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Cablegate: Senegal: Women in Politics

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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081257Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0010
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS DAKAR 000165

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DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINS SOCI PINR SG
SUBJECT: Senegal: Women in Politics


1. (SBU) Summary: In a series of conversations with some of
Senegal's leading female political activists a picture has emerged
of a gender that is becoming an increasingly important part of this
country's complicated and yet sometimes monochromatic political
environment. Today's political parties and movements are a far cry
from past years where women were considered largely decorative,
serving more as vote-getters rather than serious players. End
Summary

The Rise of Women in Politics
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) "We're being taken more seriously nowadays as the men have
seen how hard we are fighting for the same causes" opined Aminata
Mbengue Ndiaye, the fearsome leader of the Socialist Party's (PS)
Women's group and the party's number two ranked leader. Known as
one who does not mince her words, Ndiaye said that women in Senegal
are now better educated, no longer illiterate, aware of their
political rights and that, ironically, Senegal's current economic
downturn has been a boon for women; "These economic problems have
empowered women in Senegal. We are the ones who run our families.
We feed the children and the men. We know how hard life has become
because everyday we have to manage meager funds to make sure that
everyone can get by. It just underlines how smart we are and how
innovative we have become." This point of view is one shared by the
deputy leader of political party Jef/Jeul, Rahmet Sow, who agrees
that the poor state of the economy has given women a lot of
experience in managing money which has lead to an increase in
entrepreneurialism; "Women are more adaptive. The men have given
up. It's them who are out of work in this country not the women."
Aminata Diallo, the dynamic head of the PS's female youth movement,
observed that the Information Age has been crucial in the
emancipation of women as they are now better educated, better
informed and realize that staying at home is an option not an
obligation.

Obstacles Remain
----------------

3. (SBU) Still all three women admit inadequate financial
independence is a significant obstacle to greater female
participation because men continue to control the purse strings both
at home and in government and that women will never be truly
politically emancipated until they can attain financial
independence. According to Sow, "The feminist revolution won't come
from the elite; it will come from the countryside where women work
and totally dominate the day-to-day management of their villages.
All the men do is farm for 3 months a year and then sit around."
She went on to say that strong and accomplished women who are
interested in getting involved in politics are few and far between
and that despite recent advances many of them are still being used
and controlled by the men in their parties. Ndiaye agreed saying,
"Too many decisions regarding the role of women are being made by
men." However, a December 30, 2007 law ending fiscal discrimination
which had caused women to pay higher taxes than men for the same
salary is seen as a step in the right direction for women to achieve
some level of financial independence.

Fighting Tradition
-------------------

4. (SBU) "Women in Senegal are their own worst enemies," said Fanta
Diallo, leader of the non-political Mouvement Tekki's youth wing,
"Because while we represent 52 percent of the electoral block we are
unable to turn this majority into any meaningful progress:
traditionally we are not trusted. This country is very
stereotypical in that respect. Man is always presented as being
strong, decisive, while women are cast in a different more
subservient light and it has become very difficult to extract
ourselves from this stigma. The role that women are assigned in
Senegal is mostly managerial and not very political and I don't
think that this is a solid foundation upon which to build a women's
movement. Also, different tribes have different viewpoints and this
complicates matters even more. Added to that is a misogynistic
interpretation of Islam that has resulted in women being less
educated than men. While this has improved greatly, we do have a
lot of work to do but I believe that all our goals are achievable."
Historian and feminist activist Penda MBow agreed saying, "The
system of patriarchy is still alive and well." It is clear that
Senegalese women in politics face opposition from some traditional
leaders. The spokesperson of the Tijane Islamic brotherhood, for
example, told Poloff that he was not a supporter of women exercising
leadership responsibilities at national level.

But Progress is being Made
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Diallo, believes that after the Senegalese Democratic Party
(PDS) came to power, things changed for women in the PS as the party
was forced to re-invent itself to stay relevant. Today the PS has
15 women in the party's top decision-making organ, the Political
Bureau, as opposed to three in 2000. Statistically speaking, the
number of women in the political arena has increased dramatically
since the PDS came to power in 2000. The newly reconstituted
100-member Senate has 40 women and the parliament recently passed a
law that would mandate gender parity in elections. President
Abdoulaye Wade has been keen to increase the number of women in his
cabinet and, despite firing five of his female ministers in the most
recent re-shuffle, four encumber what are considered solid
portfolios. Still given the importance of women in the voting
population, Wade's attempts have so far been more symbolic than
effective in promoting women in leadership positions. In the 2007
legislative elections only a handful of women were selected by the
PDS to run at the district level from where 90 out of 150
parliamentary deputies are elected. It remains to be seen if the
PDS will give a better chance to women in the May 2008 local
elections where only one of Senegal's 320 rural communities is
headed by a woman.

6. (SBU) Another crucial factor in the rise of women has been the
support of Senegal's extremely influential Muslim religious leaders.
Aminata Ndiaye says that while this support was unexpected it turns
out that according to their interpretation, the Koran does not
forbid women to work. Thus, while it may not sit well with many
religious leaders to see women in politics, Ndiaye believes that the
marabouts won't work to undermine them. For example, in 2003 when a
group of prominent Muslim intellectuals lobbied the government to
adopt a new family Code based on Sharia (Islamic Law), the country's
leading marabouts, who were actually sympathetic to the idea, never
opposed President Wade when he rejected the project.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) while women in Senegal face many obstacles in their fight
for political empowerment, there are signs that things are heading
the right direction. The advent of the internet and more investment
in the education system as well as the support of the religious
brotherhoods in the education of young girls has translated into
increasing opportunities for girls and women in Senegal. Still,
Senegal remains a deeply conservative country bound by tradition and
this will take time and patience to overcome. However, women
leaders such as Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye are paving the way for the
next generation of women leaders such as Fanta Diallo and Rahmet Sow
who see a much more level playing field ahead. End Comment.

SMITH

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