PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Maimouna Kane Toure
Justice of the Supreme Court
By Sémou DIOUF
Born in Dakar in 1937, Maimouna Kane Touré (née Ndongo) held positions such as Auditor of the Supreme Court, Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Republic, Counsel of the Court of Appeal a judge of the Supreme Court of Senegal, and the first woman to be appointed as a member of the government under President Abdou Diouf. Maimouna Kane married businessman Yaya Kane, with whom she had five (5) children. After the latter’s death, she married Mamoudou Touré, an economist who served as the Minister of Finance between May 1983 and April 1988. Maimouna Ndongo Kane Touré, prior to obtaining the aforementioned achievements, had to overcome significant hurdles as a young girl. Growing up in Senegal, most families then were then reluctant to send their daughters to school.
Maimouna came from a very conservative family that viewed western education as a threat to their traditional African values and customs. Upon her birth, her father had stated to her mother that his wish was for his daughters not to be formally educated in school. If the culture in those days, and her father’s utterances, were obeyed Maimouna would definitely not have known the aforesaid achievements. Her father died two months after her birth and, being intellectually curious, and upon observing her neighbors send their daughters to school she posed questions to her mother on why she was not allowed to attend school. Her mother explained the wish of her father prior to his death but granted her permission to consult her designated guardian. Little Maimouna, armed with a wish and unshakable ambition, succeeded in convincing her tutor to allow her to attend school. With his permission, she commenced her education and proved to be a gifted and smart student even in the face of dissuasion and discouragement from her entourage who expressed to her that she was bound for failure.
However, Maimouna was not one to abandon her ambitions because of the negative opinions of those around her nor societal customs. She was determined to achieve her goals and turn her dreams into reality. And so she did. It was difficult to simultaneously juggle the roles of a good mother and that of a good student. In the words of one of her professors, “I am amazed by one of my students. Each year, she obtains a certificate, and a baby.” She’s been known to have taken an exam the day after spending a night at the maternity ward. Living life experiencing such discouraging circumstances in her youth, Maimouna Kane Touré still managed to excel as the pioneering woman of her country.
Maimouna Kane Toure was a judge, a stateswoman, and a woman who spearheaded many initiatives concerning women’s rights and emancipation. Upon joining the socialist government of President Abdou Diouf on 15 March 1978, Maimouna was appointed State Secretary to the Prime Minister and was responsible for the promotion of women's affairs. She became Minister of Social Development in the government of Moustapha Niasse, formed on 5 April 1983. Her immersion in the political field was the result of a speech rendered during an official ceremony of courts and tribunals. Her provocative speech, shared with President Senghor, denounced and criticized inequalities and discrimination against women, defended their causes, and highlighted how women were often left out of public policies.
Maimouna Kane Toure understood that the government needed to take measures to uphold the rights of women. Her advocacy undoubtedly convinced the President to work in favor of all women. Maimouna drew the attention of President Senghor on inequalities, injustices, and violations of women’s rights. In a speech, he promised to restore women in their rights. When she joined the government, Maimouna did her best to put women in better conditions. Some other achievements of Maimouna Kane included being able to convince members of parliament, overwhelmingly composed of men, to vote for the bill of rights on maternity leave. Today, women in Senegal have the right to maternity leave and continue receiving their salary all due to her arduous efforts. Also, due to her tenacity and determined nature women in Senegal can occupy all positions today, with progressively more appointed to the highest positions in various sectors.
Maimouna Kane Toure was able to significantly improve working conditions for women living in rural areas by introducing machinery into various tasks. She would initiate the construction of various mills and drillings through villages. Although she inspired the bill of rights, which established gender parity in Senegal in 2010 during the second term of President Wade, she voluntarily resigned from the government for health reasons. Maimouna would then return to the court as a judge. Upon retirement, following a long and prosperous career in the public office of justice and government, Maimouna became president of a foundation named “fondation Abdou Diouf, sport et vertu.” Maimouna Kane has inspired many women to dare and decide to take their fate into their own hands. She was undoubtedly a pioneer in the fight for the emancipation of women in Senegal. Today, Maimouna Kane remains a source of inspiration and motivation for all women in Africa and particularly in Senegal.
"The end of an exceptional journey that leaves an eternal legacy....impossible to forget given how she throughout her lifetime fought to improve the status and plight of women in both urban and rural areas”. These are the opening lines of a tribute paid to Maimouna Kane Toure upon her death in March 2019 by Ms. Dior Fall Sow, a retired judge and the first woman Public Prosecutor of Senegal. Maimouna Kane Toure, in her lifetime, served as an inspirational and pivotal role model for both women and young girls.