Presidential Elections: Claiming the right of all women to political decision-making and leadership in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea

by Friday File | https://twitter.com/AWID | Association for Women's Rights in Development
Wednesday, 7 October 2015 11:20 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With upcoming presidential elections in West African country’s Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire this month, AWID spoke with Afiwa Mata Ahouadjogbe, Vice-President of the Association des Femmes Journalistes de Guinée (Guinean Association of Women Journalists, AFJ-Guinea) and Georgette Zamble, President of Leadafricaines, to learn more about the challenges related to women’s decision-making and leadership, particularly for rural women, and the actions taken to overcome these challenges in both West African countries.     

By Mégane Ghorbani

Although women make up over half of the population in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, the percentage of women represented in Parliament in both countries is 21.9% and 9.2% respectively; there are only five women among 34 cabinet ministers in Guinea and 29 in Cote d’Ivoire. “In Cote d’Ivoire, women are generally excluded from political decision-making. Yet, statistically, over half of the population is made up of women and women constitute nearly 52% of voters. At the decentralized level, women don’t even make up 6% of mayors and among regional Councils, there is only one woman out of 31 Council Presidents. In the villages, we almost never see women chiefs. I’ve recently met one in the central part of the country, but these are rare cases here,” says Georgette Zamble. In view of the upcoming presidential elections, there is only one woman among the eight nominated Presidential candidates in Guinea and two among ten official Presidential candidates in Cote d’Ivoire.     

Lack of resources a factor for exclusion

According to Afiwa Mata Ahouadjogbe, one of the reasons there are so few women represented in the arena of political decision-making is connected to women’s lack of financial resources . “There is only one woman candidate in the presidential elections and it’s a woman who is practically unknown to the public. It’s clear that the issue of gender equality has not been taken into account; the deposit required by each candidate has been set to 800 million Guinean francs,[1] which is extremely expensive. And, we know that women don’t have the same access to financial resources as men because they are the poorest among the Guinean population. It’s an issue that hasn’t been considered. If the deposit was less burdensome, other politically engaged women would be nominated.”   

Women’s unequal access to resources is even more pronounced in rural areas, where according to the latest recorded statistics, poverty rates have reached 64.7% in Guinea and 62.5% in Cote d’Ivoire. One International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on poverty reduction in Guinea underscores that despite making up 80% of the agricultural sector, women are faced with multiple forms of discrimination in accessing productive resources, including land and credit. In Cote d’Ivoire, where the economy is based primarily on agriculture, only 7.2% of Ivorian rural women independently own a house and 8.3% independently own land, according to a demographic survey published on June 2013. Zamble adds that women’s average income is less than 59% of men’s. “Within the agricultural sector, women are very present yet forgotten. The struggles for gender equity are more common among urban areas than rural areas because women’s associations also lack the means to travel to rural areas,” she stresses.

Political instrumentalization of women within a patriarchal system

“We often forget the traditional factors that are extremely difficult for rural women on top of the absence of people to defend their rights, and lack of access to education.[2] Traditionally, it’s truly exceptional and rare to see a woman in charge. Even in the matrilineal systems of the Akan peoples in central Cote d’Ivoire, it’s not always clear that a woman holds the power,” explains Zamble.           

In terms of women’s vote, Ahouadjogbe explains that “in Guinea, when elections are being held, women are motivated to vote but where it becomes an issue is when the husband has a different political leaning to his wife. Sometimes he forces his wife to follow his political ideology and it is difficult for women to make their own political choice.” Influencing the electoral choice of women is also evident in Cote d’Ivoire where “during the vote, many traditional and customary constraints on rural women mean that all it takes is the word of the village chief to make their choice for them for fear of reprisals. Sometimes large sums of money are given to village chiefs by candidates to influence their vote, without being redistributed to the village,” says Zamble.       

Political patronage can also affect rural women. According to Zamble, “rural woman have significant capacity to mobilize if candidates reach what matters to them, in particular, their practical needs related to their lack of resources. For example Candidates may give them a bit of money, T-shirts, and send them cars to transport them to their election poll to influence their vote.”            

“In general, when there are elections, women constitute a force because they constitute more than half of the electorate. It is them who are generally the most mobilized and most engaged. But the issue of their decision-making and equal participation in development remains a problem and women’s initiatives are often reclaimed by politicians to draw them into their political camp and regain their voters. And then it stops there. When they arrive at securing a political decision-making position, in general unfortunately, the struggle for women’s rights is often forgotten,” she continues.

Ahouadjogbe believes the reason candidates raise the issue of gender equality during election campaigns is related to attracting donor funds – which take these issues into consideration when financing development – to establish their different political agendas in the event that they win. “It’s what is presented and not what is actually done, it’s a façade. The same issues were addressed in the last elections, but if we look at the current government leading the country, there are few women cabinet ministers. There is lots of talk about gender equality but little action,” she explains. This finding is indeed also established in the IMF report on poverty reduction in Guinea, which states: “The Government adopted its National Gender Policy in January, 2011. With this policy, it intends to ‘make equality between men and women the center of the values and moral and ethical standards’ of Guinean society in line with the international and regional legal instruments that it has ratified on the subject. The policy objective is to wipe out men-women disparities through a systemic approach that will involve all sectors and all key players in the socio-economic development of the country. In spite of this declaration of political will, analysis of human development indicators reveals gender inequity in Guinea. With a gender index of 0.439 (OECD SIGI Index[3]), Guinea is among the eight countries (78 out of 86) with the greatest disparities among women and men in the non-OECD world.”

Mobilizing at different levels

“Beyond the speeches, there would need to be serious action for gender to be considered in the development agenda, and for women to have access to finances and decision-making positions. We would have to begin to take into account their professional and intellectual qualities and not relegate them to the background, to start overcoming issues like female genital mutilation,[4] which is even practiced on the daughters of ministers,” says Ahouadjogbe. AFJ-Guinea, an association composed entirely of women journalists, is mobilising leading up to the elections, to give women who are politically engaged access to the media, to broadcast their voices through a series of reports and interviews, while raising awareness among citizens on the need to vote in a peaceful and non-violence context.             

In partnership with the Genre en Action (Gender in Action) network and the Ivorian NGO  Gender, Parity and Women’s Leadership, (GEPALEF), the NGO Leadafricaines launched the campaign Interpell’action last June. This campaign seeks primarily to challenge presidential election candidates to take into account women’s concerns in four areas: women’s access to politics, education, sexual and reproductive health[5] and economic recovery, which directly impacts the other areas. “We host radio programs in the markets where there are many women to broadcast these gaps and hang posters next to those of the candidates with our campaign slogan “If you want our vote, hear our voice,” to raise awareness of the importance of women’s voices in the election process. Other organizational members of the campaign are also working on the ground, getting petition signatures and relaying information about candidate agendas from a women’s rights perspective. We also set up an SMS system for women, to relay information to them and for them to further relay information to their communities. Once the elections are over, we will seek an invitation from the President to establish a committee to implement policies concerning these priority areas for women,” concludes Zamble.         

[1] About 93,000 Euros. In 2010, the deposit was 400 million GNF.

[2] According to Massara Touré, President of Femme Africa Solidarité (Africa Women Solidarity, FAS) 72% of women in Cote d’Ivoire are illiterate, 96% of which are from rural areas.

[3] For more information on the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), see: http://genderindex.org/ 

[4] The prevalence rate of genital mutilation among women and girls aged 15 to 49 years is 96% in Guinea

[5] In Ivorian rural areas, only 44.5% of births are assisted by skilled health providers, which is at the root of high rates of maternal and infant mortality.