PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Elisabeth Dior Fall Sow
First Woman Prosecutor
By Fatou Kiné DIAKITE
Elisabeth Dior Fall Sow, an exceptional Senegalese magistrate and legal scholar, was born in 1968. A magistrate by training, Ms. Dior Fall Sow held this position for a lengthy period before her retirement. She also held the position of an investigative judge before she was appointed prosecutor of the Republic, Court of First Instance of St. Louis in Senegal.
Ms. Dior Fall Sow was the first female in Senegal, appointed as prosecutor of the Republic at the Court of First Instance of Saint-Louis in 1976. Without hesitation in leaving Dakar, she was the first woman to move to the St Louis region as an examining magistrate, in 1971, and among the six people assigned Saint-Louis as a duty station. Her impressive work ethic was perceived as symbolic of the ability of women to practice within the legal profession. In her early days in St Louis, she would occasionally be made to act as a prosecutor when the latter was out of town. Therefore, when the prosecutor was posted to another area, he suggested her name as his successor as a prosecutor in the office of St. Louis. Thus, in 1976, Dior Fall Sow became the first female prosecutor in Senegal. She was fully aware of the challenging aspects of the position and how her success in the same would open similar doors for other women.
Throughout her professional career, Dior Fall Sow assumed various functions in Senegal and internationally, including serving as the National Director of Educational Supervision and Social Protection; the Director of Legal Affairs at Sonatel-Orange; Legal Advisor to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR); Principal Attorney General for the Court of Appeals of the Criminal Court of Justice of Rwanda; and Consultant for the International Criminal Court. From 2001 to 2005, Dior Fall Sow was a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In 2015, she was made Honorary President of the Network of Journalists in Gender and Human Rights.
Dior Fall Sow is a highly distinguished Senegalese magistrate reputed for her domestic and international contribution in the field of human rights (mainly women and children); peace and security; and criminal justice. She is known for traveling around the world to advocate for women's causes. Dior Fall Sow has spoken at seminars, workshops, and conferences in several countries around the world on various aspects of human rights notably on the rights of women and children, crime prevention, treatment of offenders, and international humanitarian law.
Dior Fall Sow is an honorary president of the Association of Women Jurists. She began campaigning for the protection of women's rights with the Association of Senegalese Jurists in 1974 under the benevolent aze of her elders like Mame Madior Boye, first président of AJS. The foundation of the said association was laid by friendship shared amongst four women: Mame Madior Boye, Maïmouna Kane, Madeleine Devès, and Tamara Touré. The initial two were magistrates, and the latter two were labor inspectors. AJS was the first women's association fighting for equality of men and women before the law in Senegal. As the enthusiasm for the cause bolstered, the friends decided to formally start an organization in the form of the Association of Senegalese Jurists. She is still at the AJS but completed her presidency position in 2002.
With regards to defending women's rights and gender equality, Dior Fall Sow is reputed as an indomitable force. Her desire first translated into awareness-raising given that people in Senegal were then oblivious to these rights. Together with some of her peers, they engaged in a lot of advocacy, lectures, dinner debates, meetings, open houses, free consultations. Fall Sow and her colleagues were part of the first and only movement in Senegal to use the law as a means to establish equality. After undertaking a UNICEF-funded study to harmonize Senegalese law in conformity with UN conventions for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDEF), which is a Magna Carta as is called for women's rights, Dior Fall Sow headed a team that drafted Senegal's 1999 law outlawing female genital mutilation.
Dior Fall Sow's career has not been limited to the national level. She finished her career as a Senior General Counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania for eight (8) years. She remains active on the national and international scenes, contributing her knowledge and experience through her ongoing participation in various conferences, panels, and roundtable consultations as well as numerous studies and publications. Her retirement has allowed her to focus on research, yielding publications within several fields including human rights (particularly the rights of women and children in Senegal), rape and violent crimes e in times of conflict; gender-based violence; and the integration of women into the armed forces. Following the horrific rape and murder of two young Senegalese ladies, Binta Camara and Coumba Yade, Dior Fall Sow became one of the key figures in establishing the bill to criminalize rape and pedophilia in Senegal. She spoke of the need to criminalize rape in Senegal during a sit-in at the Obisesque Square, organized by women's organizations as part of the "daffa doye” (which translates from Wolof as "it is enough") movement.
Further, Dior Fall Sow is currently in charge of the commission of scholarships and awards of the Keba Mbaye Foundation. She is also a member of the Alliance for Migration, Leadership, and Development (AMLD), and the International Organization for La Francophonie Network for the Equality of Men and Women. In recognition of her contribution to the legal industry, Dior Fall Sow was appointed as a Knight and Officer of the National Order of Merit of Senegal.