Partners Supports Inclusive Institutions
In Senegal, democratic change means bringing more women into every branch and level of the armed forces, which is a highly respected national institution. “We need all the forces of the nation to meet the challenges we face in terms of education, health, food security, development, access to water, energy, and security,” explains Major Khadidiatou M Bâ Fall, a medical doctor at Dakar’s military hospital. “Women have an important role to play in this context and should not be left behind. Their integration into the security forces is necessary to complement men in addressing the challenges facing us all.”
Until 2008, Senegalese women in the military, like Major Fall, were restricted to service in the medical branch. In Senegal, despite 50 years of democratic stability and development, gender inequality persists. Men are dominant in almost every sphere, property and familial rights are often denied to women, and gender-based violence remains widespread despite efforts to raise awareness and improve the legal framework for reporting and punishing offenders.
In 2008, President Abdoulaye Wade called on the military to allow women to participate equally in all branches of the military. With the founding of Partners Senegal in 2010, the Ministry of Armed Forces requested that the Center help improve their implementation of gender mainstreaming by facilitating the involvement of civil society and other stakeholders. In cooperation with the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), and Senegal’s Ministry for Women, Families, and Gender, Partners Senegal facilitated a participatory process including civil society, lawyers, military officials, female armed forces members, and experts on women’s empowerment to jointly identify weaknesses in the current rules and opportunities for improvement. They produced a comprehensive list of over 60 pages of recommendations for the Ministry of Gender and the Ministry of Armed Forces, which is being implemented.
As a result, the Senegalese military has “turned a complete 180 with regards to women’s integration in the army,” says Joni Pentifallo, US Military advisor to the initiative. “I’m impressed with how many women they have in the military across the board.” Every branch of the uniformed security services, from the army to customs agents, is now open to women. Over the next two years, a large number of female officers will return from training in the US, France and Morocco. Women now make up nearly 15 percent of Senegal’s military. By improving the quality of women's participation in the Senegalese military, initiatives like this build more legitimate institutions and provide an example of the power of inclusion for Senegal and the region.