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Senegal Women Need to Express their Anger

24.10.2022 | Aminata Touré

Senegal’s women need to express their anger. Silence is the friend of injustice

Against protocol, I was passed over as president of the national assembly for a man. It is time for female MPs to fight for equal representation

Aminata Touré, former prime minister of Senegal, at her house in Dakar. Female MPs must rise above their political differences, she says. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty

Wed 5 Oct 2022 07.00 BSTLast modified on Wed 19 Oct 2022 16.33 BST

Over the past 12 years, Senegalese women have made great strides in politics. In July’s elections, women won 73 parliamentary seats out of a total of 165 – the highest proportion of female MPs in west Africa. This is the result of a long struggle by women’s organizations, whose campaigning led to the introduction of the gender parity law in 2010, which requires at least half of the candidates in local and national elections to be women.

But Senegal missed the opportunity to elect its first female president of the national assembly. According to Senegalese political tradition, the leader of the ruling party is appointed either prime minister or head of the national assembly. As head of the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar (BBY) coalition, I met the political requirements and was expected to take up the role.

But the president, Macky Sall, whom I refused to endorse for a third term, broke with political tradition by choosing another – male – representative, a decision I was informed of less than 20 minutes before the official announcement. The decision prompted me to withdraw from BBY and declare myself independent.

I am disappointed and upset – and I have every right to air my feelings without shame or fear of being labeled emotional. Women need to express their anger more. Silence is the friend of injustice.

Touré at home. ‘National and multinational institutions must reflect the increasing expertise and talent of women,’ she says. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty

But this is not just about my personal experience. The decision not to appoint me means that women’s involvement in politics continues in a context where patriarchal attitudes persist.

In Senegal, although equality of rights is enshrined in the country’s constitution, the reality is different. Women do not have the same opportunities when exercising positions of power. In Sall’s reshuffle of his government on 18 September, only eight women were appointed to a cabinet of 38 ministers.

It is time that female parliamentarians engage in this joint fight to advance the principle of equal representation in public affairs, particularly within the government, in major domestic companies, and on boards of directors. National and multinational institutions must reflect the increasing expertise and talent of women.

The other essential battle is that of equity in the access to natural resources available to Senegal, which will soon be an oil and gas producer. Women and girls must benefit from these new resources, with each ministry providing concrete solutions and budgets. Without them, inequalities in education, training, access to credit, land, and other fundamental rights will not be eliminated.

For example, the health ministry should allocate funds for the national reproductive health program, which is still highly dependent on contributions from Senegal’s development partners. Funding for maternal health and family planning is insufficient, as a measure to fight against abuse experienced by women and girls.

To do this, female parliamentarians will have to rise above their political differences, free themselves from patriarchal traditions, and assume this historic responsibility in a non-partisan way. Women constitute more than half of the Senegalese population; without us, the struggle toward sustainable development would not be successful.

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