Women in Côte d'Ivoire

Women in Côte d'Ivoire

Women in Côte d'Ivoire formed less than half the country's population in 2003.cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Overview: Côte d'Ivoire Data extracted "from the publication "Country Profiles for Population and Reproductive Health", Policy Developments and Indicators 2005, produced jointly by UNFPA and Population Reference Bureau."| work = | publisher = United Nations Population Fund| date = | url = http://www.unfpa.org/profile/cotedivoire.cfm| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2008-04-03] Their social roles and opportunities have changed since the time of French colonialism. From independence in 1961, the status of women under the law was inferior to that of men, and this continued until the 1990s. The legal changes following the death of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny brought improvement in legal and educational opportunities for women at all levels, and women have been moving into the highest levels of business and government.

Cultural status of women, too, has usually marked out women for inferior status. While adherence to traditional roles persists, this continuity -- as well as the traditions themselves -- vary greatly by place and social context. Côte d'Ivoire has more than 60 ethnic groups, usually classified into five principal divisions: Akan (east and center, including "Lagoon peoples" of the southeast), Krou (southwest), Mandé (Mandé west and Mandé northwest groups), Senufo-Lobi (north center and northeast). Each of these groups has its own traditional roles for women, as do the religions practiced (Christian 20-30%, Muslim 15-20%, indigenous 35-50%).

Today's northern Côte d'Ivoire was at the periphery of the Mali Empire and the great medieval states of the Sahel, while with Portuguese (from the 1460s) and later French colonial expansion, women of the southern regions experienced wars of colonialism and resistance firsthand. Côte d'Ivoire was in the 1970 considered the economic leader of West Africa, but since the 1990s, poverty and conflict have increased, at times effecting women disproportionately. The interplay of all these experiences has informed the social roles of women in Ivorian society.

Women's roles on the eve of colonialism

Ethnic and cultural groups defined women's status in different ways on the eve of colonialism, with beliefs about the role of women in society partly the result of specific ethnic background and historical circumstance. It has been argued that Ivorian cultures largely had a cultural bias against equality between the sexes, embodied in customary law and codified in the colonial period. But this view has been challenged by Ivorian writers, who argue that in many pre-colonial societies, women held political and /or economic power equal to many men. [N'Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba. Les Africaines dans la politique : femmes baoulé de Côte-d'Ivoire. Paris, L'Harmattan (1996). See review at [http://etudesafricaines.revues.org/document54.html Pounthioun M. D. Diallo, Assié-Lumumba, N'Dri Thérèse. -- Les Africaines dans la politique : femmes baoulé de Côte-d'Ivoire] . Paris, L'Harmattan, 1996, 206 p. (« Points de vue »)., Cahiers d'études africaines, 160, 2000] Looking specifically at the "N'Gongbo" Baoulé people, one writer contrasts Ivorian women's roles the traditional Western tradition where the public and the private spheres are separated, with the superior public sphere reserved for men, and argues that Western intellectuals transpose this model onto "traditional" societies in Africa. Rather, the African experience is said to be characterized by coexistence of parallel positions, overlapping roles, and cross gender cooperation.

Amongst the Mossi peoples, women's inheritance of family land and possessions, while uncommon, is possible.

Women of the Dyoula Mande peoples, living traditionally in scattered communities across in long distance trade communities, were often powerful merchants in their own right.

The Gio or Dan people of the southwest regard domestic duties as the preserve of women, while many Mandinka women engage in farming and trade.

Women in bond labor communities, or those in cultures with strong caste systems found themselves doubly discriminated against.

From the 1100s, but progressing more deeply into the north of Cote d'Ivoire from the 1500s, Islam defined the status of women in Muslim communities. Polygamy, practiced among most Mande peoples since pre-Islamic days, was codified under Islam, which offered both protections and disadvantages. In Mande Muslim communities, the first wife has authority over any subsequent wives, sharing domestic work, and caring for the extended family, into which the wives' parents may be folded into the husbands family.

Finally, the African slave trade, beginning in the 1400s destroyed whole communities, with women killed in slave raiding and associated warfare and those enslaved separated from families, and transported to the Americas (or to neighboring states) in brutal conditions. The beginning of the direct colonial period in the 19th century brought general dislocation, warfare, and large population movements, especially in the southern forest zones of West Africa, as the French moved in from the West and South in the 1860s-90s.

Under French colonialism

Colonial law and women

Role expectations for women were altered somewhat by colonial legislation, which liberated captives throughout francophone Africa in 1903, and then by the Mandel Decree of 1939, which fixed the minimum age of marriage at fourteen and made mutual consent a formal necessity for marriage. These decrees, while promulgated by colonial officials effected rural areas only fleetingly. Bonded and caste communities remained in serfdom like conditions until at least the World War I period, when a series of population movements and communal resistance changed many of these dependence relationships. Wars during the early colonial period caused an increase in slave taking, in which women were separated from men and moved into new communities. [see Martin Klein. Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa. Cambridge University Press (1998) ISBN 05215967785 : pp.132-137, 208-209, 237-240. As the title indicates, Klein is concerned with the persistence of African slavery under French rule. He argues that customary law and French appointed chiefs allowed formal slavery to continue in some areas up to the 1920s, and the social relationship to survive through independence.] The Jacquinot Decree of 1951 invoked the power of the state to protect women from claims to their services--by their own or their husband's family--after marriage, and enabled women to obtain a divorce more easily and invalidated in-laws' claims to any bride-price that had been paid to a woman's family to legitimize the marriage. This decree also recognized monogamy as the only legal form of marriage and allowed couples to marry without parental consent. Small numbers of girls were offered primary education by the French government (in urban areas), while Catholic missions, offered education to others, especially in the south. [Virginia Thompson, Richard Adloff. French West Africa. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. (1958) pp.527-8, 580-82]

At the same time, almost the entire population of the colony were colonial "Subjects", ruled under the French Code de l'Indigénat. In practice, this meant that women, like men, were ruled by decrees from a handful of French Cercle Commanders, who administered with little oversight, and carried out policies through a series of French appointed "Canton chiefs". "Customary" law, outside Muslim areas, was usually rule decided by appointed chiefs and their officials, while only whites and a tiny number of educated African men were subject to French courts. Whatever decrees issued at the colonial capital in Dakar were implemented at the discretion of local commanders, who usually preferred to leave social concerns to chiefs. [ Jean Suret-Canele. French Colonialism in Tropical Africa 1900-1945. Trans. Pica Press (1971)]

Colonial dislocation

Women were especially effected by three colonial practices that increased in the early 20th century: forced labor, taxation, and military draft. All of French West Africa was subject to periodic forced labor campaigns, which peaked in the 1930s, and declined thereafter. Côte d'Ivoire was unique, though, in that the north of the colony had white run cotton plantations, for which locals were pressed into service when migrant labor (mostly from modern Burkina Faso) was unavailable. Unlike road building or other forced labor projects, for which men were called up for a period ranging from days to months, men (and some women) were pressed into cotton work for years at a time. While only a small number of women were drafted into French labor schemes, the process of taking men out of their communities for long periods of time meant that women were forced to provide for their communities. [Jean Suret-Canele. op sit, pp.233, 247-248,253-256. Detailing forced contracts as long as two years (paid only at the end of contract) in Cote d'Ivoire, Congo and Madagascar for cotton plantations, forestry, and public works.
Myron Echenberg, Jean Filipovich: African Military Labour and the Building of the Office du Niger Installations, 1925-1950 in The Journal of African History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1986) Details the 1926 decree allowing long term forced labor for the building of a vast irrigation system for a largely unpopulated area, where it was never used
] This, from the beginning of the 20th century, also meant some involvement in the marketplace, as French colonial taxation (in currency) superseded taxation in kind from the 1930s to 1950s. [Andrew, C. M. and Kanya-Forstner, A. S.: French Business and the French Colonialists The Historical Journal, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Dec., 1976) Suret-Canale, Jean. 1966. "La Fin de la Chefferie en Guinée," Journal of African History, Vol. VII, No. 3, pp. 459-493] Women were also placed in positions of independence due to the recruitment of African troops (the Tirailleurs) which was especially heavy in Côte d'Ivoire during the World Wars. Men who survived these experiences came home less likely to accept the strictures of colonial or customary rule, and while they were away, women were forced to provide for, and sometimes lead, communities. [Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West Africa, 1857-1960. Heinemann (1990), ISBN 0435080520
Nancy Ellen Lawler. Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivorien Tirailleurs of World War II. Ohio Univ Press (1992) ISBN 0821410121

Independence struggle

The political struggle for independence after the Second World War was organised around the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), whose Ivorian section was led by Felix Houphouët-Boigny. After his break with the French Communist Party in 1950, under pressure from the French administration, many of the socially progressive planks of the RDA platform were dropped, and once in power, many legal advantages given to women (in law alone) were reversed. Women played little role in the formal leadership of the RDA, yet women were crucial in demanding independence from France.

At the grassroots, women played an active role in the independence struggle across French West Africa. One dramatic example occurred in 1949, when protests by local women in Grand Bassam and Abidjan caused the administration to backdown from the detention of RDA leaders, and help spread support for the party at a time in which it was facing severe repression. [Thompson and Aldoff, op. cit, pp.128-129.]


At independence, the government of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny acknowledged existing decrees affecting the status of women and went on to establish the primacy of the nuclear family, raise the minimum age for marriage to eighteen, and condemn in general terms the notion of female inferiority. At the same time, however, legislation during the 1960s established a husband's right to control much of his wife's property, and it required a woman to obtain her husband's permission to establish a bank account or obtain a job. The government also placed restrictions on a woman's right to divorce, denied legal recognition of matrilineal rights of inheritance (inheritance by a man's nephews before his sons), and finally, condemned the practice of bride-price.

Houphouët-Boigny's political style and longevity shaped Ivorian elites into a wealthy, male, educated social stratum. By the late 1980s, women were beginning to emerge within this group, as education and acculturation enabled them to challenge the established order. Official attitudes toward the status of women were pragmatic, like most official attitudes in Côte d'Ivoire.

In 1963 women reacted to the extent and direction of government control by forming the Association of Ivoirian Women (Association des Femmes Ivoiriennes--AFI). They also persuaded the president to establish the "Ministry of Women's Affairs" ("Ministère de la Condition Féminine", later the "Ministre de la solidarité et de la Promotion de la Femme") in 1976 and to appoint AFI leader Jeanne Gervais as minister. Gervais's goals were to obtain better educational and employment opportunities for women and to establish judicial equality for women. Legislation was enacted in 1983 to allow a woman to control some of her property after marriage and to appeal to the courts for redress of a husband's actions.

Civil War

Women were greatly effected by the Ivorian Civil War, begun in September 2002, but coming on the heels of a decade of internal conflict. The growth of the concept of Ivoirité, a 1990s nationalist movement which sought to exclude large portions of the population from "true" citizenship, was both championed by and caused the suffering of women. Changes in nationality law meant that women married to Ivorian born men no longer considered citizens lost their citizenship as well. [Marie-Natalie LeBlanc. “Between Foreigners and Citizens: The Negotiation of Political Agency by Elder Malian Women in Côte d'Ivoire”, American Association of Anthropology, (AAA) Annual Meeting, Chicago, USA, November, 1999 ] On the other side, some women leaders were prominent exponents of Ivoirité, most notably Simone Gbagbo, the wife of the president. [ [http://www.soirinfo.com/article.php3?id_article=3238 L’influence de Simone Gbagbo] .12 December 2006. by "SOURCE J.A.", Soir Info.]

Once the war broke out into open conflict in 2002, women formed 52 percent of the estimated 700,000 Internally displaced persons during the war, while rape and sexual violence were widespread, especially in the north and west of the country. Both rebel and government forces have been accused of systemic sexual violence towards women as a tactic to terrorise populations suspected of opposition to their forces. Women suffering the effects of such violence are often shunned, while customary law offers few remedies, and the formal court system has largely failed to prosecute perpetrators. Women have found themselves forced into prostitution in the wake of economic collapse in war torn areas. [ [http://www.undp.org/cpr/whats_new/focus_on_cotedivoire.shtml Focus on Women in Côte d’Ivoire] . United Nations Development Programme, Crisis Prevention and Recovery. (nd), retrieved 2008-04-02.
[http://hrw.org/reports/2007/cdi0807/index.htm “My Heart Is Cut”: Sexual Violence by Rebels and Pro-Government Forces in Côte d’Ivoire] , Human Rights Watch, August 2007. "Government and rebel authorities appear to have directly or indirectly authorized sexual violence since the war began in 2002; the prevailing impunity for these crimes has emboldened the perpetrators at all levels."

Even with the coming of relative peace in 2004, sexual violence remained a significant problem throughout both rebel- and government-held areas. [Human Rights Watch, August 2007]

The civil war also was a venue for women's active participation. Both sides had special women's political organisations, most active of which are "Cadre de concertation permanent des femmes" (Ccpf) led by Dao Coulibaly Henriette, and the "Coordination of Partiotic Women of Côte d'Ivoire "("Coordination des femmes patriotes de Côte d'Ivoire" - CFPCI). A pro government group, the CFPCI is led by former Sports Minister Geneviève Bro-Grebé, [Geneviève Bro-Grebé, présidente du Collectif des femmes patriotes (CFPCI), [http://www.midici.com/brogrebe/?divina=detailart&idart=1226 Geneviève Bro- Grebé official website] .] and allied to the "Young Patriots" student organisation, itself accused of fomenting violence against those perceived as disloyal to the government, including rape. [ [http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGAFR310012007 CÔTE D'IVOIRE. Targeting women: the forgotten victims of the conflict] , Amnesty International (nd)
[http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN21114lesbaeurale0 Les bataillons de la rue] - 21 novembre 2004 - CHEIKH YÉRIM SECK, Jeune Afrique.
] Women's political organisations continue to be very publicly involved in the sometimes rocky peace process which brought rebel leader Guillaume Soro into power sharing with the government. [Daniel Balint-Kurti. [http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/publications/papers/download/-/id/535/file/10419_ivorycoast0907.pdf Côte d’Ivoire’s Forces Nouvelles,] AFRICA PROGRAMME ARMED NON-STATE ACTORS SERIES: Chatham House, Sepetember 2007.
[http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN18053abidjeripse0 Abidjan respire] , CÔTE D'IVOIRE - 18 mai 2003 - par CHEIKH YÉRIM SECK, ENVOYÉ SPÉCIAL
[http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200802191032.html Côte d'Ivoire: Processus de sortie de crise - Les femmes des partis politiques s'engagent aux côtés de Soro] . Nord-Sud (Abidjan). 19 Février 2008.
[http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200802010203.html Côte d'Ivoire: Après la résistance et la défense de la République - Les femmes patriotes mettent le cap sur la réélection du président Gbagbo] . Notre Voie (Abidjan). 31 Janvier 2008.

Closer to the ground, Ivorian and international organisations have attempted to serve women suffering the effects of war, including one of Africa's first women run local sexual violence recovery centers in the northern town of Man. [ [http://www.undp.org/cpr/whats_new/focus_on_cotedivoire.shtml Focus on Women in Côte d’Ivoire] . United Nations Development Programme, Crisis Prevention and Recovery. (nd), retrieved 2008-04-02]


The status of women, in practice and in the law, was still well below that of men through most of the 1980s, but educational opportunities for women were improving at all levels. In 1987 about one-sixth of the students at the National University of Côte d'Ivoire were women, and the number of women in the salaried work force had also increased. Women made up almost one-fourth of the civil service and held positions previously closed to them, in medicine, law, business, and university teaching.


While prominent women take leadership roles in politics, there numbers are few. The first female parliamentarian was elected in 1965, and only 5.7 pecent of parliamentary seats were held by women in 1990, and 8.5 percent in 2005. These women are disproportionally appointed to oversee ministerial portfolios (17.1% of ministerial posts in 2005). [ [http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_CIV.html 2007/2008 Report on Human development statistics: Côte d'Ivoire] , UNDP.] At the highest political level, the wife of current President, Simone Gbagbo, holds a powerful position as head of the ruling party's parliamentary bloc, and has been frequently spoken of as future head of state or Prime Minister. [ [http://www.soirinfo.com/article.php3?id_article=3238 Sur l'influence de Simone Ehivet Gbagbo] : Soir Info.
Vincent Hugeux, « Simone Gbagbo, femme fatale », L’Express, 20 février 2003.
[http://www.simonegbagbo.ci/article.php3?id_article=255 www.simonegbagbo.ci]
[http://ananzie.net/Les-femmes-noires-en-politique Les femmes noires en politique : un engagement de plus en plus prononcé] 6 oct 2006 Maryline Bella, ananzie.net.

Labor force

As of 2005, women are half as likely to participate in the labor force than men, with 44.6% of women aged 15-64 in the workforce, versus 88.4% of men. [UNFPA, 2005: Labor Force Participation Rate, 15-64, see below.]


The total population of Côte d'Ivoire consists of more males than females. The life expectancy of males at birth is roughly the same as that of females (female: 41.2; male: 40.8.. This marks a downward trend since 1990, when average life expectancy was 53.4 for women and 49.6 for men. [UNFPA 2005, below.]

Comparative rankings

Since 1995, the United Nations Development Program has been keeping Gender-related Development Index (GDI), a ranking of aggregate statistics of development, with focus on gender inequality. Côte d'Ivoire has consistently ranked in the lowest quarter of the GDI: dropping to 166 of 177 in 2007, from 145 in 2005. Out of the 156 countries with both HDI and GDI values, 150 countries have a better ratio than Côte d'Ivoire's. [ [http://hdrstats.undp.org/indicators/268.html 2007/2008 Report: Gender-related development index, Gender-related development index (GDI) rank] , UNDP.] This movement is in line with Côte d'Ivoire's Human Development Index trend, which peaked in 1985, and has dropped ever since. [ [http://hdrstats.undp.org/indicators/14.html Human Development Index Trends] : 2007/8, UNDP.] While leading neighbors like Mali, Niger, Côte d'Ivoire consistently lags Senegal, Ghana, and The Gambia. In comparison to Senegal and France, female life expectancy at birth is around 60% of French totals, and 14.1 years less than Senegal, but this trend roughly mirrors male life expectancy at birth [See UNDP ref. France: 83.7 Senegal:64.4 Côte d'Ivoire:48.3] Adult literacy rates are higher than Senegal's, but current female enrollment as a percentage of males is now less, and estimated earned income for females in Côte d'Ivoire is dramatically less, while Ivorian men may expect to earn more than their Senegalese neighbors. A Senegalese men (per person/year) will be expected to USD $2,346, and Senegalese women USD $1,256, while an Ivorian man will average USD $2,472, but Ivorian women average just USD $795. [ [http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_CIV.html 2007/2008 Report on Human development statistics: Côte d'Ivoire] , UNDP. Comparison to [http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_SEN.html Senegal's 2007 report] .] As of 2004, Côte d'Ivoire's combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (female enrollment as a percentage male) trails Niger and Eritrea, even though it's total percentage of children enrolled is much higher. [ [http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_CIV.html Côte d'Ivoire comparative factsheet: Building the capabilities of women] , UNDP.]

Reproductive health

2005 estimates are that the average Ivorian woman gives birth to 4.73 children, and 690 women per 100,000 die in childbirth. [ [http://www.unfpa.org/profile/cotedivoire.cfm United Nations Population Country Profiles for Population and Reproductive Health, Policy Developments and Indicators 2005, produced jointly by UNFPA and Population Reference Bureau] : For women of childbearing years, defined as 15-49.] While maternal mortality and fertility rates are declining, they are far above those of developed countries. Child mortality has in fact increased since 1990, with 101.3 children of every 1000 live birth dying before age five in 2005, an increase from 97.2 in 1990. 43.5 percent of women are married by the age of 18 (median: 19.8 for women, 27.6 for men), while the median age at first sexual intercourse for women is 16.1 years. 115.6 per 1000 women age 15-20 have given birth. Only 53 percent of women 15-24 know that condom use can protect them from HIV. [UNFPA 2005.]

There are stark disparities in women's lives in rural areas versus urban areas. Women in rural communities are more likely to be married younger, give birth, and see children die in the their first five years than urban women. In rural areas 41 percent women between the age of 15-19 will give birth to their first child, with on 32.1 percent aided by a skilled attendant, in contrast to 18.9 percent of urban women of this age group giving birth, and 79.1 percent with birthing aid. [UNFPA 2005.]


Female literacy trails that of males, though both are low by developed nation standards, at 50.9% overall, 57.9% male literacy, and 43.6% female literacy. [Definition: age 15 and over can read and write. 2003 est., from CIA World Fact Book, via Demographics of Côte d'Ivoire] 2005 illiteracy rates for females, while still well above males, has dropped since 1990 (74% to 57% for females 15 and over, 49% to 36% for males 15 and over). Females between 15 and 24 saw their illiteracy rate drop from 60% to 41% in this period (35% to 26% for males). School enrollment for girls still lags boys, with 68% of primary school aged and 17% of secondary school aged girls enrolled (89% and 30% for boys). The poorest children of both sexes are less likely to receive schooling, yet even in the top wealth quintile only 70.7% of girls aged 6-10 attend school (82.9% for boys). This falls to 48% in the next lowest rung for girls (62.2% for boys). [UNFPA 2005.]


loc (Data as of 1988.)

External links

* [http://www.peacewomen.org/resources/Cote_d'Ivoire/cotedivoireindex.html WOMEN, PEACE AND SECURITY RESOURCES: COTE D'IVOIRE ] : Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
* [http://gateway.nlm.nih.gov/MeetingAbstracts/ma?f=102232950.html Ghys P, Konan Y, Mah-bi G, Traore M, Tiemele A, Coulibaly IM, Wiktor SZ, Laga M.. Female sex workers in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire: determinants of entry into sex work and perspectives for leaving] . Int Conf AIDS. 12: 222 (abstract no. 14198). Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Abidjan.
* [http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR310012007?open&of=ENG-CIV CÔTE D’IVOIRE Targeting women: the forgotten victims of the conflict] , AI Index: AFR 31/001/2007. Amnesty International, 15 March 2007.
* [http://www.womenwarpeace.org/docs/cote_pfv.pdf Gender Profile of the Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire] , United Nations Development Fund for Women, 2007-11-23.

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