Gender Mainstreaming in the Senegalese Armed Forces

Birame Diop

To highlight the shortage of African female political leadership, African writer, Dr. Ali Mazrui, while interviewing former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, sarcastically quipped that looking at the African leadership landscape - where many presidents seize power via coup d'états - more women should join armies and seize power to correct the gender inequit.

I laughed at this, remembering that while growing up in Nigeria, military officers enjoyed unprecedented privileges, thereby making joining the military attractive to many. Although most people for a variety of reasons eventually chose other career paths, it was often said that if the Nigerian army was like the Senegalese army, which is known as the most peaceful African military model, Nigeria would be a better country. So when I learned about the conference titled "Gender Mainstreaming in the Senegalese Armed Forces" at Howard University organized by Salia Zouande, a member of Partners for Democratic Change (PDC), I attended to learn about their army's uniqueness.

The speaker, Air Force Colonel Birame Diop, is a proponent of women's integration into Africa's security sector, and his military engendering perspective is invaluable. He leads the Senegal-based African Institute for Security Sector Transformation, which was created by PDC to promote military, police, border-patrol and intelligence service members integration into civilian authority systems, including the parliament, executive roles and the judiciary in Africa, to stabilize careers, prevent conflict and coup d'état conducive environments, and improve governance by inducing better conceptualized and professional environments in the security sector. Below, he discussed with attendees his role in the Senegalese Army's women's integration process.

What prompted you to discuss this topic?

I'm here for a dialogue because integrating women into the security sector, particularly into the military, is an important but challenging issue. However, the views I’m expressing are mine as a researcher and don’t represent Senegal’s official views.

What is history's impact on Senegal's military?

In my opinion, like most African countries, our military was abruptly inherited from the colonialists. Conceptual and theoretical facets were overlooked. Studies defining needs, processes and enhancements weren't conducted prior. Adding to this unstable foundation, there’s an ongoing integration of women, which is creating new challenges. Therefore, institutional foundations like proper governance, organization, documentation and process definition should be the focus and can be executed by reviewing and revamping existing structures to ensure the military's positive future.

What's the current state of Senegalese women?

Framed within the context of our Traditional, Islamic and Christian religions and culture that promotes strong patriarchal dominance, it's not optimum. Based on the Senegalese proverb that a man's success is based on his wife's care, there's strong sentiment advocating women being housewives to care for their families. Whether viewed positively or negatively, this model, in my opinion, is prevalent, especially in the rural areas. It also affects women's treatment, expectations of them and opportunities they are availed.

How have culture and religions affected Senegalese women?

They have not facilitated women's emancipation. Although modernity and economic realities have integrated working women, some men are still averse to it. Also, some women are reluctant to engage in some activities, including occupations in the security sector, particularly the military, while constituting 52 percent of the population.

What are Senegalese women's attitudes to their new military career opportunities?

Culturally, engaging in certain physically violent activities isn't perceived as feminine. Certain Senegalese women don't desire such opportunities, so they aren't passionately expressing their integration desires by vocalizing, demonstrating or advocating societal support. One part of our society isn't encouraging it either. Some expressed interest, while stating their aversion for being the military's weak links, so it's a gradual process. Surprisingly, this is contrary to the famous women who played key roles during our colonial emancipation and also currently in the economy. So sometimes there is an impression that men are advocating for them.

How did the integration occur?

In 1984, Senegal decided that women should be included as health officers and medical doctors. In 2008, the president instituted their inclusion with strong political will because he believes the country’s army should mirror the society. If some say that women weren't consulted and military leaders and organizations weren’t equipped to implement the order, huge efforts are being deployed to ensure its success. In July 2010, the first group of women was integrated. Several groups followed and currently there’s an increasing percentage of women in the military.

What prompted President Wade's integration decree?

In my opinion, it's a personal conviction. He's passionate about gender issues, and nominates and promotes women like Senegal's first female Prime Minister, Madior Boye. He champions women's causes like enabling a 30 percent female senate. He also imposed elective gender parity, which political parties must respect; otherwise their membership list is rejected.

How did you become involved in the process?

Recognizing there wasn't much time to evaluate the integration conditions and that there wasn’t well known sub-regional positive models to emulate, provisions ensuring the integration process's successful execution had to be made. The Ministry of Armed Forces’ contacted our institute. Thus, the institute initiated discussions with partners at the United States Africa Command, the Democratic Control of Armed Forces in Geneva, and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a branch of the National Defense University and they all joined the project.

What assistance did you provide?

Studies of the armed forces' available legal founding documents were undertaken for 45 days which revealed that many articles and policies don't allow for women's fair and pleasant presence. So, a diverse platform including civic society members, lawyers and former ministers, chiefs of defense staffs and armed forces leaders was formed. A comprehensive document in which weaknesses were identified and recommendations given was realized. A harmonization process was initiated to ensure the project's implementation by presenting the platform’s findings at a three-day conference to which female armed forces leaders from the United States, Gabon, Nigeria, Mali and Gambia were invited to share their experiences. The document was reviewed and another 10-page summary of the recommendations given by the participants was created. Then the findings were confronted with the National Strategy Work of the Ministry of Gender, because this is a total reorientation.

What issues were revealed?

Officers trained to lead men are tasked with leading and interacting with women. They need to be sensitized and guided. Thus, with the Ministry's experts, there is an agreement on a road map to help build the necessary capacities that ensure gender sensitivity by creating a national document, while ensuring that the country’s adherence to ratified regional and international policies, treaties, conventions and constitutions is in line with the Ministry of Gender's guidelines to train and guide operational staff who issue documents. There are plans to issue tactical training documents for service men who interact with woman, and we have also advised that the rules for interactions must be set.

What challenges were experienced?

While integrating women into the military, human resource challenges are often initially faced. For example, concerning military marriages, adopting the French model allowing inter-category marriages could be potentially problematic, as well as the American model which only allows intra-category marriages because love transcends rank. There's no perfect decision. Both models have strengths and weaknesses, and any model adopted will be criticized, so the country’s leaders will decide, keeping our culture in mind.

Operationally, the military requires soldiers' open availability for immediate deployment; therefore coping with many maternity leaves isn't feasible. For example, the French healthcare security sector is approximately 60 percent female. However, many are often unavailable for deployment because they are breast-feeding or pregnant. Therefore, one has to recognize women's reproductive needs as well as deployment availability needs. Also, to avoid gender discrimination, paternity leaves need to be considered, because more men want time off to attend their child's birth and to bond.

How are Senegalese military women treated?

Operationally they're treated the same as men except for gender specificities. However, in the Senegalese paternal culture, men often decide the family's location. Thus, previously, if a woman was posted and her husband objected, there were opportunities for her to stay. Now, if a woman is transferred, her whole family can move with her. So there are mindset changes.

What lessons were learned from neighboring countries regarding military women's treatment?

In some countries, women aren’t always treated properly and are often discriminated against by those who should protect them. Also, in some cases, higher-ranking men abuse their power by having inappropriate relationships with their female subordinates who otherwise wouldn't, for fear of retaliation, victimization and/or not being promoted.

What decisions should be taken based on this knowledge?

To prevent such practices from prospering there’s a need to put structures and processes in place where women can report such cases.

How will sexual harassment situations be addressed?

The definition in the Senegalese context is necessary, so everyone understands what it means, because some words or actions considered sexual harassment elsewhere are considered compliments in Senegal. However, a code of conduct needs to be developed, documented, explained and thoroughly understood for a harmonious dual-gender barrack life.

How are you feminizing the military?

Reviewing certain women's requests to feminize their functions and titles will be considered, because currently they're masculine. For example, a subordinate says, "Mon General" meaning, "My General," but it conveys a masculine connotation.

What are the gender-specific issues?

It is understandable for unlisted women to be paid higher allowances and thus cost a little bit more because their needs are more expensive to maintain. Unfortunately, this can frustrate some men, instigate accusations of women’s preferential treatment and cause discord. While such treatments can be appreciated by the general population, they can also hamper the military’s cohesiveness—a key element of military power—and cause diminishing operational capacities.

What's your view on women in combat?

The Senegalese society, like many others isn't prepared for the mistreatment or killing of women it entails. Even in the West, women aren't sent to the front lines because the enemy will exploit it by using such images to elicit sympathy for their cause and/or turn people against the war.

Do females make armies weaker?

Women are value added. Israel's efficient army includes women. However, women possess physical and biological limitations and often display dissimilar predispositions to men's. For example, their patience and precision makes them excellent pilots and strikers. However, we must be aware of women's predispositions to utilize them wisely.

Are mechanisms ensuring continued gender sensitization in place?

Monitoring mechanisms are important. Gender observatories should be developed to ensure female representation and perspective inclusion. A database needs to be created, and a reorientation policy reviewed regularly. Also, focal points ensuring process implementations must be created in all organizations and field surveys and research and development, which aren’t resource intensive, but often overlooked, must be conducted.

Are you being assisted by some gender-equity organizations?

Partnership with gender-equity organizations is inevitable in order to learn from them and adapt their expertise to the military’s environment.

Are there post-service issues?

The military's legal documents, in line with national legal documents assume men are breadwinners. Therefore, if men die, their widows receive pensions to compensate for their breadwinner's loss. Now that both men and women are breadwinners, if wives die, men should naturally receive pensions. So, documents must be reviewed to address this. However, one should remember that due to polygamy, many women don't want their widowers using their death pensions to marry or care for other wives and children. So why not consider direct pensions disbursements directly to children for example?

How is the new dual-gender military being promoted?

Advocacy will definitely ensure the military's ownership of their resource acquisition processes, because it's cost intensive. Also, tactical workshops and case studies need to be done to promote them.

How will you sustain and grow female numbers?

In my opinion, an assessment of the positive impact of women's presence since joining the military must be measured to ensure proper decision-making to improve recruiting and retaining women. Also, affirmative action should be employed to ensure a certain percentage of women. However, if the criteria are set and recruitment is merit based, women should receive roles fulfilling their quota. The question to grapple with is, do we only base our criteria on what's good for both genders and not a fixed percentage?

Is there a shift in African countries' military styles?

Yes, but slowly. Until independence, the military was under colonialists with authoritarian rules focused on squashing revolts. After independence, it didn't change in many countries. They kept oppressing citizens and were not protection oriented like they should be under democratic rule. Except for some African countries, there's now a relational shift occurring. The military is improving because training is improving and professionalism is encouraged, but there's room for improvement. Even some democratic leaders have manipulated armies for their personal interests to ensure their stay in power, but technologies allowing improved communication flow are discouraging that. Work is also being done on a code of conduct of 15 principles to ensure better African militaries.

Is the feminization discussion occurring in other West African countries' military?

It's happening in Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Mali, Ivory Coast [halted by their recent conflicts] and Liberia, having learnt their war lesson. However, many other countries aren't having this discussion.

Why is Senegal's military unique in Africa?

It's because of the high educational levels. After independence, President Senghor focused on investing in human resources because Senegal has few natural resources, so 40 percent of the annual national budget is dedicated to education to ensure Senegal’s autonomous survival.

Why is Senegal the only West Africa country without coup d'états?

This question is often asked. In the foreseeable future, based on my assessments and experience as a researcher, the Senegalese military won't be involved in power seizures. The military's role is defense, not ruling. American sociologist and political scientist Morris Janowitz who authored the book, The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait, which is based on civil-military relations, conducted studies on professionalism and military involvement in coup d'états. He says the more professional service members are; the less likely they'd be to engage in such. Also, British political scientist and historian, Samuel Finer, who was a major contributor to the study of civil-military relations and authored the book, The Man on Horseback, echoes similar sentiments.

Aside from that, a Senegalese soldier knows the constitution, the leaders’ and citizens’ expectations of him, and the death and destruction in countries with military takeovers, so there's no incentive to do that. Professionalism, high educational levels, and having peaceful leaders such as President Senghor and General Diallo—who possessed a clear military vision, because he was a lieutenant in the French Army Core of Engineers, and a strong leader who understood the military's role—have helped Senegal.

What are your thoughts on African military presidents?

Service men aren't trained to rule. The military system is authoritarian and command and execution oriented. It's not democratic, dialog or communication oriented, which are required for political leadership.

What are you doing to assist other African countries?

Many partners are interested in the work that is being done because they’d like to share the findings and model when completed with other countries. However, one must be humble to not be perceived as and/or accused of being immodest. So, while not trying to impose its model, Senegal’s experience could humbly be shared, and it's up to other countries to adopt it or not.

Why were you successful?

In my opinion, the Senegalese experience has been successful because it’s backed by the president's strong political will, and women were also included in the process.

What future plans are you tasked with?

I believe Senegal has created guidelines to induct women into the military most people are satisfied with, but there is still a need to identify goals and ways to reach them. Also, documents such as the National Security Strategy, which is one of the most important documents that identify countries’ threats, interests, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths, must be kept gender sensitive. If it isn’t, other documents depending on it will be invalid. There’s also a need to advocate operationally to ensure gender sensitization of military doctrines and concepts, including employment strategies.

Finally, the Ministry of Gender could help define and write a realistic and comprehensive guiding National Sectoral Policy on Gender Issues, which will include benchmarking objectives achievable within two to five years. It is also necessary to review capacities and training methods, and reinforce the new model by continuing training at centers of excellence and routinely issuing documentation discussing gender issues. So this is an ongoing effort that all stakeholders have to be committed to.