How Ivorian women got involved in the 2002 Ivory Coast military and political crisis

Temps de lecture : 5 minutes

11.05.2022

Written by : Louis Sevrin Adji

Translated by : Chloé Lusven

Long considered a peace haven and a model of stability in Africa, the Ivory Coast gradually fell into an armed conflict that lasted a decade. In September 2002, the Ivory Coast was hit by a coup d’état that became an armed rebellion and led to the partition of the country. The North was ruled by the Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d’Ivoire[1]the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement, ndt  (MPCI), formed by mutineer soldiers and the West was held by a compact block of fighters and mercenaries that came from surrounding countries (Liberia and Sierra Leone) called Front de Libération du Grand Ouest[2]the Great Western Liberation Front, ndt)) (FLGO), Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix((the Movement for Justice and Peace, ndt (MJP), and Mouvement Populaire Ivoirien du Grand Ouest[3]the Great Western Popular Ivorian Movement, ndt (MPIGO). The South was controlled by regular forces, elements of self-defence groups, nationalist groups such as the “young patriots” and the Fédération Estudiantine et Scolaire de Côte d’Ivoire[4]the Ivory Coast Student and School Federation, ndt(FESCI). In 2008, the signing of the Ouagadougou accord led the country to start exiting the crisis which will then be confirmed by the consensual organisation of presidential elections in October 2010. These elections ended with a post-electoral crisis in 2011 which would cause more than 3,000 deaths according to official reports. Thus, this article wishes to examine women’s participation in the military and political crisis that took place in the Ivory Coast. Our postulate will be built around the following problem: what are the social determinants that have underlain women’s participation during the Ivorian armed conflict? How can we look at women’s participation in the Ivorian conflict? What are the implications?     

Therefore, our analysis will be temporally focused on 2002 as the beginning of the armed crisis and on 2008 as the ending with the signing of the Ouagadougou accord.

What are the determining factors that have subtended women’s participation during the armed conflict in the Ivory coast?

The image of a woman wearing combat clothes, holding a combat position with a gun in her hand is a huge contrast to the one of woman wearing her baby on her back and caring about her household that we are familiar with. In reality, the phenomenon of women participating in armed conflicts is not new. Indeed, a few mythologies around the world present types of female warriors, but the literature around these facts is not yet exhaustive enough.

Following the example of several conflict zones in the world such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, many women have joined the belligerent forces during the Ivorian crisis. Also, the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (ADDR) has identified until 3 November 2014 nearly 8% of women on a total of 74,068 fighters[5]Narcisse Angan “DDR: 74 068 ex-combattants recensés, 18 261 armes collectées”, Fratmat.info,  February 2012, … Continue reading.

In order to highlight the issues that have motivated women’s participation in the armed conflict in the Ivory Coast, one has to cast a wide glance at their motives to engage on both belligerent sides.

On the rebellion side, deserter soldiers took advantage of the deep fracture between northerners and the state institutions occasioned by an identity crisis that puts into question the citizenship of a part of the population. Moreover, the economic question weighed heavily on women’s engagement because the crisis impacted commercial activities that are women’s livelihoods in rebel areas[6]Kamina Diallo “Quand les femmes s’engagent dans la rébellion le cas des ex-combattantes ivoiriennes”, Noria Research, December 2017, https://noria-research.com/ex-combattantes-ivoiriennes/. In fact, rebel territories are subdivided into ten zones, where commanders reign as masters and impose their diktats. By committing to the rebel forces, women come into the warlords’ good graces.

In the regular army, the conditions of access follow well-known criteria (via an entrance exam) for all genders without distinction. Women are present in all the defence and security forces in the Ivory Coast. Other more subjective motives such as the defence of the nation and the group effect is fed by massive enrollments from other parallel groups, such as the FESCI. This organisation aims at defending the territory and it built up over time as a supplement to governmental security forces and mobilized thousands of young people at the height of the crisis[7]Human Rights Watch, “Le militantisme étudiant dans les années 1990 ;  de la clandestinité au schisme politique”, May 2008, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/french/reports/2008/cdi0508/7.htm.

How did women’s participation manifest itself in armed groups?

Even if in either camp women are subjected to the same rules and treatments as their colleagues, they mainly work in support divisions for military operations, administrative assistance, domestic tasks, medical care, and espionage, etc… It should also be noted that they are not as present in positions linked with operations or in ones that imply a high level of decision-making or management or control and are more present in executive and administrative tasks. Paradoxically, rare are the women who have taken part in combats alongside the men. Occupying subaltern positions in administration, healthcare and catering maintains them in their womanly condition, the only one that is well accepted by society. Therefore, we can assume that women’s participation to the conflict does not imply a real transformation of the power dynamics within the armed groups.

Furthermore, this participation cannot be considered as an indicator of social change seeing the gendered division of labour within armed groups. Women’s engagement during the Ivorian conflict has not resulted in a disruption in the hierarchy of the components of the Ivorian nation[8]Kamina Diallo “Quand les femmes s’engagent dans la rébellion le cas des ex-combattantes ivoiriennes”, Noria Research, December 2017, https://noria-research.com/ex-combattantes-ivoiriennes. As an example, to this day, female personnel constitute 1.76% of the Ivory Coast armed forces. These numbers clearly indicate that there is still a long way to go to achieve a successful integration of women in the Defence and Security Forces of as wanted by the government authorities. Indeed, to this day, there are 296 women out of a total of 44,597 soldiers. This represents a rate of 0.66% of female recruits. The Gendarmerie has the weakest rate with 0.20% of women against 1.45% for the Air Force, 1.01% for the Army and 0.55% for the Navy. By category, female officers represent 11.19% of the force, non-commissioned officers 36.25% and non-commissioned members 51.58%[9]“Les femmes engagées dans la défense nationale”, Le magazine du ministère de la Défense, January 2017, Page 77, https://www.defense.gouv.ci/uploads/magazine/Magazine_D%c3%a9fense_N%c2%b03.pdf.

Conclusion

Making an analysis on women’s participation during the Ivorian conflict is not easy, because Ivorian society shows women as victims of the crisis and denies their status as fighters.

Women’s engagement in the Ivory Coast armed conflict – a violent masculine environment – is a form of emancipation and deviation from the field they are traditionally assigned to by society. However, through their degree of implication in the conflict we can understand that the process of emancipation is not done yet. In terms of research that could lead to find out about the phenomenon of women’s participation in armed conflicts, in the Ivory Coast, we cared about the issue of gender in the engagement on both belligerent sides (in terms of their roles). It appears that it would be judicious to go beyond seeing women as victims.

To cite this article : Louis Severin Adji, “How Ivorian women got involves in the 2002 Ivory Coast military and political crisis”

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author. 

References

References
1 the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement, ndt
2 the Great Western Liberation Front, ndt)) (FLGO), Mouvement pour la Justice et la Paix((the Movement for Justice and Peace, ndt
3 the Great Western Popular Ivorian Movement, ndt
4 the Ivory Coast Student and School Federation, ndt
5 Narcisse Angan “DDR: 74 068 ex-combattants recensés, 18 261 armes collectées”, Fratmat.info,  February 2012, https://www.fratmat.info/article/66929/60/ddr-74-068-ex-combattants-recenses-18-261-armes-collectees
6 Kamina Diallo “Quand les femmes s’engagent dans la rébellion le cas des ex-combattantes ivoiriennes”, Noria Research, December 2017, https://noria-research.com/ex-combattantes-ivoiriennes/
7 Human Rights Watch, “Le militantisme étudiant dans les années 1990 ;  de la clandestinité au schisme politique”, May 2008, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/french/reports/2008/cdi0508/7.htm
8 Kamina Diallo “Quand les femmes s’engagent dans la rébellion le cas des ex-combattantes ivoiriennes”, Noria Research, December 2017, https://noria-research.com/ex-combattantes-ivoiriennes
9 “Les femmes engagées dans la défense nationale”, Le magazine du ministère de la Défense, January 2017, Page 77, https://www.defense.gouv.ci/uploads/magazine/Magazine_D%c3%a9fense_N%c2%b03.pdf