“Your heart is always beating with fear when you see him.”

How women’s economic independence is changing domestic relations in the Ivory Coast

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Written by Emma Langbridge

In Ivory Coast, West Africa, CARE is beginning to see a change  in domestic gender relations, once women start to save their own money and earn their own income.

Within many households in the Ivory Coast men have not traditionally shared their income with their wives and children.  The women are expected to provide the food and mostly pay for the education and health of their children through whichever means they can.   When a woman has no source of independent income and needs to ask her husband for money, this causes conflict.

CARE talked to women across the Ivory Coast about their experiences.  Throughout the country we heard a similar story:

In the village of Kpongbovogo in the North of Ivory Coast one woman commented: “Sometimes, you don’t even have to say anything or open your mouth and he starts beating you. We suffer when we know that our husbands have a lot of money but they don’t want to give it to you.  Your heart is always beating with fear when you see him.”

Another woman told us: “Our husbands don’t give us money for food.  They don’t take care of us when we are sick and they also don’t care about the fact that we are getting older and there are certain activities that we can’t do anymore.”

A woman in Bouaké in the centre of the country explained: “The behaviour of a man towards his wife depends on her economic situation. When a man notices that you are able to support him and yourself, he respects you.”

In multiple communities across the Ivory Coast, CARE, with support from H&M Foundation, is working with women to train them how to collectively save money and to run their own enterprises, helping them to become more economically independent. In addition, CARE is running awareness campaigns and training for men on women’s empowerment.

Peanut farmers in Ivory Coast - photo: Evrard Gnahoré

Coming together as a group to save money can have a transformational impact on women.  CARE trains women to set up Village Savings and Loans Associations where each woman contributes a small amount each month into a collective pot.  Not only is this having a positive impact on women’s ability to save money, but the very coming together of the women is providing much-needed emotional support.  Together, women can share and solve their problems.

In the tiny village of Borso in the West of the country, around twenty women gather under the mango tree to meet as a group.  This group is supported by Cissé, one of CARE’s village agents who travels from the local town of Man to support multiple groups in the surrounding villages.  In Borso the women are predominantly farming rice and cassava to earn an income.

A member of the group explains that one of their members told the group that her husband was beating her: “When something like this happens, we give advice on how to resolve the situation.”  The group intervened and spoke with the husband, which resulted in him stopping the beatings. This collective solidarity is strengthening the women and enabling them to have the confidence to also grow as business women.

A woman from Doguidjiarikaha in the North who is also part of a savings group commented:“Being a member of the savings group has brought a change in my life. Sharing ideas and going forward together is something new in my life.  The group is wonderful, being together and supporting each other brings joy and peace.  This group has changed my personality, my way of speaking, my way of behaving and my mentality. I have been transformed into a good person through all the advice we have received to help us avoid every quarrel. We give advice to the women who are in conflict with their husband. This group has totally changed us.”

She explains how her husband’s behaviour has also changed since she joined the group: “When he noticed all this change he started giving me more consideration, more respect, and confidence. Today, I’m feeling good and considered. Everything is well between us. There is no more fighting. He has even started telling me all his worries.”

In another group, also in the far north in a village called Nangolovogo, one woman explains how the savings group has enabled her to take out a loan to develop her peanut farm.  She explains: “Before, I really had no money. I was poor, but now thanks to the group I have a little money. Today, I can do many things and pay for things that I couldn’t afford before.”

Here in Nangolovogo the women have taken it one step further.  Previously they had to walk huge distances, often with children, to reach any kind of health care provision.  So the women used their collective savings to build their own health centre in the village.  The women are also investing in motorbikes so that they can transport themselves to the hospital far away.

Slowly, CARE is enabling the women of Ivory Coast to become economically independent and support their families, whilst at the same time, challenging entrenched behaviours of men, by sensitizing them on the need for women’s empowerment.  All across the Ivory Coast we are hearing that relationships are improving for the better and there is more peace at home.  But it is clear that there is much more to do.  In order to tackle deeply-rooted gender inequality and entrenched behaviours of men and women, we need to continually involve and target men.

A woman from Sipilou in the far West of the country concluded: “When I had nothing, my husband did not consider me, but since I started my activities there is respect at home.”

The Village Agent supporting thousands of women

“I want to help women to escape poverty."

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