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Accepted paper:

Dispute Resolution, Domestic Violence, and Divorce: Navigating Legal Pluralism in Senegal


Scott London (Randolph-Macon College)
Hamady Alassane BA (Lower Court)

Paper long abstract:

Legal pluralism in Senegal shapes family law and dispute resolution in two senses. One is internal to the formal legal process, and the other pertains to the array of informal options available to families in conflict. In the first sense, Senegal's Family Law Code itself reflects a blend of Muslim, African, and French colonial legal traditions. In the second sense, a range of mediation-style interventions are provided by family members, trusted neighbors and friends, local religious leaders, social service providers, and state judges. This paper examines the possibilities and constraints found among these elements of Senegalese legal pluralism, viewed through the prism of divorce and domestic violence cases, and discusses the following four findings. First, decisions about type of intervention are most commonly controlled by the husband and his parents. Second, women who contemplate taking husbands to court are often discouraged by heavy social and economic costs. Third, despite some significant differences in normative orders, dispute resolution forums share a common discourse of "female submission" that undermine women's assertions of injustice. Fourth, while mediations by different types of third-party intermediaries share an ethos of compromise, women are typically expected to make more concessions and accept blame for problems. Taken together, these findings suggest that navigating legal pluralism also means navigating a gendered discourse that is generally unfavorable to women seeking redress from domestic violence or divorce. At the same time, the expanding availability of legal assistance for women, activism in support of reforms to Senegal's FamilyLaw Code, and the influence of global feminist discourses, are shifting the cultural and legal terrain on which divorce and domestic violence disputes unfold. This research is based on family court cases in Saint-Louis, Senegal during 2015-19, as well as surveys and interviews conducted in the fall of 2019. The analysis is based on perspectives from the two authors, a cultural anthropologist and a legal scholar who is also a chief clerk of the court where the research was carried out.

panel D22
Disciplinary trends in Africa: legal and socio-legal studies