Women and Discrimination in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire has ratified most of the international instruments to fight discrimination against women, but it needs to put more coherence between its proclaimed will to achieve the equal rights of men and women through the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the effective implementation of this will.

Fighting discrimination is an inherent part of women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire.

The above statement can’t surprise observers and specialists on women's issues despite the recent decisions made by the Ivoirian legislator to improve the rights of women, which have been reinforced by the new constitution of 2016.

Indeed, if Côte d'Ivoire is committed to promoting human rights stemming from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including equal rights between men and women, reality challenges us on the need of a firmer and more significant commitment by Côte d'Ivoire on this issue.

Côte d'Ivoire has ratified most of the international instruments to fight discrimination against women, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Ratified by Côte d'Ivoire in 1995, this important instrument is the most comprehensive in terms of equality between men and women.

In addition, the country acceded in January 2012 to the inquiry procedure under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It has just drawn up its 4th periodic national report in this regard. It covers the period 2011-2015 and takes into account the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee which ensures the application of the Convention by the Member States and focuses on the concrete actions undertaken by Côte d'Ivoire to reduce discriminatory situations and violence against women.

Despite the adoption of these important international and continental instruments to fight discrimination against women and the different actions carried out as part of its implementation, the reality shows a great gap between this desire and the facts. Before explaining why discrimination constitutes a violation of women's rights in Côte d'Ivoire, it is important to agree on the definition of discrimination, which is the main notion of this reflection.

What is discrimination?

The term discrimination can be understood as the treatment of persons in an identical situation differently on the basis of criteria or grounds prohibited by law.[1] Discrimination must be distinguished from neighboring notions of inequality and equality. Inequality is the treatment of people in the same situation differently. If discrimination is a form of inequality, any inequality is not necessarily discrimination. For this to be so, the reasons or motives for this unequal treatment must be defined by law and punished as such.[2] The reason may be related to race, ethnicity, gender, sex, etc.

As for equality, it is a mean of fighting against inequality and consequently against discrimination. That being said, several meanings of equality[3] can be identified. These are: equality before the law,[4] equality in law,[5] and equality by law.[6] To achieve this equality, article 4 of CEDAW prescribes several means among which is considered recourse to a difference of treatment through positive actions. Thus, we find in the basket of equality elements such as parity, differential treatment or positive actions as recommended by Article 4 of CEDAW[7] tackling the protection of women. But this last element is circumscribed by CEDAW which limits it to maternity and pregnancy.

In any case, CEDAW defines the term "discrimination against women" as any distinction, exclusion or restriction based on sex that has the effect or purpose of compromising or destroying recognition, enjoyment or the exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of the equality of men and women, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres and civil or any other field[8]. The precision of the notion of discrimination against women thus made, it is necessary to look for its origins and its manifestations with regard to women in Côte d'Ivoire.

Ivoirian law

Discrimination against women, that is to say, treating a woman differently than a man, is based on a belief that a woman is weaker than a man.[9] Because of discrimination, women are barred from access to certain rights, in particular, from accessing rights within the family, and access to employment. Limited rights within a family and limited rights of employment are both apparent in Côte d’Ivoire. Discriminations to which women are exposed in Côte d’Ivoire have existed since before the country’s independence. Before independence, women’s rights were governed by customary laws under which women played a secondary role in the family. Women were limited in work related matters under which a division of labor based on gender existed.

Within families, husbands were considered as heads of family and were responsible for managing family members, the family wealth, and assets. This approach to family remained legally accepted until after the country’s independence in 1960. The 1964 law on marriage further strengthened men supremacy on women. Contrary to most local customs, such as that of the Senoufo culture,[10] this law asked married women to carry their husband’s name.[11] Senoufo culture allows a married women to carry her maiden name after she gets married. 

Under the new 1964 law, paternal power was exercised by the husband. The husband was the only one responsible for managing and disposing of the family assets even under joint estate regime which was at the time the only existing matrimonial regime.[12] A married woman was not authorized to work nor to open a bank account under her name. This measure lasted for more than 30 years after independence.

The 1983 reform of the marriage law tried to redress existing discriminations against married women. It is under this legal reform that women gained the right to work and to open bank accounts under their own name without seeking their husband’s authorization to do so. 30 years later, in 2013, the Ivoirian government modified the 1983 marriage law. The objective targeted by this reform was the elimination of discriminations against women by establishing legal marital equality between men and women.

Because of this modification, a family’s well-being, moral values, material assets, and children’s education were to be jointly managed by both husband and wife (article 58). Both husband and wife were enabled to choose their place of habitation (article 60). The 1983 reform of the marriage constituted a break with ancient and traditional practices. Male domination in family matters gave way to joint stewardship by couples, and the reform also helped women reach total freedom to seek employment of their choice.

The Ivoirian government’s desire to eliminate all kinds of discrimination against women was further strengthened with the November 8, 2016 Constitution which introduced revolutionary legal dispositions to protect women’s rights. The desire to eliminate all forms of violence against women is now formally proclaimed in the constitution[13] as is the promotion of their political rights through increasing their chances of access to representation in elected assemblies.[14] Likewise, the will to go to parity between men and women on the labor market is proclaimed. In addition, the 2016 Ivorian constituent promotes women in decision-making positions in institutions, public administrations and at the corporates level.

All these egalitarian measures resulting from this constitutional reform of 2016 must be welcomed because they are in line with the recommendations of Article 4 of CEDAW, which is one of the means of applying Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, the desire of the legislator and the Ivorian constituent to contribute to the elimination of discrimination against women still seems limited in practice.

Disparities remain

At all levels of responsibility, there is very little involvement of women in the Ivorian decision-making. Thus, the presence of women in the government in the last two years has been very weak. In fact, in 2016, the government had 36 members, including 9 women. This number was reduced to 6 women out of a total of 28 during the latest cabinet reshuffle in July 2017.[15] The observation is identical in higher administration. At the level of Heads of Diplomatic Missions, only 13% of high-ranking officials are women;[16] this percentage is 17% at the level of the Economic and Social Council.[17] Only 3% of women are Regional Prefects and the number is close to 9% for department prefects and 17% for sub-prefects.[18]

The low representation of women is also noticeable in elected assemblies. Thus, the Parliament of Côte d'Ivoire has so far, 25 women parliament members out of a total of 255 which corresponds to just under 10% of parliamentarians. It’s the same trend as of women regional councilors who are 11.33% and 14.97% for municipal councilors. As for women mayors, they represent only 5%.[19]

These different figures clearly illustrate the idea that even though Côte d'Ivoire has adopted revolutionary texts and laws that make it a pioneer on some aspects of the issue of equality in West Africa through the adoption of the Marriage Act of 2013 and the provisions of the new 2016 Constitution which established parity, the prohibition of all forms of violence, there still remain many disparities.

Globally, the progress made by Côte d’Ivoire in the fight against discrimination against women is undeniable. In addition, the reforms of the normative framework and the improvement of the institutional framework[20] thanks, on one hand, to the creation of new national mechanisms, and, on the other hand, to the reinforcement of the missions and powers of certain existing structures or bodies such as advocated by Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 2 of CEDAW.

However, these advances should not obscure the fact that the reality of the implementation of these different mechanisms and the work of these mechanisms is far below the expected results[21] and therefore the need to undertake more vigorous and concrete actions. The 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights to be held next December is to remind us once again that efforts must be continued. This implies for Côte d'Ivoire to put more coherence between its proclaimed will to achieve the equal rights of men and women through the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and the effective implementation of this will.

About the author

Assata Kone-SilueA former O'Brien Scholar (May 2017) and graduate of Paris Nanterre University (France), Dr. Assata KONE-SILUE is a Lecturer and Researcher at the University Félix Houphouët Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire) and an Associate Researcher at the Labour Law and Development Laboratory (LLDRL) at McGill University. Dr. KONE-SILUE specializes in social law and also has expertise in the development of constitutional norms. She has written and co-authored articles on the rights of women and precarious workers such as domestic workers. She is a member of the High Authority for Good Governance of Côte d'Ivoire.

[1] Cf. Rapport nationale d’autoévaluation de la gouvernance en Côte d’Ivoire du Mécanisme africain d’évaluation par ses pairs (MAEP), Mars 2018.

[2] D. Lochak, « Réflexion sur la notion de discrimination », Dr. soc. 1987, p. 778.

[3] A. LYON-CAEN, « l’égalité et la loi en droit du travail », Droit social, 1990, p. 68; N. SILUE, « L’apport du droit français à la notion de non-discrimination dans les relations de travail », Revue COMPTRASEC, Bordeaux 1/2013, p. 20

[4] Cf. article 7 de la Déclaration Universelle des droits de l’homme de 1948; N. SILUE, « l’apport du droit français à la notion de non-discrimination dans les relations de travail », précité.

[5] Cf. N. SILUE, « L’apport du droit français à la notion de discrimination en droit du travail », précité. Cette égalité crée un droit de tous les citoyens à l’égalité en droit. Il s’agit d’une égalité essentielle sans considération de la personne

[6] Cf. N. SILUE, 2013, précité, Véritable injonction donnée au législateur de ne pas créer d’inégalités, cette approche recherche l’égalité dans la règle de droit, dans les mesures de droit matériel. C’est l’égalité de traitement

[7] Cf. N. SILUE, 2013, précité C’est l’approche correctrice qui requiert de rechercher l’égalité par la différenciation: «à situations différentes, règle différente».

[8] M. Sweenney, « Les actions positives à l’épreuve des règles de non-discrimination », Revue de droit du travail (RDT), 2012, p. 87 et suivants.

[9] N. Silue, L‘égalité entre l’homme et la femme en Afrique noire francophone, éd. Universitaire européenne, 2012

[10] The Senoufos are a tribe living in the north of Côte d’Ivoire

[11] N. SILUE, 2012, précité; J. OBLE, Droit de succession en Côte d’Ivoire: Traditions et modernisme, Nouvelles éditions africaine, Université Jean-Moulin III, 1982

[12] art. 53 de la Constitution de la Côte d'Ivoire de 1964; C. VLEI-YOROUBA, « droit de la femme et réalités africaines: cas de la Côte d’Ivoire depuis l’indépendance » ; Revue Femmes, Genre, Histoire, Clio, 1997

[13] article 35 of the constitution of November 8, 2016

[14] article 36 of the constitution of November 8, 2016

[15] Cf. Rapport MAEP précitéet Rapport Union Européenne (UE), Rapport profil genre, « Pour une analyse sur l’égalité de genre en Côte d’Ivoire», Aout 2018

[16] Cf. Rapport MAEP précité

[17] Rapport MAEP précité, Rapport UE, précité

[18] Rapport UE, précité

[19] Cf. Rapport UE, précité

[20] Cf. R Rapport MAEP, p. 159-169

[21] cf. Rapport MAEP précité, p. 159-169 et Rapport UE précité