The World Turns a Blind Eye to the Women of the Ivory Coast

Muammar el-Qaddafi isn’t the only one violently clinging to power in Africa these days. Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, who lost the presidential election in December to Alasanne Outtarra, has since resorted to cold-blooded and escalating violence because he simply doesn’t want to go.

The upshot? A country sliding steeply and surely into what BBC Africa’s Andrew Harding calls a “chilling spectacle,” about three-quarters of the way toward full-blown civil war. Yesterday, forces loyal to election winner Outtarra took the capital, Yamoussoukro. I’m in neighboring Ghana right now, where refugees are streaming in, and there is consciousness here and across West Africa that the situation is dire. But everyone has a lot of questions about why the international media isn’t focusing more on this conflict, and why the international diplomatic community is not fast-tracking measures to address Gbabgbo’s actions.

President Obama has now officially recognized Outtarra’s election win, but didn’t we all already know that? The media has largely been mum on the mounting violence, with news outlets and even humanitarian groups catching up now, after weeks of escalation. All of this stands in stark contrast to the world’s investment in the situation in Libya.

Even if the international media has been silent, the feminist media should have been standing to attention. In early March, Ivorian women’s groups organized a women’s march in the tens of thousands to protest for the removal of Gbagbo. Troops opened fire, killing six and wounding many more. Remarkably, twice as many women took to the streets just a week later, in honor of International Women’s Day.

Historically, Ivorian women have organized and protested for political ends. Indeed, the few Ivorian women who have been quoted recently in the media are politicians themselves. From the numbers assembled, it would appear Ivorian women are deeply embedded in and driving pro-democracy efforts, not just bringing up the caboose. Yet it’s very difficult to find any wealth of current information on women activists in Ivory Coast, and it’s a shame that it took a tragedy for much of the world to pay attention.

I don’t mean to weigh one human rights crisis or one women’s movement against another, but given the exhaustive coverage that women’s efforts in Egypt’s revolution have received (and rightly so), have the Ivory Coast’s women been forsaken?

To its credit, BBC Outlook featured the story and plea of Ivorian woman leader, Aya Virginie Toure, who was a principal organizer of the protest back in mid-March. She described a beautiful scene cut short with bloodshed: 30,000-45,000 women in the streets, dressed in symbolic materials like clay and sticks or even complete nudity to “reflect the state of their soul” saddened with the violence and ongoing struggle.

“The international community has forgotten about us,” Toure said. “We ask for forgiveness if we’ve done something wrong, but now we just want them to come and help us. I have actually been thinking about organizing another women’s march to call for international community involvement.”

One million have already been displaced. Another march has yet to be announced, but this week women from across West Africa rallied in Abuja, Nigeria, to lobby a regional coalition of 16 governments to oust Gbagbo as soon as possible.

The people of Ivory Coast–and especially their intrepid women’s groups–deserve much more media attention and global support than they are currently getting. Leymah Gbowee, the feminist freedom fighter who helped remove tyrannical Charles Taylor in Liberia a decade ago, recently wrote,

I call on all sisters to break the silence on Cote d’Ivoire. The time is now to rid yet another West African country of a tyrant and his psychopathic leadership.


Photo of a woman in an Ivory Coast market from Flickr user babasteve licensed under Creative Commons.


Jessica is a global women's rights advocate and writer. She is a global contributor for RH Reality Check and you can also sometimes find her writing at AlterNet and Feministe. She currently lives in Seattle and enjoys bhangra dancing, Kanye West, and all types of cheese.