Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government rarely enforced the law, and rape was widespread. The law does not address spousal rape. The law allows the common practice of using a woman’s sexual history to defend men accused of rape.
The law criminalizes assaults and provides for punishment of one to five years in prison and a fine. If the victim is a woman, the prison term and fine are both increased. Domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. If an act of domestic violence causes death, the law prescribes life imprisonment. Nevertheless, the government did not enforce the law, particularly when violence occurred within the family. Police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes, and most victims were reluctant to go outside the family for redress. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) reported a rise in violence against women.
NGOs, including the CLVF, criticized the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also criticized the government’s failure to permit associations to bring suits on behalf of victims and the lack of shield laws for rape.
Although current statistics on domestic violence were unavailable, a UN study published in 2015 and based on data collected from relevant national services between 2008 and 2010 in eight regions revealed 507 cases in Dakar, 263 in Thies, 279 in Kaolack, 227 in Diourbel, 201 in Louga, 176 in St Louis, 110 in Fatick, and 67 in Kaffrine. The true incidence of domestic violence was thought to be much higher than the number of cases reported.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood was responsible for ensuring the rights of women. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for combating domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center provided shelter to women and girls who were victims of rape or early marriage, and to street children.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls. While not commonly inflicted on adult women, almost all girls in the northern Fouta Region were victims of FGM/C, as were 60 to 70 percent of girls in the south and southeast. Sealing, one of the most extreme and dangerous forms of FGM/C, was sometimes practiced by the Toucouleur, Mandinka, Soninke, Peul, and Bambara ethnic groups. According to the NGO German Society for International Cooperation, excision, type II, was the form of FGM/C most frequently practiced. According to 2012-13 survey data from the National Institute for Statistics, FGM/C had been performed on18 percent of girls below age 14.
The government collaborated with the NGO Tostan and other groups to educate individuals about FGM/C’s inherent dangers. The government also collaborated with the NGO Group for Population Studies and Education to develop a course on the dangers of FGM/C, which was being integrated into high school and college curriculums. At the community level, Tostan continued to implement a three-year community empowerment program that influenced 760 villages to decide to abandon FGM/C.
In collaboration with key stakeholders across 14 regions, the Ministry of Justice developed a work plan to enforce the law against FGM/C and to monitor compliance with anti-FGM/C programs. In villages that participated in the Tostan program and declared FGM/C abandonment, enforcement committees were formed to assure that families complied with the declaration. The Ministry of Women, Family, Social Development, and Women’s Entrepreneurship organized workshops across the country to encourage application of the law. Administrative authorities, local elected officials, and representatives of community-based organizations attended such workshops.
Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($87 to $870) for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and women’s rights groups claimed victims of sexual harassment found it difficult, if not impossible, to present proof that was sufficient to secure conviction.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides that all couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, to manage their reproductive health, and to have access to the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. It also provides for the right to medical services for all women during pregnancy and to a safe delivery. The law considers the right to reproductive health a “fundamental and universal right guaranteed to all individuals without discrimination.”
Poor medical facilities constrained observance of these rights, however, particularly in rural areas and in some urban areas, where lack of funds led to closing of maternity wards and operating rooms. At times cultural norms impeded women’s access to information regarding sexual health. According to 2011 statistics provided by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), skilled personnel attended approximately 52 percent of births and provided prenatal care in 87 percent of cases; the maternal mortality ratio was 410 deaths per 100,000 live births; and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 31. The Ministry of Health and Social Action estimated most maternal deaths in childbirth were preventable if skilled health personnel and emergency obstetrical services were available. Social and cultural pressures to have large families reportedly led some husbands to ask health workers to terminate the use of contraceptives by their spouses. This reportedly led women to be discreet in the use of contraception. According to a 2014 study funded by the government and a foreign entity, however, the percentage of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 who used modern contraception increased from 12 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2014.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs, including polygyny and discriminatory rules of inheritance, were strongest. The law requires a woman’s approval of a polygynous union, but once in such a union, a woman needed neither to be notified nor to give prior consent if the man took another wife. Approximately 50 percent of marriages were polygynous. The family code’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The code considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. In addition, any childhood benefits are paid to the father. Women can become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority before authorities or if he is unable to act as head of household. Traditional practices also made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Women experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d). Women and girls also experienced discrimination in education since those who become pregnant or married young were often pressured to leave school.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood has a directorate for gender equality that implements programs to combat discrimination.