Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire: What impact on women?

Published on Pambazuka News,by Massan d’Almeida, March 3, 2011.

Côte d’Ivoire has been in a political impasse since the declaration of contested results of a second round of presidential elections held in November 2010. Since both candidates claimed victory and have been sworn in, the country has two presidents and two governments. In order to understand the impact of this situation on women and women’s rights organisations, AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) spoke with two women’s rights defenders, Mata Coulibaly, president of SOS EXCLUSION and Honorine Sadia Vehi Toure, president of Génération femmes du troisième millénaire (GFM3), as well as with an Ivorian politician who prefers to remain anonymous and to whom we have given the pseudonym of Sophie … // 

… Toure paints a similar picture of the situation, stating: ‘Impoverishment is felt by everyone throughout the territory. Before the elections, the country had not yet unified and therefore in the central, northern and western areas, the living conditions were already poor. The south was not spared, but it suffered to a lesser degree. But now I can assure you that now no area is better than another. Whether it be towns, villages, urban or rural areas, it is the same unbearable situation all over.’


After the first, relatively peaceful round of elections at the end of October 2010, reports of violence and abuse in different regions of the country began to emerge. These incidents indicated a serious deterioration of the general human rights situation and are a reminder of the atrocities committed during the last decade. African, European and American human rights organisations, in particular Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the situation.

The United Nations Human Rights Council held a special session on Côte d’Ivoire in Geneva on 23 December 2010, during which the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech and the High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay strongly condemned the human rights violations committed in Côte d’Ivoire. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has also voiced its concerns about the situation.

Most of the violence reported to date is carried out during night raids led by the security forces and other groups in the neighbourhoods of Abidjan that are considered to be predominantly populated by Ouattara’s supporters. Human rights organisations have noted a series of kidnappings under similar circumstances. The victims of these kidnappings were declared missing or were found dead.[6] Coulibaly confirmed this stating: ‘Acquaintances of ours have been kidnapped.’ According to Sophie, these are ‘raids that are violent, ethnic-based and politically motivated, targeted against individuals or groups of people whose neighbours have informed on them. The perpetrators are mercenaries who are paid to commit these murders.’

According to independent sources, human rights and women’s rights activists are living in a state of constant anxiety with respect to their safety. An experienced civil society advocate, who requested to remain anonymous, told IRIN: ‘I have been in hiding ever since being threatened over two weeks ago. Sometimes, it looks as though the situation is about to calm down. This is often the impression in the daytime, but one never knows what will happen once night falls.’[7] Toure confirmed: ‘We are working within a context of fear. We are truly sad about what is happening in our country. We cannot carry out our work openly for fear of reprisals. In spite of this, we are working, relying on God, and hoping that our country will rapidly overcome this situation.’ Coulibaly stated: ‘As a representative of the Democracy and Human Rights Fund (FDDH), I do not feel safe.’


The punitive sanctions imposed on Côte d’Ivoire have had a very negative impact on non-governmental organisations that depend mainly on international funds for their survival. Toure explained that most of their financial partners in the United Nations system and the World Bank have closed their offices, which has in turn forced the NGOs to suspend most of their activities. Furthermore, due to political instability, it is increasingly difficult to operate as normal. Coulibaly stated: ‘Nothing is sure. We have to tailor our plans according to how events evolve. We are afraid to go to work and sometimes we receive information or hear rumours that cause us to stay away from work.’


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