Gender Parity and the Symbolic Representation of Women in Senegal
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In 2010, Senegal adopted a 50/50 gender quota law called the “Law on Parity”, which led to a dramatic increase in the number of women elected to the National Assembly in the following legislative election from 22,7% to 42,7%. In a comparative perspective, the adoption of the parity law was a surprising historical turn. Scholars often attribute quota adoption to post-conflict societies, where women can influence policies in a more women-friendly direction. However, Senegal has never experienced such a conflict. Furthermore, Senegal has become the Muslim-majority country in the world with the highest proportion of women in the National Assembly. Islam is however often connected to lower levels of women's representation and gender equality. My first research question is the following: Why and how was the Senegalese parity law adopted? Quotas are believed to have an effect beyond numbers. In theory, exposure to more women in parliament will alter people's perceptions of politics as a male domain, which will create more acceptances to women as political leaders. This is part of what is called symbolic representation, and my second research question is the following: How does the parity law affect the symbolic representation of women in Senegal? My focus is on both political elites within the National Assembly and the public. For the former, data is collected through interviews during fieldwork in Dakar, Senegal. For the latter, I use survey data.
My findings show that the parity law was a result of strategic mobilisation from a united women’s movement, which profited from the political will of former president Abdoulaye Wade and a favourable international climate. It is possible that Wade saw opportunities in supporting parity, both with regards to electoral support from the female electorate, and goodwill from the international community by appearing modern and democratic. Furthermore, the framing of gender quotas as “parity” might have facilitated adoption since “quotas” remain controversial and, to some, discriminatory. As for symbolic representation within the National Assembly, there may have been a moderate change in attitudes. However, this depends on how symbolic representation is operationalized. This thesis provides a set of indicators that can serve as a framework for further research on the subject of symbolic representation. Among the public, changes are more visible. Quotas seem to polarize public opinions among gender lines. This indicates that people react differently to parity.