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WOMEN IN SENEGAL: BREAKING THE CHAINS OF SILENCE AND INEQUALITY

17 April 2015

It is time to break socio-cultural barriers that prevent Senegalese women to fully realise their rights, said the Chairperson of the United Nations 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 United Nations 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 per cent 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 per cent. 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 seventh 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.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur is Ms. Emna Aouij (Tunisia), Vice-President: Ms. Eleonora Zielinska (Poland), Ms. Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Ms. Alda Facio (Costa Rica) and Ms. Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx

The independent experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not United Nations staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Senegal: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SNIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests , please contact:
In Dakar : Caroline Ouaffo Wafang (+221 77 740 05 09/ couaffowafang@ohchr.org )
In Geneva : Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 / mobile: +41 79 444 4078 / barditi@ohchr.org )

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For use of the information media; not an official record

HR15/098E