Government of Senegal Conducts Workshop on Integration of Women in the Military with U.S. Africa Command Support

CAPT Kathleen A. Duignan, U.S. Africa Command Office of Legal Counsel and Mr. Dale Carter, U.S. Africa Command Outreach Directorate wrote

With support from U.S. Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ Regional Office for West Africa, the Government of Senegal conducted a workshop in Dakar, Senegal during Oct. 4-6 to discuss the full integration of women into the military.

The workshop grew out of concerns expressed by African female members of the militaryenlisted soldiers and officersabout the obstacles they face in the armed services. The workshop examined the opportunities and challenges facing the armed forces in developing policies, allocating resources, and creating structures and processes to better integrate women in the military.

Around 90 participants, including members of the military, police, gendarmerie, customs, prison wardens, and park rangers assessed the current status of the integration process and made recommendations for a comprehensive strategy.

The Honorable Becaye Diop, Minister of the Armed Forces, opened the workshop and spoke about the history of the progressive integration of women in defense and security forces in Senegal, mainly in the medical corps and more recently in other units of the armed forces. He said progress has been slow to date, but reaffirmed both his personal and the ministry’s commitment to tackling the challenges ahead. To better meet the needs of women pioneers and future recruits, the ministry has launched a year-long program with the assistance of international partners, such as U.S. Africa Command, to develop a strategy and framework for capacity building at the institutional and personnel levels.

Keynote speaker, Major General Tracy Garrett, U.S. Marine Corps, stressed the need first to define the purpose of security forces and to analyze the capabilities needed to accomplish the mission. The commandant of the 4th Marine Logistical Command based in New Orleans, Louisiana, stated that “around the world, our contemporaries seek government leadership in establishing a true meritocracy in the public sector. We need to avoid seeing tasks, occupations, or career fields through the lenses of men’s or women’s work.”

General Garrett then outlined the experiences of the U.S. military, specifically the Marine Corps, in integrating women by focusing on the issues of recruitment, training, job placement, and career advancements. In addition to sharing her personal experiences, General Garrett concluded that recognition of the value of flexible work arrangements, flexible career paths, and new leadership styles helps better meet the needs of today’s diverse work force.

Colonel Nana Traore of Mali and Colonel Roselyn John of Nigeria, both Africa Center community members, continued the theme of lessons learned by sharing their respective countries’ experiences on the role of women in the security forces and their own personal challenges and successes in their military careers.

The workshop’s discussions also centered on the assessment of all legal and regulatory documents pertaining to gender equity in Senegal and, in particular, all military codes and processes that address gender equity in the armed forces. This legal review identified a number of gaps and challenges at the recruitment level, training, and personnel management in terms of career advancement opportunities, maternity leave processes, marriage, pensions, and sexual harassment. The discussion groups yielded several recommendations:

– Recruitment: review the admission education standards that require women to attain higher level diplomas than men in order to join the military. In addition, the issue of a quota system to increase women recruits was seen as an option.

– Training: participants recommended that while a culture of meritocracy is encouraged, instructors must be sensitized to gender issues to better meet the needs of female recruits. Recommendations also included gradually extending a wide range of training opportunitiescurrently available only to mento female soldiers and officers.

– Job placement: participants noted that women tend to be restricted to administrative posts and access to higher ranks or leadership posts is still limited to men. Currently, only the health sector is modestly benefitting from increased engagement of women at higher posts. A gradual opening and access to roles with increased responsibility as well as mentorship and the development of leadership skills were mentioned as areas of strategic focus.

Participants noted that socio-cultural and religious norms such as the traditional notion of women as caretakers, as well as existing civil laws designating men as head of households and main financial providers, are challenges and issues that need to be addressed. The groups discussed and recommended that a comprehensive strategy must incorporate and legal review and the development of regulations to deal with issues such as sexual harassment, pensions, and lodging for female soldiers that take into account cultural sensitivities.

Workshop attendees finally said a crucial step in the process of the integration of women into the armed services is to sensitize the public to the notion of women in the military assuming non-traditional roles.

 

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