ahead of elections

Côte d’Ivoire: Women underrepresented in parliament despite 2019 law

By Florence Richard, in Abidjan

Posted on February 16, 2021 18:28

Ivory Coast’s parliament members are seen during the presentation of a new constitution project in Abidjan
Côte d’Ivoire’s parliament members during the presentation of a new constitution project in Abidjan on October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Côte d’Ivoire passed a law in 2019 requires political parties to meet a female candidate quota of 30% for parliamentary elections. But with less than a month to go before the upcoming elections, no party has reached this threshold.

On 6 March, Ivorian citizens will go to the polls to choose their new parliamentary representatives. One thing is already certain: few women will be among the next cohort of elected officials, even though just a little over a year ago the country enacted a law to increase women’s representation in politics, a domain in which they continue to be underrepresented. But with no enforcement mechanisms in place, none of the parties participating in the elections have complied with the legislation.

The current iteration of Côte d’Ivoire’s National Assembly, the body that debates and passes legislation, is a decidedly male-dominated affair. Women hold barely 30 of the lower chamber’s 255 seats, meaning just 11% of the country’s MPs are female, placing Côte d’Ivoire behind Senegal (43%), Togo (19%) and Ghana (13%), according to World Bank statistics.

In 2016, when the last parliamentary elections were held, 12.26% of candidates were women. To be sure, the 2019 law has helped boost this figure, but the improvement falls far short of the 30% quota. This year, according to UN figures, just 14.62% of parliamentary candidates are women.

“The rosters of candidates for every political party and coalition do not meet the 30% quota as provided for by the law 2019-870 of 14 October,” noted the Conseil national des droits de l’homme (CNDH), the country’s human rights council, which created a special coaching programme for female candidates.

Numbers from the CNDH calculated using preliminary figures from the electoral commission offer a more detailed picture of where each political party stands: the roster for the Rassemblement des houphouëtistes pour la démocratie et la paix (RHDP) is 16% female, while those of other parties, including the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), the Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), the Ensemble pour la démocratie et la souveraineté (EDS) and the EDS/PDCI coalition are respectively 8%, 14%, 7% and 17% female.

A law out of step with the electoral code

“The CNDH’s calculation is skewed,” said minister and RHDP party spokesperson Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani. “The electoral code states that the 30% quota is applicable in districts with more than two representatives. If you take that into account, the RHDP has met the quota. While it’s true that the implementing decree [of the 2019 law] has entered into force, the electoral code takes precedence, and that’s what we’ve followed.”

CNDH Chairwoman Namizata Sangaré disagrees with this assessment: “Côte d’Ivoire passed clear legislation. When a law is voluntarily adopted, every effort is made to comply with it. This law was passed in an inclusive manner, as was its implementing decree.”

Emile Ebrotié, spokesperson for the country’s independent electoral commission, the Commission électorale indépendante (CEI), said: “The 30% quota is not compulsory. Every party agreed to this during the discussions we had with the government.”

The very nature of parliamentary elections makes the quota difficult to actually implement. To make matters worse, the electoral code is in stark conflict with the implementing decree of the 2019 law.

For instance, article 78 of the electoral code stipulates that, in districts with more than two representatives, “the rosters of candidates must comply with the minimum 30% female quota”, otherwise Côte d’Ivoire’s Conseil constitutionnel, or constitutional council, could invalidate them. Out of the 255 seats up for grabs, 86 are in districts with more than one representative.

By contrast, in the implementing decree of the 2019 law, parties are required to meet a minimum 30% female candidate quota, including in the 169 districts that have at least one representative. That said, it does not provide for any coercive measures to help enforce the quota, an aspect that concerns the CNDH, which is lobbying for the introduction of penalties.

‘Social factors’

Parties are not going to endorse women candidates because, socially and historically, they have been excluded from participating in decision-making and political bodies, – political analyst Sylvain N’Guessan.

Henri Konan Bédié’s PDCI party has asserted that 14% of its candidates are women. “For rosters with more than two seats, we’ve met the 30% obligation,” said Niamkey Koffi, the party’s general coordinator for election monitoring, who complains that the law’s implementation was somewhat “rushed”. “There are also social factors that have to be taken into account,” he added, including the fact, in his view, that “many husbands don’t like the idea of their wife going into politics”.

Adjoumani, from the RHDP, shared the following anecdote: “In my district, there are four candidates, but not one of them is a woman, despite our efforts to get women to participate. More often than not, they don’t feel comfortable running. We’re not going to force them and we can’t back just any female candidate. And then, there’s no guarantee she’ll win. The party’s ultimate goal is to win seats.”

“Parties are not going to endorse women candidates because, socially and historically, they have been excluded from participating in decision-making and political bodies,” said political analyst Sylvain N’Guessan. “And when women manage to get into office, they rarely obtain a key government post; typically, they end up working on issues related to the family and children.”

According to Sangaré, who believes “democracy and gender parity go hand in hand”, improving girls’ education should be a priority. “In Côte d’Ivoire, 71% of women do not know how to read and write,” she said.

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