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Senegalese women aim for political role

Female candidate tries to win election to represent her urban constituency.

Since 1994, Senegalese women’s groups have been fighting for parity in the electoral process, where they say female candidates are neglected and underrepresented. They are currently lobbying for a law requiring each party to present a minimum number of female candidates in order to take part in elections, a kind of political affirmative action.

Senegal’s complex political landscape is made up of countless political parties, many of them united into the formidable coalitions that dominate elections.

“It’s not easy to be a woman in Senegal’s political world,” Wade said. “You’re an accessory, unless you’re a charismatic woman who refuses to be that, who has a good head on her shoulders, who knows what she wants and how to fight for her ideas.”

Wade’s speeches were unabashedly feminist, and some men have told her she needs to tone it down. Her campaign budget was a fraction of that of other candidates. Vandals ripped her face off the campaign signs posted around the neighborhood.

“They are so afraid of the female presence,” Wade said. “When I see that, I tell myself at least I’ve achieved a part of my objective because it means that they have started to take women into account.”

Wade emphasized that, as a woman and a single mother, she understands families' struggles better than her male competitors. It’s not a bad strategy. The majority of Parcelles Assainies’s 500,000 inhabitants are women and youth, and women typically turn out en masse at the polls.

“Women are the foundation of society. Everything comes from a woman and everything comes back to a woman,” Wade said.

Before the polls closed on election day, Wade left her house to make the rounds at a few more polling places. As she climbed into the backseat of her silver SUV, a chorus of boys crowded around the car, chanting “Magatte, Magatte.”

“Don’t be afraid, Magatte,” shouted one smiling boy in a faded green sweatshirt that came almost to his knees. “Don’t worry. Everything will work out.”

Wade’s defeat on March 22 didn’t come as a huge surprise. It had been her first election, and she is still relatively unknown politically. Her campaign, much like the women’s march she organized, was about more than politics.

“I urge the people who listen to me to believe in themselves and know that change is possible if they do their part,” she said.

Just then Wade got a call from a local woman who had heard her speak about her plan to use microfinance — quite possibly Wade’s favorite word — to help families supplement their incomes. Shocked that a politician would present such a detailed plan and anxious to learn more, the woman had asked around for Wade’s phone number.

After a spirited conversation in Wolof, Wade set down her pink cell phone with a smile.

“Now, that’s what this is all about,” she said before returning to the stack of work in front of her.

More GlobalPost dispatches on women in politics:

Is Costa Rica ready for a female president?

More GlobalPost dispatches on Senegal:

Gays under threat in Senegal

Senegalese press: oppressed or out of control?

Senegal avoids human rights trial

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