Rights of rural women in Senegal

Gender equality


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1. Introduction

In Senegal, rural women account for more than 60% of the agricultural production force and produce 80% of food. But their prominent place in the production chain does not reflect the realities they face. Indeed, the weight of tradition and custom relegates women to the background in terms of decision-making within households and in terms of land acquisition. Access to land is still a problem despite a favourable legal framework that promotes equal access to land for all citizens. They also suffer from inequalities in the distribution of inputs, financing, and services related to farming.

Rural women bear the brunt of the effects of climate change and have difficulty adapting to this situation. At the political level, some progress has been made with the adoption of the law on parity, but it continues to pose a problem in terms of its effectiveness in all decision-making bodies. Early marriage is still prevalent in Senegal despite the signing of the Maputo Protocol, which sets the legal age for marriage at 18. And to curb the resurgence of violence against women, a law criminalizing rape and pedophilia was adopted in December 2019 and promulgated in January 2020.

2. Essential data

  • The proportion of women aged 15 to 49 decreased from 28% in 2005 to 25% in 2014 and 24% in 2015.
  • 24.0% of women aged 15-49 reported having been subject to female genital mutilation. The percentage decreased slightly from 28.2% in 2005 to 25.7% in 2010-2011 and 24.0%) in 2017.
  • Senegal’s population is estimated at 16,744,000 in 2020, with 8,573,000 women (51.2%).
  • More than half of the population of Senegal lives in rural areas (52.3%) compared to 47.7% who live in urban areas.
  • The percentage of the population who approve of spousal violence in certain circumstances is lower in urban areas than in rural areas (43% as opposed to 69%).
  • Justification for spousal violence decreases with a woman’s level of education—68% for those without formal education to 40% for those with an intermediate/secondary level of education or higher.
  • 32% of women are married before the age of 18 and 9% are married before the age of 15 in Senegal. In rural areas, the incidence of child marriage is 49% compared to 17% in urban areas.

For more information, see documents 7, 11, 12, 15, 17, and 18.

3. Key information

Women’s access to and control of land resources

The 2001 Constitution and the 1964 National Estates Act provide for equal access to all citizens (men and women). The Act sets out simple criteria for the use of land under the national estates: to be a resident of the local community, and to have the capacity to develop it personally or with the help of the family. Despite this favourable legal framework, women’s access to land, especially in rural areas, continues to be a thorny issue. In fact, very few women own land (5.2%): 2.1% of women have shared ownership of land, compared to less than 2.6% who enjoy sole ownership.

Obstacles to land acquisition

  • The increasing scarcity of land resources: accessibility has become more difficult with soaring population growth.
  • Historical and cultural factors favourable men’s dominance in social relations.
  • The existence of gender inequalities in agricultural activities.

For more information, see documents 6 and 12.

Methods to address these obstacles

Strategies are being developed to enable rural women to access land. In almost all agricultural areas, women do not have access to land either through inheritance or through the modern channels provided by the National Estates Act, namely the rural councils.

Access through women’s groups: women organized around these groups use groups to benefit through collective access to land.

Access through local land transactions: this method of access is based on membership in associations, women use local land transactions to dispose of land individually.

Access through public facilities: the idea is to provide, for each project financed from public resources, a percentage of developed land for women.

For more information, see document 6.

Initiatives to ensure rural women’s leadership and empowerment

The Senegalese population is still overwhelmingly rural (more than 52%). According to the 2009 report of the National Agency for Development and Statistics (ANSD), rural women make up 52% of the population. Women produce 60-80% of the food for family consumption in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production: FAO (2011). In recent decades, women farmers have increasingly turned to agroecology as a sustainable solution to agricultural development and development. Agroecology is a new windfall for women agricultural entrepreneurs, especially those working in horticulture.

For more information, see document 4.

Challenges faced by rural women in accessing financing

In almost all of Senegal’s agricultural areas, rural women play an important role in the food production chain. But despite this involvement, they do not have control over one of the most important factors of production: land. As a result, they find themselves forced to apply for a bank loan. Women are not involved in decisions related to the type of investments their family makes. These various factors are combined with institutional constraints such as unfavourable business environment, weak government support, and others.

For more information, see document 5.

Constraints in access to land

Women gain access to land through the heads of family farms, village chiefs, and land ownership. This indirect access is mediated through verbal agreements without written records. Women’s access is therefore not exempt from traditional customs around land ownership and access. Because women are expected to marry and leave the family, the traditional land tenure system believes that giving them access rights to land could lead to dispersal of the family’s land holdings.

For more information, see document 6.

Constraints related to lack of information and training in modern and sustainable agricultural techniques

Despite their significant involvement in the agricultural sector, rural women lack the means to make their production flourish. They have a limited knowledge of modern and sustainable agricultural techniques. They have fewer resources and limited access to modern technologies. They often lack access to water, energy, facilities, and services related to farming. They are also confronted with lack of equity in the distribution of agricultural inputs (machinery, seeds, etc.). They experience difficulties in conserving or processing their crops, and road transportation is difficult in some areas. They are still subjected to cultural factors that have historically strongly favoured male dominance. The agricultural sector continues to be largely male-dominated.

For more information, see documents 3 and 6.

Discrimination within the household

Senegalese society has maintained its patriarchal character, which gives different status and unequal social considerations to men and women. Family relations between men and women are built on a fundamental inequality between the male head of household and the female mother and wife. Household life rests on a valued culture of subordination for women and domination for men. Regardless of the issue, it is mainly the husband who is the primary decision-maker in the household. For health care, major household purchases and family visits, husbands mainly make the decisions in 71%, 60%, and 57% of cases respectively. Only 7.5% of women are free to make their own health care decisions, 2.5% of decisions on major household purchases, and 12% of decisions on visits to family members.

For more information, see documents 12 and 13.


The key elements that limit women’s participation in the life of the community are: a high rate of illiteracy, low participation or integration in socio-economic activities, and the weight of customs and traditions. In rural areas and, to a lesser extent, in urban areas, parents invest more in the schooling of boys than girls. According to statistics, only 20% of women are literate (one in five) compared to 45% of men (almost one in two). Today, Senegalese women seem to be gradually emerging from this situation. More and more women are occupying strategic positions at social, political, and economic levels. For several decades, women have been involved in the struggle for civil rights led by the Association of Senegalese Jurists (AJS), created in 1974. In 1984, renewed awareness emerged with the association Yewu Yewi, among others, against the inequities associated with some traditional religious practices, including polygamy.

For more information, see documents 1 and 14.

Division of labour between men and women

The roles and status of men and women determine how tasks are distributed between men and women. This differentiation, within the framework of production and child-bearing activities and at the community level, means that men are responsible for structural work and women for maintenance and care. Men do the heavy work and perform public management roles. Tedious and time-consuming work requiring meticulous attention and care is assigned to women. Women also organize community activities (e.g., family ceremonies), including initiation or preparation for a girl’s role as wife and mother.

For more information, see document 13.

Violence against women in Senegal

According to a World Bank study, 60% of Senegalese women have reported being victims of domestic violence. The same study states that, in 2009, the Committee to Combat Violence Against Women, through its regional offices, received 463 cases of domestic violence, an average of 1.3 victims per day. Sixty-five percent of these cases took place within marriages During the second half of 2009, one woman was killed every month, and three cases of rape were dealt with in the Dakar court every day. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice’s criminal case processing unit indicate that, between 2017 and 2018, 706 women and girls were victims of rape leading to death. In 2019, 14 women were killed as a result of rape, including three pregnant minors. Senegal has ratified various international agreements designed to promote equality between men and women and to protect women. Senegal has also criminalized rape and pedophilia. But these initiatives have not yet curbed the upsurge of violence against women and girls.

For more information, see documents 2 and 10.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Senegal adopted Law 99-05 of January 29, 1999 prohibiting FGM. But implementation has been a problem and the law does not seem to deter some FGM practitioners. The practice is culturally entrenched, sometimes even practiced in the name of religion, and perpetuated by mothers from generation to generation. Some victims of the procedure die from hemorrhages resulting from FGM while others live with complications that worsen during childbirth and may even be sterile for the rest of their lives.

In Senegal, 14% of girls up to 14 years of age have been subject to FGM. For 7.5%, the procedure was done before the age of one year and for 5.6%, between 1-4 years old.

For more information, see documents 12 and 16.

Early marriage in Senegal

In Senegal, the family code set the minimum age of marriage for girls at 16 years old. According to a 2016 UNICEF report, nearly one girl in three in Senegal is married before she turns 18, and 9% before the age of 15. In Senegal, the rate of child marriage is 49% in rural areas and 7% in urban areas. The country has signed the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (ACHPR Protocol), which sets the minimum age for girls to be married at 18 years old.

For more information, see documents 9, 15, 17, and 18.

Opportunities to speak in public

In May 2010, under former President Abdoulaye Wade, the gender parity law was passed. The number of women elected to the National Assembly increased from 20% in 2007 to 43.3% by the 2012 legislative elections. The law calls for absolute parity between men and women in all elective bodies, and lists of candidates must include an equal number of persons of both sexes or the list will not be accepted. However, parity is not yet a reality in all Senegalese political spheres.

For more information, see document 8.

Constraints related to climate change

In Senegal, small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the informal sector are mainly owned by women, especially in the agricultural, livestock, fishing, trade, and processing sectors. Women in the informal sector conduct their businesses in precarious conditions and are the group that is most vulnerable to climate change. Ninety percent of female small business owners reported being affected by extreme weather events in the last five years. Events most cited include: insufficient rainfall (40.5%), heavy rainfall (31%), extreme heat (16.7%) and floods (7.1%). Despite initiatives developed to deal with climate change-related calamities, 95.7% of women SME managers have not introduced adaptation strategies to deal with these risks.

Constraints include:

  • Lack of knowledge about the impacts of climate change and their relevance to SMEs
  • Difficulty in identifying effective measures
  • A lack of relevant climate data
  • Lack of skills within the SME
  • Limited funds

For more information, see document 5.

Organizations supporting rural women in Senegal

FFPMN : Fédération des Femmes Producteurs Maraichers des Niayes/ Federation of Women Market Gardeners of Niayes

RNFRS : Réseau National des Femmes Rurales du Sénégal/ National Network of Rural Women of Senegal. Bayakh, Sénégal, +221777773574, fatmagsow@gmail.com

CEEDD : Centre d’Ecoute et de Développement Durable/Counselling and Sustainable Development Centre. 3,44 Quartier M’bour1, Thiès Ouest, Sénégal, +221339517310, contact@ceedd.org


Contributed by: Amy Keita, journalist

Reviewed by: Ndeye Ndiaye, Présidente Secrétaire Exécutive coordonnatrice des Boutiques de Droit, Associations des femmes juristes du Sénégal (AJS), Dakar, Sénégal.

This resource was developed with the support of the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

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