A law on gender parity in electoral lists approved by a large majority in Senegal’s National Assembly has been welcomed by women from diverse walks of life

For legislator Ndèye Fatou Touré, the law will give a considerable boost to women. “Parity is a lifting of obstacles, an open door. This law will allow women equal access to decision-making,” she told IPS.

Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye, the Socialist mayor of Louga in northwest Senegal, has urged women to mobilise. “The battle is only starting because we have to convince all the sceptics. But we will also have to educate women, provide them with training, build their capacity and even change behaviors and attitudes,” she said.

Fatou Kiné Diop, president of the non-governmental organisation Senegalese Council for Women (known by its French acronym, COSEF), said, “We must now support and educate communities so they can take ownership of the new law. We also call on the head of state to promulgate it, but especially civil society which now has important work to do in terms of monitoring.”

For Sophie Sall, a law student at the University Cheikh Anta Diop, the law reverses an injustice. “Women are essential to the country’s development. Unfortunately, they are absent in most decision-making bodies.”

She feels the new law opens new opportunities. “Decisions were made for (women) without their presence or even their opinion and resulted in policies which were often inappropriate because the main beneficiaries weren’t consulted. It is a major step forward in Senegalese women’s social progress.”

The bill is seen by NGOs as an important step in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Representation of women in political institutions is not high in Senegal. Women are over 52 percent of the total population, according to official statistics. But in the National Assembly, there are just 33 women legislators, representing 22 percent of the total. There are only seven women mayors out of a total of 107. There are almost no female councillors in rural areas.

However, there are some who are not welcoming the law with open arms. Liberal MP El Hadji Wack Ly sees it as discriminatory.

“This parity law favors the domination of one gender over another. If parity means equality but not egalitarianism, this law has no purpose,” he argues.

Momar Dieng, who heads the political desk at the daily newspaper ‘Le Quotidien’, believes that the law has been adopted too hastily.

“To vote for this kind of legislation that affects the social, religious, and political spheres, you must establish the broadest possible consensus. Because these are very sensitive issues,” he told IPS. “Having a majority vote doesn’t necessarily mean that anything goes. Social reality must be taken into account. People are still waiting for President Abdoulaye Wade to act on the much more pressing Family Code.”

Serigne Mansour Sall, member of the Tidianes religious confraternity in St. Louis, in northern Senegal, has lambasted the new law. He said the heads of religious bodies were not invited to take part in debate over it, which he considers ill-advisded in a country where 95 percent of the population is Muslim.

Alioune Tine, secretary-general of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO, the Rencontre africaine des droits de l’homme), says the debate should remain calm.

“Gender parity doesn’t mean replacing men, but giving more visibility to women. If it is well understood it cause any social conflict. We have to develop the social and cultural conditions to accompany it,” he told IPS.



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