Senegal is ranked 41 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 52 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country’s Human Development Index (HDI) score in 2011 is 0.459, placing it at 155th place out of 187 ranked countries. The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.566 which places Senegal at 114 out of 146 countries. Senegal’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Index ranking is 0.6573, placing it in 92nd place (out of 135 countries).

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Forced and early marriages are specifically banned in the Family Code, and the minimum legal age for marriage is 16 years for women and 20 years for men.[16] In addition to be legally recognised, marriages must be performed in front of a civil registrar, and each spouse must give their full and free consent.[17] But the government considers early marriage to be a significant problem in some parts of the country.[18] There are reports of girls as young as nine being married off.[19] Marriage is a symbol of high social position in Senegal, and few women remain single.[20] The average marriage age for women between 20 and 49 years is 19.6 years.[21] 2005 DHS survey data indicates that 29.7% of girls aged between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.[22] 13.5% of women aged 20-49 had been married before they turned 15, inevitably impacting on their right to receive an education.[23] 

Polygamy is legal in Senegal and as of 2005, was practised in 40% of families.[24]  This included 19.8% of married girls aged 15-19.[25] Registered marriages in Senegal can be either monogamous or polygamous, in which case the husband can marry up to four women.[26] If the husband opts for neither of these options, the marriage is automatically considered to be polygamous.[27] Before entering into civil marriage, the wife must give her consent if the marriage is to by polygamous, but once married, the husband is under no obligation to notify her or gain her consent, if he chooses to take another wife.[28] 

The Senegalese Family Code grants parental authority solely to the father, and women are unable to take legal responsibility for their children.[29] The father handles administrative procedures affecting his children, chooses the family’s place of residence[30] and receives family allowances.   It is only possible for a woman to become the recognised head of household if her husband formally renounces his authority in court.[31] The proportion of households headed by women stood at 23.1%, as of 2005.[32]

In the event of divorce, the issue of child custody is contingent on the type of marriage.[33] For civil marriages, the spouses must obtain a judicial divorce (this type of divorce rarely occurs outside urban areas); the court often grants custody to the mother while requiring the father to participate in their upkeep.[34] Women are far more likely to seek judicial divorces than men, although overall, only a minority of couples formalise divorces.[35] Repudiation, whereby a man can divorce his wife unilaterally and without warning, is not recognised in law, and women are able to request a civil divorce.[36]

There are two forms of inheritance in Senegal, governed by civil law and Islamic law. [37]  Civil law inheritance is favourable to widows and daughters, granting them the same rights as sons.[38]  It is this form of inheritance that is most common in urban areas. By contrast, under Sharia law, daughters receive half of the amount that sons receive, and widows receive an eighth of their husbands property.[39]  In rural areas, customary practices vary from region to region. In some cases, widows are considered to be part of the deceased husband’s property, and as such may be pressured to marry his brother, or expected to become part of a son’s household.[40] In 2005, only 46.24 percent of widows inherited the majority of assets after their spouses.[41]

[16] US Department of State (2010); FAO (n.d.) [17] WilDAF (2004) [18] US Department of State (2010) [19] US Department of State (2010) [20] Dial (2001) pp.2-3 [21] Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie (2011) [22] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [23] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.103 [24] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.101 [25] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.101 [26] FAO (n.d.) [27] FAO (n.d.) [28] US Department of State (2010) [29] US Department of State (2010) [30] WiLDAF (2004) [31] US Department of State (2010) [32] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.15 [33] Dial (2001) [34] Dial (2001) p.9 [35] Dial (2001) p.8 [36] WilDAF (2004) [37] FAO (n.d.), quoting WILDAF/FEDDAF (2002) ‘Afrique de l’Ouest, Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique: Pour une société sans violence à l’égard des femmes au Sénégal’; JICA (2007) p.21 [38] FAO (n.d.), quoting WILDAF/FEDDAF (2002) ‘Afrique de l’Ouest, Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique: Pour une société sans violence à l’égard des femmes au Sénégal’; JICA (2007) p.21 [39] FAO (n.d.), quoting WILDAF/FEDDAF (2002) ‘Afrique de l’Ouest, Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique: Pour une société sans violence à l’égard des femmes au Sénégal’; JICA (2007) p.21 [40] FAO (n.d.) [41] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.20

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Senegal’s penal code was revised in January 1999 to include clauses criminalising domestic violence, rape, incest, sexual harassment, and female genital mutilation (FGM).[42] 

These changes to the law established punishments for violence against women of up to ten years in prison, but the law is not effectively implemented. [43] Accurate up-to-date data as to the prevalence of domestic violence is not available, but it is believed by women’s rights groups to be frequent and widely accepted.[44]  This is backed up by data in the 2005 DHS, which found that 65.2% of women agreed with at least one ‘reason’ (from a list of five) for a man to beat his wife.[45] Victims are often reluctant to report cases – preferring to appeal to their families to help resolve the issue – and even when they do, the police rarely intervene and few cases reach court.[46]  The United Nations, international organisations and various NGOs have campaigned for an end to violence against women, but a wide gulf persists between the legislative advances and traditional social attitudes.[47] 

Rape is also criminalised under the 1999 revised penal code, but spousal rape is not recognised.[48] Indeed, the concept of spousal rape is one that is not accepted in Senegalese society, as a woman is expected to be available to her husband for sex whenever he wants it.[49] Very few rape cases are taken to court, and of those that are, few result in a conviction.[50] In part, this is because sexual violence remains a taboo topic.[51] In addition, cases are often settled out of court, to avoid the publicity and costs associated with prosecution.[52] The 1999 revised penal code also covers sexual harassment, but again, this is not properly enforced.[53]

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been illegal under the Senegalese Penal Code since 1999.[54] It is one of the few countries in the region where anyone has been prosecuted under legislation banning FGM.[55] It is still practised, however, and is more common among Muslims and some particular ethnic groups than among Christians.[56]  According to DHS data from 2005 quoted in a 2005 UNICEF report, 28.2% of women aged 15-49 had undergone the procedure.[57] Rates are higher in rural areas (34.7%) than in urban areas (21.6%), and for women who have no education (33.7%) or only primary education (25.3% - 19.1% of women with secondary education have been subjected to the procedure).[58] There is also great variation according to region and ethnic group. [59] It is often linked to acceptance, respectability and marriage for young women, one of the reasons why it has been so hard for people to abandon the practice.[60] 

There appears to be considerable political will, however, to challenge and eradicate FGM: in addition to criminalising the practice, the government has worked closely with national and international NGOs on campaigns to encourage abandonment of FGM.[61]  Senegalese parliamentarians have also spoken out against the practice, and have visited villages to explain anti-FGM legislation to villages going through the process of abandoning the procedure.[62]  23.4% of women who underwent FGM questioned for the 2005 DHS said that they had no intention of subjecting their daughters to the practice. [63] Tostan, an American NGO, has run a very successful Community Empowerment Programme, which has encouraged different communities to come together to make a commitment to abandon FGM as a necessity for marriage in their district.[64] As of 2005, the Ministry of Women, Family, Social Development, and Women's Entrepreneurship reported that 1,679 out of an estimated 5,000 communities had formally abandoned the practice.[65] 

Senegal is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in persons.[66] Trafficking in children is a particular problem. Young girls are trafficked from rural areas to the cities to work as domestic servants.[67] Within Senegal and from neighbouring countries, each year hundreds of boys are sent by their parents to daraas (Koranic schools) in Dakar and other cities; in many such institutions, the children receive little or no instruction, and are instead forced out onto the streets to beg.[68] They are also subject to extreme neglect, as well as physical and sometimes sexual abuse.[69] In addition, both male and female children are involved in prostitution.[70]

The law protects the right of couples to decide on the timing, spacing, and number of children they wish to have, and their right to access the information and contraceptive services that they need in order to realise this.[71] But poor provision of services, particularly in rural areas limits this right, so while 91.6% of women reported knowledge of at least one method of contraception, only 8.7% of women reported using contraception regularly.[72] The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) makes the point that women’s access to contraception may be limited not just because of cost and lack of information, but also because of inequality within personal relationships, which means women are unable to negotiate the use of contraception with their partners.[73] Elsewhere, the US Department of State reports of cases where husbands have apparently asked health practitioners to stop providing their wives with contraceptives.[74]  These are backed up by data from 2005 DHS, indicating that 66.8% of husbands were making decisions about their wives’ health without consulting them.[75] Overall, this points to a disregard for the right of women to control their own bodies, and the number of children that they wish to have.[76] Abortion is only legal in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.[77]

[42] WiLDAF (2004)[43] WiLDAF (2004); JICA (2007) p.9; US Department of State (2010) [44] JICA (2007) p.9; US Department of State (2010) [45] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.51 [46] JICA (2007) p.9; US Department of State (2010) [47] US Department of State (2010); JICA (2007) p.9 [48] JICA (2007) p.10 [49] JICA (2007) p.10 [50] JICA (2007) p.10; US Department of State (2010) [51] US Department of State (2010) [52] US Department of State (2010) [53] US Department of State (2010) [54] UNICEF (2005a) p.29 [55] JICA (2007) p.10; UNICEF (2005a) p.29. As of 2005, the other countries were Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Ghana. [56] UNICEF (2005b) p.10 [57] UNICEF (2005b) p.32 [58] UNICEF (2005b) pp.32, 33 [59] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.239 [60] Tostan (2009) p.13; UNICEF (2005a) p.24 [61] US Department of State (2010); JICA (2007) p.10 [62] UNICEF (2005a) p.31 [63] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.244 [64] UNICEF (2007) p.76; UNICEF (2005a) pp.23-24 [65] JICA (2007)p.10. See also: Tostan (2009) p.8; UNICEF (2005a) pp.23-24 [66] US Department of State (2010) [67] US Department of State (2010) [68] Human Rights Watch (2010) [69] Human Rights Watch (2010) [70] US Department of State (2010) [71] US Department of State (2010) [72] US Department of State (2010); Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) pp.74, 78 [73] JICA (2007) p.19 [74] US Department of State (2010) [75] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.48[76] US Department of State (2010) [77] UNDP (2007)

Son Bias: 

There is virtually no discrepancy between vaccination rates for boys (58.1%) and girls (59.5%).[78] Infant and early childhood malnutrition rates are slightly higher for boys than for girls, as are infant and under-five mortality rates.[79] The high cost of education means that in poorer families, girls’ education is often sacrificed, to enable their brothers to continue schooling.[80] This is reflected in the fact that according to 2005 DHS data, 37.8% of boys aged 15-19 had received no education, compared to 49.3% of girls.[81] Son preference seems to be a factor in relation to access to education, but not early childhood care.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.94.[82]

There is no evidence to suggest that Senegal is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[78] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.151 [79] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) pp.204, 219 [80] JICA (2007) p.17 [81] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) pp. 18-19 [82] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Under the Senegalese Constitution, women and men have equal property rights in regard to land ownership, and there have been government campaigns to encourage leaders in rural communities to ensure that this law is respected.[83] Women are legally entitled to acquire and own land independently of their husband or male relatives, and to retain ownership and control over their own property after marriage.[84]  Customary practices relating to land ownership that discriminate against women are specifically banned under the constitution, but continue to limit women’s access to land, making it impossible for them to inherit land in many regions.[85]  In some rural areas, under customary law land is assigned by village chiefs; women rarely benefit from this process.[86] In other areas, husbands are obliged to give their wives a portion of land for their own use (and failure to do so is grounds for divorce), but in polygamous marriages, this may result in each wife receiving a tiny amount of land.[87] In urban areas, women with the financial means to do so can buy, rent, and develop land.[88] 

Women and men have the same legal rights to bank accounts and bank loans, but in reality women often struggle to obtain loans.[89] Because women tend to have use, but not ownership, of land, they are unable to provide the security needed to secure loans.[90] Many farming cooperatives do not recognise women as producers in their own right, meaning that they cannot access the credit and other services provided by these cooperatives.[91] In response to the difficulties rural women face in accessing credit, the government has launched a large-scale microfinance initiative.[92]

[83] FAO (n.d.), quoting WILDAF/FEDDAF (2002) ‘Afrique de l’Ouest, Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique: Pour une société sans violence à l’égard des femmes au Sénégal’; JICA (2007) p.21; WiLDAF (2004) [84] FAO (n.d.), quoting WILDAF/FEDDAF (2002) ‘Afrique de l’Ouest, Femmes, droit et développement en Afrique: Pour une société sans violence à l’égard des femmes au Sénégal’; JICA (2007) p.21 [85] WilDAF (2004); JICA (2007) p.21; Freedom House (2010) [86] FAO (n.d.) [87] JICA (2007) p.21; FAO (n.d.) [88] FAO (n.d), quoting Faye, J. Février 2003. Femmes rurales et foncier au Sénégal, Communication à l’atelier international «Femmes rurales et foncier», Réseau national des Femmes rurales du Sénégal avec le soutien du Projet FAO-Dimitra et d’ENDA-Pronat, Thiès, Sénégal [89] WiLDAF (2004); FAO (n.d.) [90] FAO (n.d.) [91] JICA (2007) p.22 [92] JICA (2007) p.25

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Under Senegalese law, married women do not have the right to choose where to live, as this right falls exclusively to their husbands.[93] The inevitably limits married women’s freedom of movement, for instance in terms of moving for work. On a day-to-day basis, 49% of women reported that they had to obtain their husband’s permission to visit friends or relatives, indicating considerable restrictions on women’s freedom of movement.[94] 

Freedom of expression is not respected, despite being protected in the Constitution.[95] Journalists who have spoken out against President Abdoulaye Wade have faced intimidation and arbitrary arrest.[96] 11.9% of women questioned in the 2005 DHS reported having no access to the media.[97] This proportion is actually much lower than that for men (45% - the sample size was considerably smaller), indicating that gender does not appear to be a factor limiting access to the media.[98]

Freedom of association and assembly is protected under Senegalese law, but not always respected.[99]   In 2008, protests against rising food prices were violently suppressed.[100]

Women in Senegal enjoy full political rights to vote and stand for election.[101] A quota was introduced in 2007 requiring all political parties to introduce absolute gender parity (i.e. 50/50), but the legislation did not take effect in time for that year’s legislative elections.[102] The law was later declared unconstitutional.[103] Of 14,000 villages, as of 2007, only three were headed by women.[104] Even when women are elected to office, that does not mean that they will necessarily be included in decision-making processes: the 2007 Japan International Coordination Agency country gender profile for Senegal reports of cases where women members of a rural council were not informed about an important budget meeting, and where a woman council member was represented at another meeting by her husband.[105]  In 2010, National Assembly has adopted the Law on Equality of Men and Women in the electoral lists (Loi Instituant la Parite Absolue Homme-Femme).[106] Women’s rights groups are very active in Senegal, and have led vocal campaigns against police failure to prosecute perpetrators in cases of violence against women, as well as encouraging communities to abandon FGM.[107]

Women in Senegal are entitled to 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave, and discrimination in employment on the basis of gender is against the law.[108] The World Bank considers 65% of women in Senegal to be economically active.[109] 

[93] WiLDAF (2004) [94] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.48 [95] US Department of State (2010) [96] Amnesty International (2010) p.279 [97] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.35 [98] Ndiaye, Salif, et Mohamed Ayad (2006) p.36 [99] Freedom House (2010) [100] Freedom House (2010) [101] FAO (n.d.) [102] Freedom House (2010) [103] WiLDAF (2007) [104] JICA (2007) p.6 [105] JICA (2007) p.6 [106] Loi No. 2010-11 Instituant la Parite Absolue Homme-Femme, Republic of Senegal [107] JICA (2007) pp.9, 10; US Department of State (2010) [108] ILO (2009); FAO (n.d.); WiLDAF (2004) [109] World Bank (n.d.) Data: Female labour force participation rates


Senegal gained independence from France in 1960.[1] The country is predominantly Muslim (95% of the population), and French is the official language. [2] Senegal is a democracy that has never found itself under military or harsh authoritarian military rule, and the most recent presidential and National Assembly elections (2007) were deemed to be generally free and fair.[3] The situation in the south of the country remains unstable, due to ongoing conflict between government forces and the Democratic Forces of Casamance Movement (Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance), a separatist movement.[4] In some areas, people have been displaced from their homes.[5]

Senegal is classed by the World Bank as a lower middle income country[6].   While the country is relatively well-off in comparison to some of its neighbours, inequality is widespread, and the comparison between urban and rural areas is particularly striking.[7]  In those families touched by poverty, women and girls are disproportionately affected, with girls taken out of school so that their brothers can continue, and women forced into low-paid and risky work to support their families.[8]  Senegal has succeeded in putting in place a legal framework that in theory does much to protect women’s bodily integrity, although family law continues to discriminate against women.[9] In addition, while in urban areas, laws protecting women are generally respected, rural areas are still dominated by custom, and few women are aware of the legal rights that are in place to protect them.[10] Clearly, the particular impact of poverty and rural / urban inequality on women is shaped by social institutions that devalue and discriminate against them.

Senegal’s 2001 constitution guarantees equality between women and men in its article 7.[11] The country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (in 1985), and the Optional Protocol on violence against women (in 2000).[12] The country has not reported to the CEDAW committee since 1994.[13] Senegal ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2005.[14] A National Strategy for Gender Equality and Equity has been developed, to run from 2005-2015.[15]

[1] CIA (2010) [2] CIA (2010) [3] US Department of State (2010); Freedom House (2010) [4] Amnesty International (2010) p.278; CIA (2010); Freedom House (2010) [5] Amnesty International (2010) p.279 [6] World Bank (n.d.) data: Senegal [7] CIDA (2010) [8] CIDA (2010) [9] WiLDAF (2004) [10] WiLDAF (2004) [11] JICA (2007) p.8; FAO (n.d.); WiLDAF (2004) [12] JICA (2007) p.6 [13] OHCHR (n.d.) [14] African Union (2010) [15] JICA (2007) p.9


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Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2010) ‘Senegal’, (accessed 17 November 2010).

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Senegal, online edition, (accessed 15 November 2010).

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 9 March 2012).

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at (accessed 7 March 2012).

Dial, F. (2001), Divorce, source de promotion pour les femmes? L’exemple des femmes divorcées de Dakar et Saint-Louis, « Colloque international Genre, population et développement en Afrique », Abidjan. (accessed 6 December 2010).

Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie (ANSD) (2011) Enquête Démographique et de Santé à Indicateurs Multiples 2010-2011), Dakar, Sénégal, available at (accessed 2 March 2012).

Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)(n.d.) ‘Gender and land rights database: country report, Senegal’,, accessed 15 November 2010 (in French).

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Senegal, online edition, (accessed 15 November 2010).

Human Rights Watch (2010) ‘“Off the Backs of the Children” Forced Begging and Other Abuses against Talibés in Senegal’, Human Rights Watch, New York

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Loi No. 2010-11 Instituant la Parite Absolue Homme-Femme, Republic of Senegal

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World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at (accessed 2 March 2012).

Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: