YAMOUSSAUKRO, Côte d’Ivoire — Home to over 19 million citizens and soccer super star Didier Drogba, Côte d’Ivoire–the world’s top producer of both cashews and cacao–suffers from widespread gender inequality. This pervasive gender imbalance can be seen in the political, business and social spheres of the West African nation. Perhaps most dangerously, this has lead to widespread ignorance of women’s reproductive health, causing disturbingly high mortality rates for mothers and infants.
The World Bank, an international institution created in 1944, whose main goal is to end extreme poverty, recently issued a report showing that from January to May 2012 only 15 percent of the 800 businesses founded during this time were created by women. In 2013, only 10 percent of the deputies in the National Assembly were women and, out of 29 potential government minister positions, only five were occupied by women.
Furthermore, in the Human Development Report 2013 issued by the United Nations, only 13.7 percent of adult women in Côte d’Ivoire had received a secondary education-compared to 29.9 percent of males during the same period. While both rates could stand some improving, the fact that the male rate of secondary education is still more than double the female rate reflects a lack of priority for women’s education.
This alienation of women from government, business and education has had tragic consequences. One of the ten riskiest countries for newborns, Côte d’Ivoire has nearly 40 stillbirths for every thousand births, according to data from 2012. And for every 100,000 births, 400 mothers die from pregnancy related causes.
Surprisingly, despite this widespread inequality and relegation of women, Côte d’Ivoire has a constitution which guarantees equality for everyone and has a marriage code rendering the concept of a head of the household nonexistent. The problem is in translating this theoretical equality proclaimed on paper into the lives of the women in this nation.
To breach this gap between the theoretical and the practical, there have been numerous projects based around women’s rights and health in Côte d’Ivoire. In 2013, the World Bank held a series of workshops across the nation in an attempt to address problems of systemic inequality.
The workshops provided opportunities for women across the nation to share experiences and discuss ways to combat sexism. Based on these workshops, the World Bank proposed a series of recommendations to the Côte d’Ivoire government. Among the proposals were creating a one stop bureau to help women access real estate, establishing incentive measures to keep women in school and creating legal clinics for women who are victims of violence.
Another attempt at breaching this gap has come from the United States government. The U.S., through USAID, has recently commissioned a five year regional family planning project to be implemented in Côte d’Ivoire and four other nations: Burkina Fasu, Mauritania, Niger and Togo. Launched in January 2014, it aims to increase access to and use of hospitals and health centers in the countries involved. It also aims to provide counsel on family planning and contraceptives.
However, perhaps one of the most interesting projects is “Schools for Husbands.” Created by the Côte d’Ivoire government with help from the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), this program recognizes men’s current dominant societal position in the country, and wishes to address women’s health by teaching men about women’s health. Established in 2012, this project has 27 Schools for Husbands across the country, with plans to open 25 more this year.
Maternal health, prenatal care, contraceptives and the importance of hospitals are all topics discussed in these schools. So far, they have had success in increasing the use of both contraceptive use and family planning, and the number of maternal deaths has also dropped. There has also been a subsequent drop in teen pregnancies in areas that have these schools.
Thus, despite the persistent and pervasive belief in the traditional patriarchal society, change is coming to Côte d’Ivoire. It is arriving via good intentioned international organizations hoping to ameliorate the situation, and by the country’s own government, wishing to adhere to its equality promoting constitution. And with such innovative programs, such as “schools for husbands,” inroads are being made into women’s health making birth in the Côte d’Ivoire less dangerous.
– Albert Cavallaro