Women in Senegal: Breaking the chains of silence and inequality
GENEVA, Switzerland, April 17, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- It is time to break socio-cultural barriers that prevent Senegalese women to fully realise their rights, said the Chairperson of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Emna Aouij, at the end of a ten-day visit to the country.
The UN expert stressed that significant progress has been achieved in Senegal, whether in terms of the legal and institutional framework or the many policies and activities aiming to promote and protect women's rights. However, strong socio-cultural and legal constraints continue to stand in the way of the achievement of gender equality.
“It is unacceptable that under the guise of tradition, customs or poverty, girls and women have their basic rights violated, are assaulted, abused and live in unworthy conditions”, she continued.
Ms. Aouij insisted on the need to amend certain legal provisions, particularly those stipulating the marital and paternal authority in the Senegalese family code.
“I am particularly alarmed at the level of violence against women, perpetuated by patriarchal attitudes and conservative values”, Ms. Aouij said. “All the stakeholders that I met during my visit stressed the alarming number of rapes, incest, sexual harassment and domestic violence. This is a serious and widespread problem that requires urgent action at all levels”.
The expert also pointed out that, despite the absence of formal barriers to the full participation of women in the economic life of the country, in practice, there are many obstacles. Over 80% of active women work in the informal sector, not benefiting from basic social services and often working long hours in substandard and even dangerous conditions. Ms. Aouij was also concerned of the very limited access to land for women and this even though they provide the vast majority of agricultural production.
The expert was pleased to know that Senegal has achieved gender equality in access to primary education and a gross enrolment rate for girls of 98%. However, she highlighted that dropouts remained much higher among girls. “Domestic work, sexual abuse in schools, early marriages and early pregnancies are factors of school failure”, said the expert.
Ms. Aouij also stressed the considerable progress made by Senegal in terms of women's participation in political life, particularly through the 2010 Law on Parity. The country is now ranking 7 th in the world in terms of number of parliamentarian women. However, the 2014 local elections showed that the political marginalisation of women is still not fully resolved. The country only has 13 women mayor out of a total of 557 municipalities.
“Much remains to be done so that Senegalese women can fully enjoy their right to health”, also stressed the expert. Among the many problems encountered are: (i) poor hygienic conditions, constraints to access to water and especially drinking water; (ii) lack of information and lack of control over their sexual and reproductive rights and health resulting in pregnancies at an early age; (iii) a prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS much higher among women; (iv) harmful practices and traditions such as female genital mutilations (a quarter of women aged between 15 and 49 reported having been victim of these practices).
Senegal has also one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Africa and which penalizes particularly women in precarious socio-economic situations. The Working Group strongly supports the current bill aiming to expand therapeutic abortion in cases of rape and incest.
“To break the chains of silence and inequality, Senegalese women need to have more autonomy, to be properly trained and informed, to conduct economic activities ensuring their sustainable economic development and to access justice without discrimination”, concluded Ms. Aouij.
During this official visit, which took place from 7 to 17 April, the Chairperson of the Working Group visited Dakar, Yeumbeul, Pikine, Kaolack, Diourbel, Fandène and Thiès.
The conclusions and recommendations of this visit will be developed in a report that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.