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Please give me my divorce: an ethnography of Muslim women and the law in Senegal

On 18 May 2022, Annelien Bouland defended her thesis 'Please give me my divorce: an ethnography of Muslim women and the law in Senegal'. The doctoral research was supervised by Prof.dr. J.M. Otto, Prof.dr. M.M.A. Kaag and Dr.ir. C.I.M. Jacobs.

Annelien Bouland
18 May 2022
Leiden Repository

In Senegal, questions of gender, notably the regulation of marital relations, are hotly debated, and pit Islamic authorities against the government. While the Family Code of 1972 promotes women’s rights to get a divorce in court, local social realities are different. This study explores the public debate about family law and provides an ethnography of family law practice. It shows how women navigate thecontested spaces of family law as they try to change the terms their marriages or obtain divorce. The role of family is key. Women must work their kin to mobilize support. They may also interact with local authorities – the imam, the chef de quartier, the House of Justice, and the judge. This study shows that women draw on multiple and overlapping sets of norms and tend to invoke the state only as last resort. Behind the polarized debate hides a practice that is fluid. This is reflected in the relations between local authorities, who recognize and respect each other’s roles, even if they work from competing claims to authority.

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