|© UNICEF video|
|Women and children are all too often the victims of gender-based violence in Côte d'Ivoire.|
By Eva Gilliam
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, 15 March 2010 – While Côte d'Ivoire is steadily working towards a sustainable peace after years of conflict, many children and women continue to be victims of rape and other forms of gender-based violence here.
A significant number of girls and women in Côte d'Ivoire have been victims of sexual violence at least once in their lifetimes. And between 2007 and 2008, the number of reported cases of such violence increased dramatically.
“As a result of the political and social conflict, a cultural violence has developed, which is worsened by a weak implementation of the law,” said UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire Chief of Child Protection Laetitia Bazzi.
Marie (not her real name) is only six years old, but she has already been a victim of rape.
“I was five years old,” she said. “I was with my girlfriend and we went to go eat at the canteen. Then on my way back home, a man grabbed me in the road.”
Fortunately, Marie’s parents were aware of the critical steps to take when confronted with the rape of their daughter, as access to medical and psycho-social care in the country has improved – through the development of referral pathways provided by UNICEF and its partners.
“After the victim has been seen by the doctor, UNICEF aid workers and others, we go to the victim, to listen to her. Because listening to the victim, letting her speak, is very, very important,” said Madame Fadiga of the Ministry of Family, Women and Social Affairs.
Community mobilization and sensitization campaigns that urge individuals to speak out against sexual violence − in all its forms – have increased the number of Ivoirians reporting cases to authorities.
“It is becoming less and less of a taboo, and the victims themselves are no longer rejected, and so do not feel so alone anymore,” said Ms. Fadiga. “It is talked about, and there are even families who go to the appropriate authorities to denounce what has happened.”
Changing behaviour and attitudes
Law enforcement is still inadequate in Côte d’Ivoire, and perpetrators of sexual violence are too rarely condemned or brought to trial.
“There are a lot of difficult issues, and any improvements we make takes a lot of work and time,” said UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Maarit Hirvonen. “We are working here at UNICEF with the communities and with social workers, and trying to change behaviour and attitudes, and reinforce the application of the law.”
As the country continues to move forward, UNICEF aims to ensure that Côte d'Ivoire’s children will soon be able to live and play without fear of violence.