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As Cote d’Ivoire slowly recovers from the violent political struggle that ensued after the presidential elections in December 2010 it prepares to hold legislative elections in 205 districts on December 11, 2011.

With Gbagbo to be prosecuted at The Hague and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee being implemented to address the grievances of victims of the conflict less attention has been paid to the upcoming elections and the role of women therein. The situation remains tense, and to a certain extent unpredictable however the chief of state has promised to guaranty that woman candidates are awarded 30% of the 223 representative seats.

Last presidential elections proved note worthy because for the first time in Cote d’Ivoire’s history a women, Jaqueline  Oble ran as a presidential candidate. Unfortunately this achievement was overshadowed by the electoral violence that followed the announcement of the election results.

These legislative elections present a second opportunity for women’s groups, NGOS and women seeking to be part of the new political framework of Cote D’Ivoire. Women have until now remained largely invisible, not even attaining the 30% quota demanded in legal texts, conventions and treaties. Although women’s leadership roles in Ivorian politics has gradually increased only 8.5% of parliamentary seats were held by women in 2005. Many of these women were allocated oversee ministerial portfolios.

There are presently only 5 women ministers (13.88%); attaining the 30% benchmark appears a rather insurmountable objective in this light. The women elected have been awarded “traditional roles” such as the Minister of the Family and Women or Education to give the illusion that women are equally represented in government[1]. Remaining sidelined and unable to directly participate or access the formal decision-making political structures. The last time Cote d’Ivoire had a women in a leadership role was in 1988 in the position of vice-president of the National Assembly. Historically in Cote d’Ivoire women and women’s groups have been mobilised to pursue the goals of other popular parties such as the RDR, PDCI or the FPI but on election women have not been recognised for their contributions. 

The Status Of Women

The Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and government policy encourages full participation by women in social and economic life. Nevertheless, Ivorian women remain confined to traditional roles, especially in rural areas” (OECD, 2011). Family law regards the male figure, generally the father as the head of the household-he also has sole parental right over the children and custody in the case of a divorce. GBV was very much a way of life prior to the outbreak of conflict; the national state budget in 2002 allocated less than 2%to the legal system (NAP MFWSF, 2008:12). .  

Women according to Ivorian law (1995-till now) are considered secondary citizens. They have not been accorded inheritance rights and have limited access to land, once married men are awarded legal control of all assets (source). With the exception of the 2010 elections[1] they have been given limited access to political power maintaining limited access to the public sphere. Limited reproductive rights. Rape is considered illegal under national law, but rarely

Between 2002-2007 rape/sexual violence and abuse served militaristic purposes, was a weapon of terror that amplified the social inequalities present outside the armed conflict (HRW, 2007). Women’s role in the armed conflict was influenced by their political, economic and social status outside armed conflict.

A Bottom Up Approach

Women groups in Cote d’Ivoire have been involved in community level, formal and informal work but align themselves with specific groups of society, along political views, class or ethnic lines, and not as a homogenous group. There is a large discrepancy between feminist groups at the elite level spear headed by Simone Gbagbo that demonstrated against the Ougadougou Accord that maintained a nationalistic/religious undertone; Community level support groups that led the “Women for Peace March” against the political situation that were affiliated with Ouattara’s political campaign and Human Rights Orientated organizations such as VAFAG. Including women in leadership role is a start but is not sufficient, they must be active actors in the reconstruction and transformation of all state institutions.

Although groups such as the Centre Feminin pour la Democratie et les Droits Humains en Cote d’Ivoire and Action pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme (APDH) have made it their mission to strengthen the leadership capacity of women; available data confirms that women have had lower positions in the national administration throughout the 1990s. 

To counteract this pattern, a Coordination Unite: Femme pour les Election et la Reconstruction Post-Crise has been put together to monitor the participation of women in the legislative elections. While Plate Forme des Femmes pour Gagner (PFG) has held a campaign to promote the participation of women as traditional leaders and in decision-making institutions3]. . With other organizations such as the Campagne National de L’Organisation des Femmes Actives de Cote d’Ivoire have been supporting the elections through awareness raising projects that seek to encourage women to partake in the elections.

The role reversal that was a direct consequence of the conflict could however provide an opportunity to transform pre-war gender stereotypes if women were to be included in all debates and decisions regarding “leadership and governance.” Women’s groups seek to achieve gender parity through the legislative elections taking place on December 11, an achievement that is key for the consolidation of peace and reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire.

The equal representation of women in government is not only necessary for gender parity but also a vital step in recognising the efforts made by women to encourage and support democracy in Cote d’Ivoire. Women have been major background actors in the peace process in Cote d’Ivoire, demonstrating and in one case being killed for their demands (Abobo Incident).

Obstacles: No Identification…No Vote

Many Ivoirians have been excluded from the elections, due to a lack of identification papers or as a result of internal displacement and refugees that remain unidentified. With a lack of measures put in place to include these voices some voters believe that “the results of the polls will not reflect the choice of the people.[1]” With women making up 75% of the displaced population in Cote d’Ivoire this has endangered the numerous programs and efforts being made to include women in the legislative elections. This factor combined with the low turn as a result of a boycott supported by FPI supporters threatens the legitimacy of the election.
 

Conclusion/Outcome:

With polls now officially closed, Ivoirians at home and abroad are patiently waiting the announcement of the winner of the legislative elections.

Gender parity or equal participation of women in governance and leadership is an essential step in the recognition that equality is a right unfortunately Cote d’Ivoire has not implemented any legislative measures to enforce this right.
 

Women Political Representation Statistics

Political Representation  

Prior-to the election  

After-the elections  

Legislative-Unicameral National Assembly 

19/223 (2000)

28/254 or 11%

General/Constitutional Council 

13/35    

N/A (to be determined)

Total percentage (%) of women in government  

13%

N/A 

Total Percentage (%) of candidate lists headed by a female candidate

Presidential elections (2010): 1/14

N/A 

 

 

[1] There was a female candidate in the run-up for elections.

[1] Retrieved 12 09, 2011 from Radio Netherlands WorldWide: http://www.rwn.org

[1] Retrieved 10 07, 2011 from Genre et Action: http://www.genreenaction.net 

[2] Campagne National de L’Organisation des Femmes Actives de Cote d’Ivoire, accessed from: http://www.ofaci.org

[3] Retrieved 12 04, 2011 from @This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.: http://News.adbidjan.net

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