In the recently concluded presidential election in the Republic of Senegal, Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye of the Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) Party was announced as the winner, obtaining 54.28% of the votes. He defeated former Prime Minister Amadou Ba of the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) Party, who received 35.79%. Among the 19 presidential candidates was one woman, Ms Anta Babacar Ngom, representing the Alternative for Citizen Relief Party. The election came following a turbulent election period marked by protests and arrests of demonstrators.

On 24 March, some 7.3 million registered voters came out to elect the next President of the Republic of Senegal. Mr Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, founding member of the Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party, secured 54.28% of the votes and was declared the winner. Former Prime Minister Amadou Ba of the Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) Party received 35.79% of the votes and conceded defeat.

Mr Faye, the self-described candidate of rupture," was released from prison 10 days before the presidential elections. He was imprisoned on charges related to his critique of the court’s ruling in Mr Ousmane Sonko’s defamation case. Mr Ousomane Sonko, leader of PASTEF, was accused of rape. While cleared of the rape charge, Mr Sonko was found guilty of a separate offence - immoral behaviour towards individuals younger than 21. Later, Mr Sonko was charged with plotting an insurrection and other offences. Their respective release was possible after Parliament passed the amnesty law for acts linked to demonstrations held in Senegal since 2021.

Days before the presidential poll, President Macky Sall issued a decree postponing the election, scheduled for 25 February 2024, citing a dispute over the candidate list and alleging corruption within the Constitutional Council that handled the list. Senegal has never postponed an election previously. Opposition leaders condemned the decree that came as campaigns were about to start and called it a constitutional coup and an assault on democracy.  Outside of parliament, protests broke out. Civil society groups organised demonstrations demanding the prompt organisation of the presidential election.

The National Assembly later approved the decree, set the date of the next presidential election for 15 December 2024 and extended President Sall’s mandate through 2 April 2024. The Constitutional Council, however, issued a decision stating that the President’s decree to postpone the election was unconstitutional. The Council also said that the presidential election must be held before President Sall’s mandate ends on 2 April 2024, noting that presidential terms are fixed. A president may serve up to two five-year terms. After the Constitutional Council issued its decision, President Sall pledged to comply with it and announced 24 March 2024. 

Senegal, often cited as an example of a stable democracy with a record of peaceful transfer of power, is the only country in the West African region that has not experienced a coup. However, since 2021, Senegal has experienced political uncertainty and the 2024 election period was marked by protests and violence. Authorities responded to the protests and demonstrations organised by civil society organisations by banning them from demonstrating as it "risks seriously disrupting" traffic. According to some reports, authorities temporarily restricted mobile internet access, citing hate messages on social media and threats to public order and took one television station off the air. Several civil society groups and activists organised after the postponement of the presidential polls. Former Prime Minister Aminata Touré and presidential candidate Anta Babacar Ngom were among the protester detained.

Women’s political participation and representation in Senegal

In recent years, Senegal has seen a significant increase in women’s participation and representation in the legislature at the national and local levels. While a woman has yet to be elected president, there have been notable developments in advancing women’s representation. In 1963, Caroline Faye Diop made history when she became the first female MP and again in 1978 when she became the first woman minister. While a woman has yet to be elected president, Senegal has had two female Prime Ministers. In 2011, Mame Madior Boye made history when she became the country’s first female prime minister. Aminata Touré became the second woman to serve as Prime Minister in 2013.

In the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, six women out of 93 potential candidates applied to compete in the polls. They were Aminata Touré, Prime Minister; Aissa Mbodj, former minister; Amsatou Sow Sidibé, 2012 presidential candidate; Dr. Rose Wardini; Assome Aminata Diatta, former minister, and Anta Babacar Ngom, CEO of Sedima, a Senegalese poultry company.Amsatou Sow Sidibé and Diouma Dieng Diakhaté were among the candidates in the 2012 presidential elections. No woman participated in the 2019 presidential elections. As part of their electoral campaigns, the six female presidential hopefuls committed to show solidarity to give female candidates a greater chance. 

Ms Anta Babacar Ngom and Dr Rose Wardini were the only two women on the final candidate list presented. Dr Wardini later withdrew due to having dual citizenship (France and Senegal). Under the Constitution, a presidential candidate must be exclusively of Senegalese nationality. Thus, Ms Ngom became the only woman among the 19 remaining candidates in the 2024 presidential polls in Senegal. Ms Ngom, representing the Alternative for Citizen Relief Party, received 0.34% of the votes.

Ms Ngom said she represented Senegalese women. As part of her campaign, she championed issues related to women, stating that health care was one of her priorities. Ms Ngom also said she wants to establish a national women’s bank to advance women’s economic independence and give women the opportunity to prosper, boost the economy and gender equality, and introduce a fairer and more inclusive candidacy system for women in the country’s leadership race.” Ngom also emphasized the importance of the participation of women and young people in politics. She noted that while women have a significant impact in Senegal, such as in the economy, women are mostly unable to run for the presidency. Senegalese women and young persons are particularly affected by the country’s economic crisis, high unemployment, job insecurity and inflation.”

Concerning women’s representation in other roles during elections, data suggests that it is lower than that of men. Of the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA) appointed 4 out of 12 are women. According to the AU Election Observation Mission, 44% of electoral staff were women. Women’s participation in voting is reportedly lower than men's. MEWC has yet to obtain gender-disaggregated data on voting.

In April 2024, President Bassirou Diomaye Faye announced his government and appointed Mr Ousmane Sonko as Prime Minister. The new government, led by the Prime Minister, consists of 31 ministers and secretaries, of which four (12.9%) are women. They are:

  • Madame Yacine Fall, Minister of African Integration and Foreign Affairs
  • Madame Fatou Diouf, Minister of Fisheries and Maritime and Port Infrastructures
  • Madame Maïmouna Dieye, Minister for the Family and Solidarity
  • Madame Khady Diène Gaye, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture

Female representation in the current government is lower than in2019 when women held 8 (22.9%) of the 35 ministerial positions. 

While female representation in ministerial positions remains low, women fare better in the National Assembly. Senegal ranks 4th among African States and 13th globally on IPU’s monthly ranking of women in national parliaments. As of 1 April 2024, Senegalese women hold 46.1% (76 out of 165) seats in the Assembly. At the local level, as of 2023, 47.23% women were elected.  The increase in female representation can be explained, in part, by the adoption of the 2010 Gender Parity Law. Before the adoption of the Parity Act, women made up 22.7% of the members of the National Assembly. MEWC has yet to obtain comparative data on the percentage of women elected at the local level before the Parity Law.

Legal and policy reforms on women’s rights

Senegal has adopted legislative measures to strengthen women’s rights in the past years. These have positively impacted women’s political, public and economic participation. For example, in 2019, the Senegalese government criminalised rape and in 2020  and increased the severity of the offence of sexual harassment.

Concerning advancing and strengthening Senegalese women’s equal and full participation in public and political life, one of the most notable developments is the 2010 Gender Parity Law. The Law requires “absolute parity” in all elected institutions and stipulates that candidate lists must be alternatively composed ofpersons of both sexes. Furthermore, under the Gender Parity Law, lists that do not comply with parity and gender alternation provisions will not be accepted.

Moreover, before the 2024 presidential election, several provisions of the Electoral Code were amended. Candidates may now run for president if they have the endorsement of 13 MPs or 120 mayors instead of the prior requirement of having the endorsement of 0.6% of registered voters. Additionally, those convicted of felonies will be able to run for elections if they are granted a presidential pardon.

The National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality (SNEEG 2016-2026) seeks to ensure the full participation of women and men in decision-making processes and equitable access to resources and the benefits of development. 

Challenges to women’s political participation

Despite the advances, inequalities and inadequate legal protection remain hampering their full and equal participation in public and political life. Women face persistent inequities in employment, health care, and education. Traditional customs limit women’s ability to purchase property, and local rules on inheritance make it difficult for women to become beneficiaries.

Senegalese women seeking to participate in political public life face structural barriers and challenges in accessing financial resources. Moreover, Senegalese society is patriarchal and conservative and perceptions of gender roles hamper their equal and full participation in political life and leadership positions. Women often hold supporting roles. According to Ms Ngom, women’s political representation does not reflect “their real role in society”. She noted that women are accepted "as long as they limit themselves to the position of prime minister", a position that historically has been significantly smaller than presidents. Moreover, former Prime Minister Aminata Touré noted that Senegalese women are still met with resistance and suspicion and are held to a higher standard where mistakes are not forgiven.

Female members of political parties often face challenges in securing an elected position, as women rarely come from the party’spolitical apparatus. Moreover, reports indicate that men are almost always on the top of the candidate lists. According to a spokeswoman for the National Assembly, women’s representation remains less than 50%, in part because men almost always top party lists. 

Senegalese women advocating for change

Senegalese women’s groups and female members of parliament have been instrumental in advancing women’s rights in the country and addressing challenges and gaps. Concerning equal political participation, women’s groups advocated for the adoption of the 2010 Gender Parity Law. Since the enactment of the Law, women’s organisations, such as Association des Juristes Sénégalaises (AJS), have worked to ensure that the Gender Parity Law is enforced. According to reports, many political parties and election officials do not comply with the Law, disregarding their list of candidates after elections and instead installing men in elected positions. AJS has, therefore, taken legal action to enforce the Gender Parity Law in cases where this inequity has been discovered.

In the runup to the 2024 presidential poll, several women’s groups organised events to strengthen female political participation, raise awareness among women of their political rights and train women in leadership and seeking elected offices. "Voix et leadership des femmes (VLF- Sénégal) held awareness-raising events on women's political participation and the Gender Parity Law.  The Regional Women's Solidarity Committee for Peace in Casamance (USOFORAL) organised an awareness-raising caravan demanding the effective participation of women in decision-making bodies, rural women especially. The Conseil Sénégalais des Femmes de Ziguinchor (COSEF) announced they would set up an alert and monitoring network on parity in the three departments of the Sédhiou region. Civil society actors are also campaigning for a woman to serve as the President of the National Assembly for the first time. To date, no woman has held the position.

Senegalese women groups and activists are also actively advocating for advancing women’s rights in other areas and addressing provisions in legislation considered discriminatory and/or unfair. One example is their work on amending the Family Code. For example, AJS has raised awareness and lobbied the authorities to revise specific provisions of the Family Code, such as increasing the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 years for girls to comply with the Maputo Protocol. Senegal ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2004. 

Voice and leadership of Women inenlisted members of parliament, other elected local officials and community leaders in discussions on revising the Family Code. Amongits provisions,the Code gives parental authority to the father, and in the event of a divorce, the father is the sole decisionmaker regarding the child. Other activists collected 5000 signatures denouncing discriminatory provisions in the Family Code

Senegalese civil society actors also work to ensure safe access to abortion. Abortion is currently only permitted in cases to save the life of a mother.  In all other cases, a woman is punished with six months to two years imprisonment and/or a fine o20,000 to 100,000 francs under the Penal Code.  In 2020, 25% of the female prison population was imprisoned for abortion-related events, according to the NGO Africa Check.

Female MPs, together with the support of women’s organisations, lobbied and pushed for the 2020 law criminalising rape. AJS led a campaign to adopt harsher sentences following rape convictions. Under the 2020 law, the minimum sentence following a conviction of rape is 10 years. Rape had previously been a misdemeanour in Senegal and if convicted, resulted in a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Another area where women have been active is land inequality. Among the actors is Mariam Sonko, president of "Nous sommes la Solution" (We are the Solution). Ms Sonko works to empower rural women through agricultural training, providing them with information about their land rights, financing for women-led agricultural projects and tackling new challenges brought on by climate change.

Following a turbulent and, at times, violent presidential election period, Mr Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, PASTEF, was announced the winner with 54.28% of the votes. Former Prime Minister Amadou Ba, BBY, received 35.79%. Ms Anta Babacar Ngom, representing the Alternative for Citizen Relief Part, was the only female presidential candidate. She received 0.34% of the votes. 

Although Ms Ngom was not expected to be among the top candidates, many activists felt her candidacy, the first since 2012, was helping to advance gender equality in Senegal. Women’s activists felt Ms Ngom’s participation highlights the importance of female presence among presidential candidates. As Selly Ba, activist and sociologist, noted, “We have to be there, even if we have no chance…it is important that we have women candidates, women who are in the race.” Her candidacy may also inspire other women to seek elected office, even the highest in the land and contribute to changing the perception of women in leadership positions. 

Moreover, an increased participation of women in elections and political and decision-making positions can also lead to positive changes for women and Senegalese society. As Ms Ndiaya Tall Mbow, first deputy central town of Kaolack, noted "the active and conscious participation of women in the electoral process is a decisive step towards a more balanced and just society". For women, greater political participation and representation have enabled them to have their say on issues such as the budget.  

Despite the progress made in advancing women’s rights through legislation and the increased participation of women in national and local legislatures, challenges remain. For example, while many activists expressed excitement to see a woman, Ms Ngom, among the presidential candidates, they lamented the slow progress of gender equality and women ‘s political participation. 

Senegalese women’s groups have and continue to advocate for women’s rights and push the government to address discrimination and inequalities. For example, they remain committed to holding the government and political parties accountable for their commitments and ensuring that the Gender Parity Law is enforced. While the country has yet to elect a female President and challenges remain on female political participation and women’s rights, Senegale civil society and women’s rights activists work tirelessly to achieve this goal and address the obstacles for the full and equal participation and representation of women in all areas of Senegalese society. 

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