Building Peace and Development in the Sahel: Enhancing the Political Participation of Women and Youth

Students attend a class at a public school in Taliko, Bamako on October 24, 2013. UN Photo/Marco Dormino.

The twin security and political crises that erupted in Mali in 2012 revealed the complex and multilayered challenges that threaten peace and stability and delay development across the Sahel.
Poor governance was one of the key driving factors, as reflected in the political, economic, and social marginalization of women and youth, who represent the vast majority of the population in most countries in the Sahel. Yet the exclusion of women and young people from decision-making processes persists, maintained by a range of factors that widen the gap between elected leaders and their constituencies, weaken institutions of governance, and increase social tensions.

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Focusing on Mali, Niger, and Senegal, this new report identifies political, socioeconomic, and cultural barriers to the participation of women and young people in politics in the Sahel. The report then explores the impact of various initiatives undertaken by women and youth groups, governments, and regional and international partners to overcome political participation challenges, such as the mixed record of a parity law in Senegal and a gender quota law in Niger. It concludes by considering innovative strategies to increase the political participation of women and youth.

The author offers a number of recommendations for those seeking to promote peace and development in the region, including the following:

  • Empower women and youth by strengthening solidarity among female leaders across political party lines and between young political elites and their excluded counterparts.
  • Improve public social service delivery—particularly girls’ education—but also support private sector initiatives to reduce poverty and help young people get jobs.
  • Build bridges across groups and communities to advocate for inclusive politics, and engage with the media to change the public conversation around the roles of women and youth in society.
  • Enhance the involvement of women in conflict prevention and peace initiatives across the Sahel.