Social situation Poor conditions are causing rural exodus

The Senegalese government is facing great challenges in the fields of domestic and social policy. According to estimates, some 40 per cent of the population are living in poverty. This particularly affects people in the mostly arid eastern and northern parts of the country. While the food situation has improved over the last 20 years, almost ten per cent of the people are estimated still to be undernourished.

A young woman in Senegal

A young woman in Senegal

A young woman in Senegal

Education and health

There are also deficits in the field of health and education services. The illiteracy rate is almost 50 per cent. Less than three-quarters of school-age children attend primary school, and just over 60 per cent complete primary school.

In rural areas in particular, medical services are totally inadequate. Most doctors work in the capital, Dakar. There are hardly any hospital beds in rural areas. The number of women dying during, or as a result of, childbirth is high – as is the child mortality rate among children under five.

With regard to HIV/AIDS, the government's efforts to educate the public early on have paid off. The official infection rate in Senegal is 0.4 per cent, which is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa (3.7 per cent). 

Situation of women

Gender equality has been enshrined in Senegal's constitution. Particularly in rural areas, however, the situation of women is still characterised by traditional ideas about their role. In some ethnic groups, female genital mutilation remains widespread. Notwithstanding the fact that there are clear legal provisions against this practice, prosecution remains de facto patchy. 

In parliamentary elections, a gender equality law governs the process. Currently, 71 of the 165 members of parliament are women, meaning that Senegal ranks among the world's leading countries in terms of representation of women in parliament.

Rural exodus and migration

Many people are moving from rural areas to the cities in hopes of finding better living conditions there. Nearly half the Senegalese population of just over 16 million now lives in urban areas, with more than 20 per cent of all people living in and around the capital, Dakar.

This is causing problems in the cities, especially in terms of drinking water supply, sanitation and solid waste management. Social conflicts, too, are worsening, as urban labour markets are unable to absorb the incoming population. The official unemployment rate is 7.1 per cent, but according to estimates some 40 per cent of the workforce are jobless or underemployed. In particular for young people the prospects are very poor. Every year a further 300,000 million young people join the labour market. There are too few training opportunities and jobs for such numbers. The situation is made worse by the high rate of population growth.

Every year, many Senegalese people decide to leave the country, hoping to find a better future elsewhere. Most of them remain within West Africa, but Europe is also an attractive destination. The remittances from Senegalese migrants account for about 10 per cent of gross domestic product. They are thus a significant economic factor.