A recently passed law on gender parity has led to a record number of women within Senegal’s new parliament, as a total of 64 female representatives were sworn in on Monday. Senegal’s National Assembly holds 150 seats, meaning that 42.6 percent of the seats are held by women. The parity law responsible for the unprecedented election required all 24 parties and coalitions in the West African country to place an equal number of men and women on their candidate lists. Elections for the National Assembly, which is comprised of the lower two houses of parliament, were held on July 1, and were easily won by the Benno Bokk Yaakaar coalition (BBY), whose presidential candidate, Macky Sall, won the March election.
“Our objective was to see women take 40 to 45 percent of the seats,” said Fatou Kiné Diop, president of the National Parity Observatory (ONP) told All Africa. The ONP was set up in 2011 under the presidency. The goal was certainly reached, with the percentage of female lawmakers almost doubling from 22 percent in the previous session.
Some are skeptical of the new law, however, as the National Assembly attempts to shift its role within the country. In the past, the lower houses of parliament were viewed as “a rubber stamp” behind the president’s policy decisions, but many of the new candidates ran on the platform of re-establishing the assembly as a check for the executive. Some fear that the newly elected women may be under-qualified or unwilling to play a role in an assertive assembly.
“The quality of debate in the National Assembly is seen as relatively low, particularly since the passing of the Parity Law,” said Diop. “And the people who feel that way place the blame for this on women.”
Georges Nesta Diop, who serves as political editor for the Walfadjri daily newspaper, came to the defense of the female representatives.
“Most of the newly-elected women have demonstrated a high intellectual level – even if that’s not necessarily the case for those from the BBY majority. They are nearly all of leadership calibre and have established profiles,” Nesta Diop told IPS. “This group won’t want to just make up the numbers in the National Assembly. These women will want to take up the challenge of the quality of parliamentary debate at all costs.”
Female leadership is increasingly important in Senegal, where women are the majority at 52 percent. Some suggest that the parity law should be brought into the state-controlled business and economic sectors, but for now it only applies to elected officials. Still, Nesta Diop believes that the success of the parity laws will inspire Senegal’s women.
“Women have won a victory and will no longer back down or make concessions over their representation in institutions, whether they are elected or not,” he said.