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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
16 Days - Day 3: Why GBV in Cote d’Ivoire?
November 27, 2007
By The IRC
|War devastates the environment. IRC’s environmental health program builds wells that directly benefit women, who by tradition bear the responsibility of drawing and carrying water for their families. Photo: Ouerdraogo Zalita|
|The International Rescue Committee is working with writer, photographer and long-time women's advocate Ann Jones to give women in war zones an opportunity document their own lives with digital cameras and make their voices heard. Ann is blogging from West Africa, posting new photos and stories each day for 16 days, starting November 25 — the kick-off of "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence." You can catch her earlier posts here and sign up to get e-mail alerts about new posts at theIRC.org/join16days. Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire In post-conflict Cote d’Ivoire, the IRC conducts a range of programs from three principal sites. For the last three years, in Tabou and 15 surrounding villages near the Liberian border, IRC has provided primary health care for some 30,000 Liberian refugees as well as for the Cote d’Ivoirian community; and it now helps to resettle those refugees who have elected to stay in Cote d’Ivoire. It also manages programs in environmental health (that’s hundreds of pumps providing clean water, and thousands of latrines), income generating agriculture, and child protection and education.|
Another consequence of war: women lose access to health care and rates of maternal and infant death rise sharply. IRC addresses the problem in Cote d’Ivoire at health centers like this busy one in Zatta village, where women and babies wait their turn. Photo: Ann Jones At Man, in the western hills where much of the worst fighting took place, IRC runs programs in human rights and reintegration of people displaced by the war. It fields a massive program in environmental health that reaches 600 communities. It manages programs in child protection and education that have rehabilitated hundreds of child soldiers and reunited many with their families. At Yamoussoukro, where I’m based, an important program of emergency obstetrical care works (in cooperation with the government Ministry of Health) at more than 40 sites to increase the numbers of women receiving professional pre- and post-natal care and to assure safe childbirth. It is also launching a program to address barriers that obstruct access to health care—especially for women and minorities—including checkpoints on the roads, where women are often harassed or assaulted, and inflated pricing at health facilities that put care out of reach of many.
This woman has safely given birth in a village health center, with the help of skilled professionals. Photo: Ta Lou Sylvie The IRC hopes to encourage national reconciliation by working in three different areas, serving three different populations with different needs. But what all three sites have in common is strong programs in “Violences Basees sur le Genre”—Gender-Based Violence. Why? The answer is painfully simple. In any war, women and children are the principal victims. Offer any humanitarian program to assist people violated, deprived, damaged, or displaced by war and you find yourself serving women and their children, all of whom, in one way or another, have been victims of the violence of war and of additional violence done to them as women.
Monika Topolska, GBV country coordinator for Cote d’Ivoire (top center), and GBV field officer Karamoko Aminata (bottom right) help lead a meeting of village women participating in the Global Crescendo project. Photo: Ann Jones
I would argue that all the IRC programs addressing environmental health, child protection, education, health (especially obstetrical care), and human rights address gender-based violence. In the United States we usually think of “women’s rights” as civil and legal rights, but the United Nations recognizes the full range of women’s social, economic, environmental, political, and personal rights. Access to clean water and sanitation may be counted among the environmental rights of women, just as education and child protection may be considered among their social rights, and obstetrical care among their personal rights as women and as human beings. All these rights are violated—violently—by conflict. And all of them are addressed in part by IRC programs that seem to be about wells or school repairs or crops.
IRC’s GBV team in Cote d’Ivoire: Ehouman Emmanuel, Tia Gbogen, Bomisso Dramane, Country Coordinator Monika Topolska, Bedi Bienvenue, Manager of GBV Yamoussoukro Tanou Virginie, and Karamoko Aminata. Missing from the photo is Gbozie Marie Chantal. Photo: Ann Jones But in wartime and after, women are subject to extraordinary personal violence because they are women. It’s that violence—based specifically and exclusively on gender—that IRC’s GBV program addresses. It’s a strong program here in Cote d’Ivoire because the violence done to women was, and still is, extreme. I’ll tell you about it next time.