FRIDAY FILE – While discussions on the new development agenda to replace the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in just over a year took centre stage at the United Nations 69th session of the General Assembly (UNGA69) last week, AWID takes a look at the reality of women in the Ivory Coast, demonstrating why it is crucial that the new development agenda be based on principles of human rights, equality and sustainability.
By Mégane Ghorbani
September was a busy month at the United Nations as the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is fast approaching, and while assessment is being done to measure the achievements and shortfalls in achieving these goals, negotiations for the new development agenda, post 2015, took centre stage at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Achievement of the MDGs have been slow and uneven across countries and regions and women’s rights advocates and organizations are advocating that the new development agenda be based on principles of human rights, equality and sustainability. It is crucial that the UN and member States learn the lessons from the MDGs and address new issues that were not included in the MDG framework – such as climate change and rising inequality, including gender inequality, bringing poverty eradication and sustainable development together.
Following the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report by the Economic Commission for Africa United Nations on September 16 and 17 2014, AWID spoke to Rachel Gogoua, president of the non-governmental organization ONEF (Organisation Nationale pour l’Enfant, la Femme et la Famille - National Organization for Children, Women and Families) to learn more about the current challenges in achieving the MDGs in Ivory Coast by 2015.
According to the latest report on the MDGs several targets, the deadline for which is 2015, have been achieved globally, including halving extreme poverty, the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, expanding access to safe drinking water, progress in eliminating disparities between girls and boys in school enrollment and women's increased political participation. However, many regional disparities exist. In Sub-Saharan Africa for example, a majority of people still depended on unsafe sources of water in 2012 and the 2015 target for the gender equality index in primary and secondary education levels was not achieved, and even less so for higher education. Even within Africa, some countries will certainly not reach the MDGs, as the case of Ivory Coast demonstrates.
"The Ivory Coast is among the countries that have not made significant progress in achieving the MDGs"
According to Rachel Gogoua, “Ivory Coast is among the countries that have not made significant progress in achieving the MDGs. The least progress has been made in areas of maternal and child mortality and sanitation and poverty issues. A 2008 household living standards survey showed that 48.9% of Ivoirians live below the poverty line. In terms of education, there is some progress but it remains low. Currently, money has become scarce. People do not have enough to eat. The crisis of 2010-2011 contributed to worsening situation. These politico-military crises have a negative impact on people's lives, especially women and children who often live in camps that lack food, while others are raped or even killed. The negative impact on women is very significant.”
Indeed, according to the latest report on the MDGs in Africa, the extreme poverty rate and hunger index increased in Ivory Coast between 1990 and 2012. Rachel Gogoua emphasizes that climate change and the feminization of poverty must be taken into account, “The situation is going to worsen with climate change because it stopped raining and when it rains, these are torrential rains that do more harm than good to agriculture. There are disparities with regions that are poorer than others especially in rural areas and in the cities of the interior that are more impoverished. The 2008 research into living standards showed clearly that women are the poorest in society, who are most affected and concerned by these issues than men. They deprive themselves for their children and for their family. In response we have implemented agriculture-based income generating activities for rural women and train them in adapting to climate change.”
There are still disparities in accessing education and access to employment and equal wages. The literacy rate was only 67% in 2010 with a significant gap between men and women because barriers to access still persist for women and girls. The female / male wage ratio, it is less than 0.5, which means that women's salaries are at least two times lower than men’s. As such, 85% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa are in precarious labour. The situation is similar In Ivory Coast, according to Gogoua, “the majority of women are in the informal sector operating small commercial enterprises and they can be targets of violence which increases their vulnerability.”
Maternal health remains a challenge, on average only 58.6% of Ivoirian women were assisted by skilled health personnel during delivery in 2006 and the difference in number of births attended, between rural and urban areas, is considerable, ranging from less than 50% to less than 90% respectively. To this aspect Gogoua adds, “female genital mutilation (FGM) is related to sexual and reproductive rights to the extent that when a woman is not circumcised, she can give birth normally. But when excised, genitals are no longer elastic, so birth requires forcing. If a woman gives birth outside of a maternity ward, it is obvious that she can die. If she does not die, she will suffer from a prolapsed uterus, that is to say, the descent of reproductive organs. When this happens she cannot have sex and her husband abandons her. It is still a common practice here. While there is a law prohibiting FGM in Ivory Coast the problem is with enforcement. We have been fighting against circumcision and against sexual violence for twenty years by supporting the victims.”
Ivory Coast is rated 129 (out of 153) in terms of women’s representation in parliament, with only 9,4% of positions being occupied by women. Gogoua says “We found that there was no significant progress made in the status of women in Ivory Coast, particularly in decision-making bodies. Progress is very slow and when the situation is analyzed, we see that as far expressing support for the issue, even at the highest level, there is no problem. But when you try to move from stated support to implementation, progress stops. Women's associations created a group of organizations that works for equality between women and men in all sectors in Ivory Coast, and implement advocacy activities, as well as analyze and monitor women's appointments to positions of power and produce publications on women's rights issues. It is in this vein that the Ministry responsible for women's rights met with us and we set up a bipartisan committee working on the representation of women from Independence to date. We are drafting a strategic direction paper that will soon be finalized and the third phase will focus on the development of draft laws, including one on gender equality and another on changing the electoral system in terms of gender equality.”
Post 2015 Development Agenda
Form August 27 to 29, 2014 Gogoua attended the 65th annual conference of the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) section of the United Nations Department of Public Information, that focused on the development agenda beyond 2015.
“This meeting revolved around three major themes: human rights, the environment and climate change and the fight against poverty. During this meeting, we focused on making proposals and at the end, we signed a declaration, the first part of which outlines our vision and the second the various proposals for the post-2015 agenda, which is in fact a plan of action for civil society in the post-2015 agenda. . Francophone Africa was represented by only two organizations, one from Senegal and one from Ivory Coast and there were not many representatives of women's rights organizations because one of the challenge in attending this type of conference is covering the costs.
Post-2015, my first hope would be to eliminate illiteracy in women so they can gain more autonomy regarding language. Being unable to read and write is a veritable disability that prevents them from gaining independence in terms of health, education and income-generating activities. Maternal and child mortality must be reduced, and finally, every child should have a legal identity because if they don’t they are non-existent in the eyes of the state and have no rights.”