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Senegalese Women’s Message to the World

Al Jazeera   in 
March 21, 2016

The real test is creating a strong foundation for women’s empowerment.

“Democracy is the best friend of women,” argues Aminata Toure, a former justice minister and prime minister of Senegal, who advises the current President, Macky Sall. Toure is an example of a particularly successful Senegalese woman who worked for the United Nations for many years before entering politics.

In a meeting at her stately residence in Dakar, the capital, she describes how in her youth only five or six women served in parliament. Now there are 65, which is 43 percent of the parliament.

This is greatly due to a law passed in 2010 that mandated political parties to have gender parity in their election slates. Senegal now has the third highest percentage of women in parliament in Africa, after Rwanda, which passed a similar law in 2003, and Seychelles.

Of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest percentage of women in parliament, four of them are in Africa, two are in Europe, and four in Latin America. Senegal stands out as being the only Muslim country with such a high percentage of women in politics. It is also part of a growing trend in the world to have gender parity or quotas for women in parliament.

In a meeting with Toure she explained that these kinds of laws build on existing advances in universal education for women. “One of the best achievements of Senegal was improving the status of women and girls. We still have challenges in rural areas,” she says.

“We have a long tradition of valuing girls’ schools and that started early.” She argues that the country’s unique culture of having Sufi religious brotherhoods has provided an open-minded basis for encouraging women.

Amsatou Sow Sidibe, a former presidential candidate in Senegal who wants to be the first female president of the country, says that a lack of discrimination against women can be good for the stability of a country, and that women play a special role in peacemaking.

“They need to be at the highest level for decisions; that is important.” Like Toure, she argues that the lack of education in rural areas still poses a hurdle for women’s success.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, there are 74 countries that now have different types of quotas to ensure that women are represented in parliament.

This includes traditionally conservative countries such as Afghanistan, where the law requires 68 of the seats in Wolesi Jirga, or the lower house of parliament, to be women. There are currently 69 women out of 249 members. Similarly, Iraq requires a quarter of seats to be for women, and Saudi Arabia reserves 20 percent of the seats in its consultative council for women after a recent reform.

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