's rights in Senegal rose


Article 2
Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.

History of women’s status in Senegalese society

Before the penetration of Islam in the country, royal women enjoyed important public and political roles, while non-royal women had some local political and economic roles. But men were those who controlled land, the only asset, and this conferred them a more important role than their spouses’. With the conversion to the new religion, a more patriarchal social structure was adopted, which was enforced by colonization. French colonizers enforced the pattern of male domination in Senegal by imposing their rule through the marabouts, religious leaders of the Senegalese Muslim brotherhoods. Now Senegal has a secular government and a secular law system, modeled by the French systems. Yet Muslim brotherhoods exercise a strong political influence in the country, and a part of the Family Code, applying to Muslim citizens, consists in Malekite Islamic family law.


Current situation

Economic rights

In rural areas, the authorities monitoring the allocation of land (the only source of livelihood) are still patriarchs. Since customary law is applied in those regions, women do not have the right to inheritance. Land is controlled by men (which inherit and allocate it), and this enforces women’s dependency on them. Nevertheless, women are entitled to use their husband’s plot, and also to the allocation of some land apart from the family plot. They are the ones to decide how to spend the money they earn from the crops on their own lot: they can contribute to the family expenses (buying, for example, clothes for them and their children) and keep the surplus. Men cannot control those decisions, since they are not involved in taking them, and this gives women some economical independence. Yet, because women do not have direct access to wealth, they don’t have access to the power that self-sustainability generates.


As far as the paid-employment sector is concerned, gender inequalities still persist. Although the Family Code guarantees non-discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, women are prohibited from working at night and from doing dangerous work. Government also acknowledges that women have no access to certain managerial functions. Lack of education generally leads them to hold weaker, less important, less well-paid positions than men, but they are moving up. They perform better in comparison to men in getting jobs at the higher positions where education above primary school is required, even though top-level jobs are male-dominated). Although still handicapped, both by their traditional past and by the intervention of the French on the side of male economic dominance, women are moving into the wage sector, and informal enterprises.

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Social and political rights

In order to accede to an acceptable social status, girls need to get married. The husband is considered the status of head of the family, and he is the one who provides a good social and economic position to his wife and her family. He is the one who chooses the place of residence, and his wife has to live where he decides, unless a court rule authorizes her to reside elsewhere.


The political stage is also dominated by men, and is less accessible to women, giving the fact that Muslim brotherhoods have historically played, and still play an important role in Senegalese politics. In addition, since the coming in office of President Abdoulaye Wade in 2000, a revival of Islam has taken place in the Senegalese society. Hence, organizations which promote women’s interests in politics have developed diverse strategies to deal with the established Islamic institutions and the reforms those institutions encourage.
In contrast with the governmental gender equality discourse’s disconnection from the realities of the society, women’s organizations negotiate development from the grassroots level. They try to build multiple social relations and new social spaces in order to operate the changes they desire to see in the society. As an example, they created the Réseau Siggil Jigeen, a network of 18 Senegalese organizations which promote the interests of women through lobbying at all levels and improving the status of women in Senegal by trying to foster changes in the family law. Yet, in Senegal, there is no coherent strategy in negotiating for women’s rights, because many women’s activists are ambivalent when judging the cultural and religious legitimacy of their claims for the implementation of gender equality.