Exploring the political, social, and theoretical aspects of gender parity in Senegal
Lim, Seulgie Claire
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How does gender-related legislation interact with the existing political, social, and religious norms? How do these interactions contribute to social changes, as well as to the theoretical discussion around gender norms and feminism in Africa? In the early 1990s, Africa saw a surge of women’s movements and activism supported by the wave of democratization on the continent. Along with discussions about women’s rights, there has been increased attention to how to improve women’s political visibility and participation in the region. Many countries have therefore turned to gender quotas and laws to remedy the relative absence of women in politics, and current research has partially shown that these legislative measures have some positive impact. Particularly, scholars have shown that gender quotas and laws have improved women’s political situation by discrediting the stereotypes that women are less capable than men, by increasing political opportunities for women, and by implementing policies directly related to women’s interests. This dissertation builds on these results and goes further by using the case of the gender parity law in Senegal to 1) examine some challenges these laws encounter, and 2) provide an African feminist framework. Based on in-depth interviews, ethnographic observation, and text analysis, the present research takes into account Senegal’s tradition, culture, and religion (Islam) to analyze the difficulties the gender parity law has had to face, including a weak legislative body and “religious justifications” as to why women should not hold the same political responsibilities as men. In a second part, the dissertation examines the discourse used by women in Senegal and highlights how the movement before and after the law, the language and the strategies used by the women can be interpreted within the larger debate in African feminist theories and traditions. Overall, the dissertation argues that 1) despite the initial success of the gender parity law, an overall consensus on the legitimacy of the law, especially from the male population, is still needed and the existing form of government (strong executive, weak legislative) and its effect on the law in the long term cannot be ignored. However, 2) the law remains part of the larger picture of the important and historical women’s movement in Senegal and contributes to the expansion of how to define gender norms specifically in Senegal and Africa.