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Hundreds of Women Rush to Be First Female Soldiers in Senegalese Army


In the largely Muslim West African nation of Senegal, women have been excluded from joining the army as foot soldiers. But that will change next year, as VOA's Nico Colombant reports from a recruitment drive in the city of Thies.

Young women jostle for position in a dusty military courtyard as male officers show up late to process their applications.

These events across Senegal aim to select 300 female soldiers.

Women have been enlisted to serve as military nurses, doctors and administrators in customs offices, the police force and the forest guard, but never before into the army.

Coumba Fall is one of the more than 500 recruits in Thies.

"I woke up early to come here, because today they have the recruitment of army of girls. I [have been] here since four o'clock," she said.

Fall has 13 siblings and step siblings. None of them has a regular job. Her father, who had two wives, died when he was middle aged.

"It is very important to come here, because we do not have a job in Senegal," she added. "It is very difficult when we see our mom working very hard for giving to [her] children. It is very difficult."

Grade school dropout Sofiatou Sall is showing the papers she needs to present in the first step of the selection process.

Sall says she wants to wear a uniform. She says she loves the water and wants to join the Senegalese marines, and travel.

Sall says her grandfather fought as a soldier for France.

He warned her it can be very dangerous, but she says you have to die anyway, one way or another. In recent years, Senegalese soldiers have died in the restive Casamance region as well as on peacekeeping missions in Sudan.

Candidates must be between the ages of 18 and 23, in good physical condition, do well at aptitude tests and be single.

As applicants are measured and weighed, the region's military commander, Colonel Edouard Mbengue, says he is impressed by the high turnout.

"Today, this is a civic move that these young women are performing. It is a challenge because women in nature are different from men," he said. "That is why it is a challenge for us. But all the ways to overcome the challenges have been taken by the hierarchy to welcome these young ladies into the military."

National army spokesman Captain Saliou Ngom says the female recruits will be very beneficial.

"The Senegalese army is known everywhere, especially in the U.N. military missions," he noted. "I think we are performing well all around the world. Integrating the women in the military will be increasing our reputation because maybe in the former days people used to [ask] why we have only men in the army. If we look at some countries around us, we know that Mali, Tunisia, other African countries have women in their army. But this is the first time, we are having women in the army, so I think if today we [bring] them in the military, I think it is a good thing."

Aminata Doumbaye patiently waits as her daughter goes through the application circuit, including an eye exam.

She says she brought her here at 3 AM, because she does not want her to be like the women of her generation, rushed into having a husband and children, without the same opportunities as men.