Women Pharmacists in Twentieth-Century Senegal: Examining Access to Education and Property in West Africa Donna A. Patterson
Journal of Women's History, Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2012, pp. 111-137 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2012.0003
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Women Pharmacists in TwentiethCentury Senegal
Donna A. Patterson
Examining Access to Education and Property in West Africa
enegal is home to a large number of female pharmacists and throughout the late colonial and early postcolonial periods, Senegal’s women gained prominence in previously male-dominated fields such as dentistry, medicine, and, especially, pharmacy. The attraction to pharmacy has been so pronounced that, by the late twentieth century, statistics show women own 65 percent of the pharmacies in Dakar and 48 percent in greater Senegal. Such figures point not only to increases in women’s professional activities but also to their utilization of formal lending mechanisms to open private pharmacies. Use of credit by women in this way is significant in West Africa, where women have often had marginal access to diversified lines of credit. Such a development sparks interest in discovering exactly what it was that encouraged these women to become pharmacists; in this article I show the opportunities and circumstances that led women to study this field. In examining their journey, I uncover the obstacles that they faced due to societal conceptions of gender roles as well as the strategies they enlisted to surmount these issues. As this article examines how female pharmacists in Senegal negotiated gender and professional development between 1945 and 2000, it, importantly, investigates how women used education and professional networks to situate themselves as prominent pharmacy owners in the capital city of Dakar, Senegal. The presence of these women highlights a new social class of women that has access to formal streams of education © 2012 Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 24 No. 1, 111–137.
In the last forty years, the literature on African women’s history has expanded dramatically. Despite such improvement, more studies on female professionals and female property owners are needed, especially with regard to examining the role of women who enter and prosper in medical fields that are considered “masculine,” such as medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy. By focusing on the life histories of women pharmacists, this article situates their careers within the overall history of formal education and biomedical health care in mid-to-late twentieth century Senegal. This article illustrates that not only have women acquired property through formal mechanisms but they have also consolidated power through professional leadership positions. The history of female pharmacists in Senegal is central to an understanding of the health sector, especially since, in Senegal, pharmacists are at the forefront of biomedical care.
Journal of Women’s History
and credit. This article ultimately argues that women pharmacists simultaneously negotiated the intersection of education, property ownership, and professional networks to become prominent participants in the public health sector of Senegal. Using both written and oral sources, this article incorporates elements from social history, women’s and gender history, as well as African history to reconstruct the story of women pharmacists from the late colonial era until the late twentieth century. Written records examined for this study include correspondence between colonial and postcolonial officials, reports by colonial administrators, documents from the Ministry of Health (colonial, French—or l’Afrique Occidentale Française—and postcolonial, Senegal), private archives of...
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