Being a woman in Senegal

Senegalese society is a complex one in which there are more than ten different ethnic groups and at least three religions divided, in turn, into a large number of families or sects within Islam known as brotherhoods.


With the exception of the southern region of Casamance, home of the Jola, these ethnic and religious clashes have not been very relevant. In fact, it is noteworthy that in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority (approximately 95%), the first President of the Republic after the independence of the country in 1960 was a Catholic from an ethnic minority: Leopold Sedar Senghor.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the enormous influence of marabouts (Islamic religious leaders) both in everyday life and in political,economic, and social decisions taken at the highest levels of the Senegalese government. Now some talk about the “wolofization” in Senegal: a process in which the culture of the Wolof will gradually impose itself over other languages and uses, especially in Dakar.

It is impossible to discuss the status of Senegalese women. The situation of women in the country varies greatly depending on the context (rural / urban) and ethnicity of reference. What is clear is that they are increasingly playing a key role in the country’s public life and certainly in the future of Senegalese migration to Spain. In a context of acute shortage of labor, the traditional family model simply does not work, the women take to the streets to find money to support their families and it is increasingly common to find female professionals who open new paths for future generations.

The region of Casamance, in the south of the country, has an economy based largely in agriculture and for decades has been mired in a separatist conflict. In the countryside, women are responsible for household work in unfavorable conditions (most of the houses have no electricity or running water), but they also cultivate the fields and earn a small salary by trading in local markets. Women can do anything from early morning until late at night, with one professional exception, that of driver.

Despite the advances of women in the professional field in large cities, here often dominates too a strict division of labor by gender, in which the male is responsible for meeting the material needs of the family and women are responsible for home chores. In towns of the outskirts of Dakar, like Guediawaye, it is estimated that 80% of households are wholly or partly dependent on remittances from emigrants.

Many households are headed by women alone living on remittances, and between them, and dealing with all the housework like cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children, shopping, take sick relatives to the hospital, etc. These are occupations of a profoundly social nature: it is not usual to see a woman cooking and doing laundry alone. These moments serve to reinforce social bonds by talking about relatives, friends, problems, illusions, in the absence of the husband …

In the picture, part of the exhibition Women and Borders, a group of women doing the laundry in the courtyard of a building in the neighborhiood of Marche Boubesse in Guediawaye, on the outskirts of Dakar.

Javier Acebal

About the author: Javier Acebal

I'm a photographer based in Dakar (West Africa). I love to document cultures and people! (but also working for tourism industry).

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