Women take lead roles as Ivory Coast emerges from turmoil

ABIDJAN - Women have long played a dominant role in agriculture in Ivory Coast and in the sprawling markets where most Ivorians purchase their daily necessities.

Fofanan Man, a 59-year-old businesswoman, poses for a photograph in front of textiles in her shop in Bouake, Ivory Coast. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

ABIDJAN - Women have long played a dominant role in agriculture in Ivory Coast and in the sprawling markets where most Ivorians purchase their daily necessities.

Now though some are now breaking through into the most important positions in government, administration and business in Ivory Coast - positions long held by males in this traditional society.

In 2012 in the wake of a decade of civil war and political turmoil, Ivory Coast named Niale Kaba, as finance minister, the first woman to hold the post in more than a half century as an independent nation. After years of stagnation, the West African nation is now among the continent's fastest growing economies.

Another woman, Massandje Toure-Litse, now heads the cocoa marketing board. Ivory Coast is the world's leading producer of the chocolate ingredient, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of GDP and more than a third of foreign currency earnings.

"We must value women with all their differences and in all the sectors of the workforce," said Via-Juliana Akre, 41, standing beside a row of newborn babies at the clinic in the commercial capital Abidjan where she has worked as a midwife for the past decade ago.


A Reuters photo essay prepared for International Women's Day on Tuesday captured Ivorian women in all realms of work - from gas station attendant to plastic recycler and lawyer.

Despite some advances, however, many Ivorian women point to the challenges they continue to face.

For example, while Ivory Coast saw the appointment of a woman to the rank of general for the first time in 2012, there are still only 26 female officers in the entire army.

"There are many challenges, but the biggest is the inequality of the sexes. We are not yet considered as equal to men," said 39-year-old Fleur Zebi.

Zebi quit her job as a travel agent in 2008 to set up her own travel agency.

"There's still too much injustice toward women," she said standing in her second business, a salon that caters to men and women suffering from hair loss.

Discrimination often starts at a young age, said Fofanan Man, 59, who began selling traditional, colorfully printed African fabric in the central city of Bouake nearly four decades ago.

"Women still aren't entirely free today. Education is the big problem for girls, because parents prefer to educate the boys first," she said.

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“In our industry there aren’t a lot of young people in it. I like the fact that there are a lot of young people in agriculture here,” he said of the Mitchell area.