Source: Africa News
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 inequity.
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 were 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 event titled ‘Gender Mainstreaming in the Senegalese Armed Forces’, organized by Salia Zouande, a member of Partners for Democratic Change (PDC), I attended to learn about the army’s uniqueness.
The event’s 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. He discussed with me his role in the Senegal Army’s women’s integration process.
What prompted you to discuss this topic?
I’m here for dialogue because women in the security sector, particularly the military, is an important but challenging issue.
What is history’s impact on Senegal’s military?
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, we are integrating women, which is causing complications, so, institutional foundations like proper governance, organization, documentation and process definition are our focus, which we are executing by reviewing and revamping existing structures to ensure our 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 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 hindered 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 physically violent activities isn’t perceived as feminine. Senegalese women don’t desire such opportunities, so they aren’t passionately expressing their integration desires by vocalizing, demonstrating or advocating societal support. Our society isn’t encouraging it, either. Few expressed interest, while stating their aversion for being our 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 we men are advocating for them.
How did the integration occur?
In 1984 men decided women should be included as health officers and medical doctors. In 2008, the president instituted their inclusion with strong political will because he believes our army should mirror our society. Unfortunately, women weren’t consulted and military leaders and organizations weren’t equipped to implement the order, but we are working hard to ensure its success. In July 2010 we integrated 300 women. We later added 200 and another 150. We currently have 650 women comprising 13.5 percent of our military.
What prompted President Wade’s integration decree?
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?
The minister of the armed forces wrote asking for my assistance. To obey the order quickly, there wasn’t time to evaluate the integration conditions, and we didn’t have neighboring countries’ positive models to emulate, so provisions ensuring the integration process’s successful execution had to be made. I discussed it with my partners at the United States Africa Command, the Democratic Control of Armed Forces in Geneva, and Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a branch of the National Defense University, and they all joined the project.
What assistance did you provide?
We studied the armed forces’ available legal founding documents for 45 days and found that many articles and policies don’t allow for women’s fair and pleasant presence. So, we created a diverse platform including civic society members, lawyers and former ministers, chiefs of defense staffs and armed forces leaders. We created a 57-page document in which we identified weaknesses and gave recommendations. We then went through a harmonization process to ensure the project’s implementation by presenting our 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 we confronted our findings 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. We worked with the Ministry’s experts on a road map to help build the necessary capacities that ensure gender sensitivity by creating a national document while ensuring our adherence to ratified regional and international policies, treaties, conventions and constitutions in line with the Ministry of Gender’s guidelines to train and guide operational staff who issue documents. We also included the need for tactical training provision for people who interact with women and advised that the boundaries and rules for interactions must be set.
What challenges were experienced?
In the first phase we experienced human resource issues. Inter-military marriages were potentially problematic. The French model allowing intra-military marriages was considered but criticized because women often leave after finishing their 18 months service while marriage should enhance and not destroy careers. The U.S. model’s only allowing intra-rank marriages was considered, but criticized because love transcends rank. There’s no perfect decision. Both models have strengths and weaknesses, and any model adopted will be criticized, so our 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 60 percent female. However, many are often unavailable for deployment because they are breast-feeding or pregnant. We recognize women’s reproductive needs and our deployment availability needs. Also, to avoid gender discrimination, paternity leaves are being considered, because men want time off to attend their child’s births and to bond.
How are Senegalese military women treated?
Operationally they’re treated the same as men except for gender specificities. However, in our paternal culture, men decide the family’s location. Previously, if a woman was posted and her husband objected, she stayed. Now, if a woman is transferred, her whole family moves. For example, we have a Lt. Col with her family in New York working with the U.N.
What lessons were learned from neighboring countries regarding military women’s treatment?
They are often abused and discriminated against by those who should protect them. Higher-ranking men abuse their power by dating women who otherwise wouldn’t for fear of retaliation, victimization and/or not being promoted.
What decisions were taken based on this knowledge?
We created structures where women can report such cases and processes for them to exit the military and sue their victimizer.
How will sexual harassment situations be addressed?
The definition in our context is necessary so everyone understands what it means, because some words or actions considered sexual harassment in the U.S. are considered compliments in Senegal. However, a code of conduct is being developed and documented, and must be thoroughly explained and understood for a harmonious dual-gender barrack life.
How are you feminizing the military?
We are reviewing women’s requests to feminize their functions and titles, 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?
Women are paid higher salaries and cost us more because we believe their needs are more expensive to maintain, but this frustrates men, leading to accusations of women’s preferential treatment and causing discord. This may have been a mistake, because women were new and they may have received unfair privileges to make our society happy and elicit people’s goodwill. But since it’s hampering the military’s cohesiveness—a key element of military power—and causing diminishing operational capacities, it must be reviewed and the salaries equated.
What’s your view on women in combat?
Our society 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. Also, women in the front lines means soldiers are required to fight while also not violating female soldiers, which is an added burden.
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 are being developed to ensure female representation and perspective inclusion. A database is being created, and a reorientation policy will be reviewed continuously. Also, focal points ensuring process implementations will be created in all organizations and field surveys and research and development, which isn’t resource intensive, but often overlooked.
Are you being assisted by some gender-equity organizations?
We are partnering with and learning from some and adapting their expertise to our environment.
Are there post-service issues?
The military’s legal documents assume men are breadwinners. If men die, their widows receive pensions to compensate for their breadwinner’s loss. Now that both are breadwinners, if wives die, men don’t receive pensions. So, documents must be reviewed to address this. However, due to polygamy, women don’t want their widowers using their death pensions to marry or care for other wives and children. So we are considering direct pension disbursements directly to children.
How is the new dual-gender military being promoted?
We plan advocacy to ensure the military’s ownership of their resource acquisition processes, because it’s cost intensive. Tactical workshops and case studies will also be done to promote them.
How will you sustain and grow female numbers?
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 is being reviewed 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 we are grappling with is, do we only base our criterion 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. 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. We are also working on a code of conduct of 15 principles to ensure a better Senegalese military.
Is the feminization discussion occurring in other West African countries’ military?
It’s happening in South Africa, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast [halted by their recent conflicts] and Liberia, having learnt their war lesson; however, many other countries aren’t.
Why is Senegal’s military unique in Africa?
It’s because of our high educational levels. After independence, President Senghor focused on investing in human resources because we have few natural resources, so 40 percent of the annual national budget is dedicated to education to ensure our autonomous survival.
Why is Senegal the only West Africa country without coup d’états?
I’m often asked that question, but in the foreseeable future, based on my assessments and experience, our 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 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 Man on Horseback, echoes similar sentiments.
Aside from that, I’m a colonel, and even generals can’t ask me to take improper actions. If they do, I will refuse. A Senegalese soldier knows the constitution, the leader’s and citizen’s 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 us. For example, in 1962 we had institutionalized riots the police couldn’t contain. The president called for military intervention, but the chief of defense courageously disagreed with the president, who was his boss, stating that the military’s role is not citizen oppression.
What are your thoughts on African military presidents?
Service men aren’t trained to rule. Our 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?
Our partners are funding our work because we’ll share our findings and model when completed. However, because we are doing better than many African countries, we are often perceived and accused of being immodest. Some believe we think we are smarter than them and [without provocation] state that they know just as much as we do. So, when we are done, while not imposing our model, we will humbly share, and it’s up to them to adopt it or not.
Why were you successful?
We were successful because we were backed by our president’s strong political will, and we also included women in the process.
What future plans are you tasked with?
We have created guidelines to induct women into our military that our government is satisfied with, but we are still identifying goals and ways to reach them. In the National Security Strategy, which is the most important document we worked on, we identified all threats, interests, opportunities, weaknesses and strengths, which we are now focused on addressing. This document must be kept gender sensitive, because if it isn’t, other documents depending on it will be invalid. We will advocate operationally ensuring gender sensitization of military doctrines and concepts, including employment strategies.
Also, the Ministry of Gender agreed to help us 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. We will 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 are committed to.
Photo and Story: Susan Enuogbope Majekodunmi, AfricaNews reporter in Maryland, USA