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 organisations, 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 labelled emotional. Women need to express their anger more. Silence is the friend of injustice.
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 it comes to 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 programme, which is still highly dependent on contributions from Senegal’s development partners. Funding for maternal health and family planning is insufficient, as are measures 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 towards sustainable development will not be successful.
Senegal needs to empower its women and its youth, who are the greatest assets for accelerating our economic and social development. I intend to respond to their needs through legislative proposals, so that the national budget reflects the priorities of these two majority demographics.
Aminata Touré is an independent MP; former prime minister of Senegal and former justice minister
Translated by Borso Tall