Senegal’s female presidential candidate inspires hope Anta Babacar Ngom

DAKAR. — Senegal’s only female presidential candidate may have little to no chance of winning in Sunday’s election, but activists say her presence is helping to advance a decades-long campaign to achieve gender equality in the West African nation.

Anta Babacar Ngom, a 40-year-old business executive, is a voice for both women and young people — groups hit hard by the country’s economic troubles, widespread unemployment and rising prices. She has promised to create millions of jobs and a bank for women to support their economic independence.

“Our country has enormous potential. The natural resources are there, and they can be developed,” she told The Associated Press. “The young girls I meet ask for my support. They do so because they know that when a woman comes to power, she will put an end to their suffering. I’m not going to forget them.”

Few expect Ngom to be among the leading candidates for the presidency, but activists say the fact that a woman has made it to the presidential race for the first time in years reflects how women are moving ahead in the struggle for equality.

“We have to be there, even if we don’t stand a chance,” said Selly Ba, an activist and sociologist. “We don’t stand a chance in these elections. But it’s important that we have women candidates, women who are in the race.”

Ngom is the first female candidate to run for president in over a decade, reflecting how progress has been frustratingly slow for activists, who say there has been a shift among young people toward more traditional views of women’s roles in society.

Through the 1990s, Senegalese women mobilized through grassroots organizations. The country appointed its first female prime minister in 2001, and in 2010 a law that required all political parties to introduce gender parity in electoral lists helped to drive up female participation in politics. – AP

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