Cablegate: Senegalese Women's Movement Down for the Count

DE RUEHDK #2610/01 3030935
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E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Although Senegalese women recently received the
legal right to head households and to enjoy the relevant tax
and insurance benefits, Senegal's women's movement is
stagnating. In a system where the few women in national
politics tend to spend more energy consolidating power than
using it, female reformers and dissidents find they do not
remain in power long, and young women have become
increasingly cynical and disinterested in the women's
movement. They are increasingly turning to Islam as an
outlet, but remain, like so many others in Senegalese
society, vulnerable and disenchanted. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Leadership opportunities at local levels have
improved for some Senegalese women. Safietou Dioup,
Vice-President of the Regional Council of the District of
Thies, tells us when she first became involved in politics in
the mid-70s, she was one of only three women interested in
running for public office. Now, 60 percent of positions in
Thies are filled by women, which exceeds the national average
of under 30 percent. According to the National Democratic
Institute (NDI), between 1993 and 1998, 12 percent of
deputies elected to the National Assembly were women. This
figure increased marginally in 1998, when 19 out of the 140
deputies elected were women. In 2000, political parties
committed to reserving 30 percent of total places in the
National Assembly for women, but instead of gaining seats in
the 2001 elections, women lost seats. This year, in
preparation for the 2007 elections, they are trying to
renegotiate the commitment to reserved women's seats from
both ruling and opposition parties.

3. (SBU) Now, key local and regional women leaders find it
difficult to attain national posts. They are held back not
only by their status as women, but also, seemingly, by
President Wade's preference for the status quo and, in one
important case, his insistence on loyalty. In March 2001,
for example, Wade appointed Mame Madior Boye as his second )
and Senegal,s first female -- Prime Minister. This was seen
as a breakthrough by many women's organizations and a sign
that Senegal was well on the way to complete gender equality.
Though Boye and most of her cabinet were members of his
party, Wade dismissed her government in 2002, following the
sinking of the Joola ferry with a loss of almost 2,000 lives.
(NOTE: France recently issued a warrant for Boye,s arrest
on manslaughter charges related to the tragedy. END NOTE.)
While never fully articulated to the public, popular opinion
attributes Boye's dismissal to failure to implement Wade's
decisions without question.

4. (U) Illiteracy and lack of education are major obstacles
preventing women from political involvement. Statistics from
UNESCO's 2006 Global Monitoring Report reveal adult literacy
in Senegal to be 51.1 percent for men but only 29.2 percent
for women. Primary education is free and compulsory for all
children, but girls tend to be removed from school early for
marriage or work. Senegal's National Agency for Statistics
and Demographics has found that, in general, the higher the
level of education, the lower the proportion of girls to
boys. During the 2002-2003 school year, girls comprised 48
percent of students in primary school, but in secondary
school made up only 38 percent of total enrollment.
According to the GOS, 80.6 percent of school-age girls were
enrolled in school in the 2005-2006 academic year.

5. (SBU) Educated women find it difficult to overcome social
constraints or vocalize dissent with male colleagues and
often fail to receive the mentoring that male colleagues
typically enjoy. Awa Wade, a leading figure in the
opposition Democratic League and union leader, tells us women
are often in the dark about where and when a vote will take
place or a decision will be made. Moreover, colleagues often
make no allowances for familial responsibilities that may
infringe on other duties.

6. (SBU) The impact of the women's movement has declined in
the last decade. While the number of women's organizations
and NGOs is increasing throughout Senegal, they are typically
micro-organizations geared to localized economic development
or other local issues. There is not much contact among
grassroots women's organizations, and they rarely unite to
work on substantial issues.

DAKAR 00002610 002 OF 003

7. (SBU) There seems to be some disagreement as to why the
women's movement is ineffective. Some, like Rahmet Sow of
opposition Jef-Jel party, believe the movement is too fixated
on theoretical issues and thus alienates "common" women
looking for practical solutions to material problems.
Others, such as civil society leader Marietou Dia and
historian and gender expert Penda Mbow, think that it is a
lack rather than an overabundance of theoretical debate that
is inhibiting progress. They believe the movement's
inability to engage others in the "big debates" about
polygamy and family has led to political impotency. This
duel of perspectives boils down to which must come first:
political/legal gains or economic gains.

8. (SBU) Dia says that the women's movement faces two main
problems. First, it is too dispersed and disjointed to unite
over issues. Second, young women are no longer interested in
politics, jaded and apathetic both toward the movement and
toward women who have achieved political success. Everyone
we talked to argued there is a growing popular belief that
secular authorities, especially politicians, have no moral
values and are only out to benefit themselves and their
supporters. Islam is becoming more important to women,
particularly young women, while political and economic
equality with men seems to be growing less important.

9. (SBU) In 2000, shortly after becoming President, Wade
announced that his first duty was to his marabout or
religious guide--in his case the Khalif of the dynamic
Mouride brotherhood. Since then, Islam has become more
politicized both in lobbying and in creating or consolidating
movements or political parties that yield electoral

10. (SBU) Social trends seem also to show the increasing
appeal of rigorous Islam. Frustration with growing poverty
has led many young, educated Senegalese to reject Western
values, including the Western conception of women as
independent and equal. Many of the new women's Islamic
organizations are being formed by women in universities.
Explicit Islamic values are becoming more of a force in
Senegalese culture as well. Polygamy, while always accepted,
seemed to go "out of fashion" for awhile, but is now said to
be more accepted by young, cosmopolitan Senegalese women.
The promotion of "Senegalese" mores and lifestyles,
frequently associated with Islam by important political and
cultural leaders like Wade or Senegalese folk hero Youssou
Ndour is on the rise.

11. (SBU) Women are an integral though generally backstage
part of Islam in Senegal. They send their children to
koranic schools (daaras) and are involved in preparations for
religious ceremonies and festivals. They are also active in
religious organizations that support the marabouts. In urban
areas, support is typically economic, given through tithes or
other projects that generate cash. In rural areas, voluntary
labor may substitute for financial contributions. Women are
also involved in gathering money to enable pilgrimages to

12. (U) These activities provide women with an autonomous
space for cultural action and mutual support that is separate
from families yet do not clash with traditional identities or
values. Through these roles, women are allowed to
participate in religious activities and even, in very few
cases, achieve religious, social or political power. The
women who do become prominent within the religious community
are often descended from important religious leaders whose
families have been active for generations. Sokhna Mariama
Niass, for example, runs an influential daara with branches
in Nigeria and France. Her daara has both male and female
students, and she says girls comprise typically 10 percent of
students in all daaras.

13. (U) NDI organized a nationwide training program for
women in politics from 2002 through 2004. The program had a
significant impact, and many Senegalese women still talk
about its usefulness. Looking at the numbers, 10 of the 44
ministers, 23 of the 120 deputies, 31 of the 110 members of
the Council of the Republic for Economic and Social Affairs,
4 of Senegal,s 51 ambassadors, 61 of the 470 regional
counselors, 1,133 of the 4,216 municipal counselors, and
1,043 of the 9,092 rural counselors are women.

14. (SBU) The GOS recently recognized the legal right of
women to head households, providing them with insurance and

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tax benefits. However, women,s many legal gains are often
not adequately enforced. For example, though Senegal laws
prohibit rape and other forms of abuse, these laws are not
uniformly enforced, and perpetrators are only infrequently
prosecuted or convicted. The story of a victim identified in
the media as K.D. provides illustration. On August 24, after
more than a year of delay, Ousmane Tamboura, a 23-year-old
member of the Senegalese Armed Forces, was tried for raping
an eight-year-old girl. Such cases have sparked public
indignation and a great deal of press over the past year, but
Tamboura escaped lightly. Despite article 320 of the Penal
Code mandating a ten-year sentence, he faces a little over a
year in prison.

15. (SBU) Though some Senegalese believe the country's
women's movement has stalled, there are still a few
commanding female voices calling out in what they see as the
"male wilderness." These women, focused on continuing to
push the female agenda and advance women's rights, have been
the critical element in ensuring that the movement does not
die. They are politically and economically savvy and draw on
legal arguments to make their case, enjoying strong support
from Minister of Women, Family and Social Development Aida
Mbodj and her predecessor, Awa Gueye Kebe, who is a strong
supporter of former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck. END COMMENT.

16. (U) Visit Embassy Dakar's classified website at

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