Aboubacry Mbodji proposes a gender approach in regard to violence, labour rights and discriminations against women in Senegalese working environment.
In the Senegal, issues relating to violence, to right to work and to discriminations against women in working environment, cannot be understood without a detailed analysis of multi-secular historical context, which have founded the economic, social and political status of women yesterday and today. It is not of our intention to exhaust a...read more
Aboubacry Mbodji proposes a gender approach in regard to violence, labour rights and discriminations against women in Senegalese working environment.
In the Senegal, issues relating to violence, to right to work and to discriminations against women in working environment, cannot be understood without a detailed analysis of multi-secular historical context, which have founded the economic, social and political status of women yesterday and today. It is not of our intention to exhaust a so vast subject in the economy of a presentation. Our purpose will especially try hard to ask fundamental questions by hoping that a more deepened study will be able to be carried out to enable a more exhaustive analysis of the subject.
What is the role of the traditional institutions and religious practices in the promotion of the right of the woman to work? By traditional institutions, it is not only necessary to hear the formal institutions, but also modes of organizations or the forms of practices codified by tradition and by religion. The influence of tradition and religion on the life of the individuals appears to be obvious, but this one hides the worst forms of discrimination against women on the one hand, and obstacles in promotion and protection of their right to work on the other hand.
What are the traditional institutions and the religious practices with harmful effects on the right of women to work? What are the worst forms of discrimination which follow from it? Are there good recommendable practices? How to change status quo? What have to be the actors or the institutions of such change? From which actions and strategies can we lead such a desired social change?
In fact these are the fundamental questions in which our presentation will try to bring answers.
I. Traditional institutions or customary practices
In spite of the importance of its contribution and its role in the traditional society, the position of the Senegalese woman seems to challenge yesterday as today the human dignity, as much discriminations are numerous, structural as inhuman. Traditional institutions and customary practices seem to have sealed the position of the woman as insignificant citizen, or anyway, been born to be dominated by the man.
1.1. The matriarchal system
Following the example of the African traditional societies, the Senegalese society seems at first glance to idealize the woman with regard to its position, with its social status, with its instructive and economic role. She is honoured and seems to occupy an important place in the matriarchal system. However, this situation following from the functioning of the matriarchal system of the society, which would have been able to lay the foundations of an egalitarian and no-discriminating society, hides to a certain extent the influence of the traditional institutions and the customary practices with tendency to relegate the woman in the background in the distribution of its economic, social and political functions.
If the political institution of matriarchy put the woman in a privileged position which could enable her to play entirely her economic, social and political role within the society, one can realize obviously with the analysis of this system that this role was generally figurative: it was not indeed a real exercise of power. Certainly, there were exceptions, particularly in certain ethnic groups of the Senegalese society (to Wolof, Fulani, Soninke, Bambara, Diola, etc), where one noted the existence of queens who occupied at the same time economic, social and political functions (example: Ndete Yalla Mbodj who was queen of the Walo until 1853, Alin Sitoye Diatta, queen of Kabrousse who was deported of her natal Casamance in Gabon by the French colonists).
Apart from these rare exceptions, the status of the woman in the Senegalese traditional society in comparison with the possession and in the transmission of power seldom gave her possibility to achieve high political functions to the men.
1.2. Patriarchal system
As social practice, the custom appears in all respects in the Senegalese traditional society as the symbol of the submission of the woman to the man. It forces the woman to dedicate an almost complete submission to the man: spouse, father or brother. This structural presentation profoundly anchored in tradition and customs constitutes the main discriminating factor for the access of the woman to the public and political sphere. If this situation is based on a patriarchal organization of the family and the society, it is necessary to emphasize that the passage of matriarchy in patriarchy was historically long and laboured.
Reasons advanced in the course of history are numerous, even if the motherhood (matrilinéarité) could be considered to be the consequence of motherhood, owing to « mystery of conception » which engenders the unification of the child with its mother and, by way of consequence, to the maternal family, due to the power of life which it detains and from which the man is excluded by ignorance of his role in the process of delivery. This situation is transformed in fatherhood (patrilinéarité) when at least two elements converge:
* the realization of the role of the father in the conception of the child and the progressive transformation of the economy of survival into a trader economy, requiring the knowledge of its descendant in order to enable the transmission of treasures collected which only man has found it, at a given time, loaded
* The recognition of the role of the mother which has moved it away during a moment of the conception and tasks of reproduction.
This postulate of economist origin of the patriarchy which consecrated the economic, social and political domination of the woman seems to be of a key importance. It has enable to understand that the economic and conditions to reach it could be a way to drive to social change.
1.3. The institution of polygamy
From all institutions or traditional practices, polygamy appears to be the one which is in the centre of debates, in the fact that it is holder of numerous forms of violation of the rights of the woman. It draws its legitimacy at the same time in the custom and in religion, particularly Islamic. The practices of the lévirat (after the death of the husband, the woman must marry a member of the family of the deceased, most often one of the brothers of the husband), or of the sororat (practice of remarriage of a widower with the sister of his spouse, particularly when this late has small children), are common practices in the Senegalese society which violate systematically rights and fundamental freedom of the woman.
1.4. Slave state practices and their after-effects
The institution of slavery was and is another pain and social tragedy in the African countries. Even if it has been eradicated in all ethnic groups of the Senegalese society, it still remains some after-effects which constitute the worst social forms of discrimination in a way to keep the woman in a situation of extreme domination as long as she will exist.
1.5. The harmful traditional practices violating the woman dignity
In the Senegalese yesteryear society as that of today, there are several types of harmful practices such as female genital mutilations. These have a negative effect on the health of the mother and the child. The most frequent female genital mutilations in certain ethnic groups of the Senegalese society such as Fulani, Soninké, Bambara and Diola are the following:
* the incision or "Sunna" according to the Muslim religion which seems to leave undamaged the female sexual organs and that consists of taking away a small end of the clitoris or in proceeding to the injection or boring of the organ
* the removal which consists of severing the hood of the clitoris or in proceeding to the excision of a part or the half of the small lips of the organ
* The infibulation which consists of cutting entirely the small lips, the clitoris and sewing the big lips together by leaving only a small orifice which allows the passage of urines and menstrual flux.
In the Senegal, the realisations of inquiries on these practices reveal that excision represents 85 % of female genital mutilations, for reasons related to nutritional taboos and to force-feeding.
1.6. The worst forms of discrimination and their consequences on woman’s rights
From the medical point of view, traditional practices such as excision and infibulation cause, in short, medium and long-term, serious consequences to the physical and mental health of the woman. On physical and psychological plan, the state of shock of the little girl, owed to bleeding but also to high-pitched pain, to the suffering and to the fright, can cause disturbances of behaviour which later lead to the lack of trust regarding the others, to neuroses or even of psychoses according to the experts of the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO).
Immediate physical complications (bleeding, infections, tetanus, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, death), legions of the neighbouring organs (urethra, vagina, lapsed or rectum) can happen immediately after operation. In the long term, other complications can also happen: repeated bleedings, blockage and chronic infection of the urinary and genital ways, forming of cheloids, cysts, neurinomes and vésico-vaginal fistulas.
Such complications cause painful sexual intercourses, menstrual frequent riot as the dysménorrhée. They can also lead to incontinence and to sterility of the woman by putting her in a critical social situation (Report of the WHO, 1994). Problems related to pregnancy and to delivery are also numerous: complications of delivery plunged or extended which are dangerous for the life of the mother and the child who can suffer from neonatal cerebral legions.
1.7. Ideological foundations of harmful traditional practices
In the Senegalese society, families justify these dreadful practices by the necessity to find a husband to the little girl. In fact it is to transform her according to the desire of the men: cutting the organs of pleasure of the little girl to attenuate her sexual appetite or force-feed her to make a «soft mattress» for the future husband. The pinches which accompany force-feeding participate in a process of torment which must lead these little girls to become crushed women, and therefore, subjected to the men.
Female genital mutilations are an integrant part of the patriarchal system through which, in a relationship of power, the men appropriate and control the women. They are the form the most finished by the management of sexuality by the men in the African and Senegalese society, in particular.
II. Institutions or religious practices
Between institutions or religious practices and those considered as traditional, the border is not always airtight, considering the long history of interlocking or coexistence of both universes. Very often, it is allocated in the religion of the practices which are not it responsibility, and vice versa: religious practices are though and are lived as emanating from custom or traditions. This amalgam is source of a lot of confusions in daily practice. This poses problems, seen from the angle of the freedom of choice and the respect of rules. In addition to the numerous and various interpretations or even contradictory of the religious texts, particularly the Koran.
Here, the debates have been always the contradictory, or even enthralled. Even if one has often recalled the progressive nature of the Koran, hadiths and sharia in terms of respect or promotion of the rights of the woman, as a rule, practices related to the laws of the family in Muslim religion, both institutions of polygamy and inheritance are those which pose most problems.
III. How to change the status quo?
On one hand the modernization, the universality of human rights on the other hand, are changing in a positively and in a substantial way but yet in a non-radical manner the women position. Reforms following from political mutations and from the democratization of the Senegalese society however face up ideological, cultural and religious problems. The statuses of the family appropriate to traditions and to religions remain in a great extent the cornerstone of the resistance to change.
3.1. Right at work and discriminations against women in Senegalese environment
How to change the status quo? It will be to passing by the pedagogy of the change of mentality and behaviour which requires:
* The destruction of the wall of indifference: the struggle must continue seeing the significant progress which enable us to have hope.
* The fight against all forms of discrimination against women: it is a means which enables women to free themselves from the system of domination by men which, as that of apartheid, is not irremovable and can therefore be eradicated.
* We all should, together work to change this system, because it was rooted for a long time so profoundly in almost all cultures. Seen from this angle, the requested effort to dismantle all the social structures which tolerate it or that secrete it, or that deny themselves apparently even to see it or to consider it to be as such (as discriminating), demand the imagination and lasting actions to be led on several fronts in a holistic and systematic perspective which must take into account all areas of life and all the actors.
* The struggle against all forms of discrimination against women does not limit only to punish the individual acts. It is necessary to work in a way to change deeply the beliefs so profoundly anchored in the mentalities which seem unconscious and which consider that basically, the women and the girls do not have value as much as men and boys. It is only when women and girls will have their place in the society in a quality of strong and equal members that discriminations against them in the Senegalese society will appear as a horrifying aberration rather than an invisible norm.
The immensity of obstacles and stakes related to tradition and to religion is likely to discourage more than an actor, but it will always be necessary to fight individually and collectively, in spite of difficulties which pose the fight for the liberation of the woman from the domination of the man.
By basing on what precedes, we can say that the first step consists of the implementation of the national and international juridical instruments relating to human rights in general, to the rights women particularly. In this title, it is possible to imagine appropriate strategies, smart and progressive reforms holders of change on the ground of the fight against all forms of discrimination against women.
At the international level, the Convention of United Nations against all forms of discrimination against women of 1979 (CEDAW), lays the foundations of a social change and successive legal reforms, but which the effectiveness demands method in the sense that they cannot change by the magic of the texts of beliefs and multi-secular practices, that are so profoundly anchored in the unthinking collective of communities.
Another supplementary instrument to the CEDAW in the fight against all forms discrimination against women is the Convention of United Nations on the rights of the child. From these two legal instruments of universal range are added other pacts or treaties including the African Charter for Human and the People’s rights of 1981 and the additional Protocol relating to the rights of the woman of 2002. It is through the education of children (girls as well as boys) that we can forge the weapon of social change.
Certainly, the children face in some extent the same otherwise worse forms of discrimination than women, but our purpose is elsewhere. In fact, the woman was educated to occupy her present status. One must therefore change this status through education so that she acquires a different status. As has mentioned the famous philosopher Simone de Beauvoir : « one does not born woman, we become it». We should derive the weapon of liberation of the woman from the domination of the man through the education of the girls in the same capacity as the boys who must be educated to look in another way at their sister, at their partner or at their colleague.
Besides, it is what encouraged certain African States in the implementation of programs favouring the education of girls in order to correct the inequality between them and boys. The inequality in the access to education is one of the most serious forms of discrimination against girls. It perpetuates their inferiority or weak position with regard to boys and makes them vulnerable in different despoiling such as harassment in working environment where the majority of women still do not have access to the authorities of decisions. On the other hand, because of illiteracy and growing pauperization, the most part of girls or women devote themselves to harmful practices to their health, or even to behaviours which reduce the value their status and their role in the society (prostitution, narcotic, for instance).
Education to human rights gives to girls to have confidence in themselves in order to better reinforce their capacities in school and university environment. In this way, it constitutes a precondition in progress struggle against all forms of discrimination directed to them. The access of girls, therefore future mothers of family to school has been very late and remains still very slow in the most part of the African countries. The happiness of the woman being in the conjugal home, even the rare promoted among the girls, were and still continue to be very precociously. They are pulled from the benches of the school by precocious marriage and motherhood which sometimes cause disastrous consequences (death after having their first sexual intercourse, complications during the pregnancy and during delivery).
Besides, the education to human rights also constitutes a means through which girls and boys can learn to consider themselves equal in relation to the social institutions and to promote equity in all forms of collaboration. In this respect, the actions of sensitization of girls and women on their rights constitute supplementary benefits in the pedagogy of labour legislative reforms. It would be necessary to lose of view that reforms on theoretical and legislative plan will have effect and can be led to a real social change only if we all want it and work out to create the favourable conditions to its realization.
It is then imperiously necessary to integrate the education to human rights in the programs of education from the primary school, by passing through secondary schools up to universities. Besides these programs of education it important to implement actions in the field to supplement in a pedagogic way legal and legislative reforms. In this title, three types of actions on the ground need to be implemented in field:
* Legal and judicial assistance to the victims of abuses.
* Sensitization for the popularization of the national and international legal instruments relating to the human rights in general, and to the rights of women and the child particularly.
* The strengthening of the capacities of women and children by qualifying training for their social status and to empower their economic and political powers which were subjected for a long time to the domination of men and boys.
3.2. What are the agents for change?
These are at the same time the social institutions, men and women, boys and girls. It is then necessary to reinforce the capacities of these institutions, its actors and actresses by trying to reconcile tradition and modernity. It passes necessarily by a pedagogic approach which takes into account the importance of civil and political rights of women and girls on the one hand, as well as their economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand.
To conclude, we shall say that the Gender approach in regard to violence, right to work and discriminations against women in working environment, constitute a pedagogic means enabling the involvement of all concerned actors among which:
* The religious and traditional or customary leaders
* The political authorities and decentralized local powers
* The technical directly or indirectly concerned ministries (ministries of the women or the family, justice, national education, social development or national solidarity, etc)
* The institutions of the republic (presidency of the republic, National Assembly, government, Constitutional Council or Supreme Court, State advice, supreme court of appeal, national audit office and courts)
* The organs of support of democracy such as the national commissions for human rights (CNDH), national autonomous electoral commission (CENA), the national council of broadcasting regulation (CNRA)
* The Economic and Social Council, the council of territorial communities
* The civil society organizations and those of private sector (trade-unions, employers, non governmental organizations, women or youths associations, old or handicapped) who have to participate in education and in popularization of the human rights, in the strengthening of the economic capacities of the women, to the struggle against impunity and injustice
* Populations themselves
* Private and public mass media.
* Aboubacry Mbodji is a Medical Anthropologist who is a Public Relations Officer of the African Assembly for the Protection of Human Rights (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme - RADDHO), an NGO for Human Rights whish is a panafrican Orgaization based in Dakar, Senegal
* This paper was presented at the West Arica regional workshop on fair trial and criminal justice, 7th – 8th november 2007, Nairobi, Kenya
* Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org