During the US-Africa Leaders Summit early last month, hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, the National Democratic Institute invited Mariam Dao Gabala, distinguished advocate of women’s political participation and financial inclusion, from Cote d’Ivoire to lead a discussion focused on Women, Peace, and Democracy in Cote d’Ivoire. Gabala is the president of Coalition des Femmes Leaders de Côte d’Ivoire (CFeLCI), which was established in 2003 – during the nation’s civil war – to promote women’s empowerment and involvement at the highest stage of government. In her remarks, Gabala described her advocacy efforts for women’s political participation in Cote d’Ivoire, her outlook on the future of this issue, and her reflections on the US-Africa Summit.
A key theme of Gabala’s discussion was the importance of women’s cooperation on women’s rights issues. She offered an anecdote of a recent effort to pass a law in the Cote d’Ivoire Parliament regarding women and families.
Women’s presence in Parliament suffered during post-2010 election violence, therefore she argued that remaining women have a duty to unite behind women’s issues. Under Gabala’s leadership, CFeLCI was ultimately successful in mobilizing the female members to insist that Parliament address the law, despite opposing views of the political parties. Although voting has been postponed to a later date, Gabala expressed confidence in supporting female members to protect women’s rights, adding that, “I think when women come together they can push for transformation and they can push for change.”
“We are in health, we are in education, we are in promoting democracy,” but women remain excluded from crucial policy decisions. Gabala argued that in order to achieve successful development in Cote d’Ivoire and in all nations, institutions must include the “positive energy” and capacity possessed by women. She highlighted that collaboration with men can be utilized in this effort as allies, explaining the benefit of women’s issues being discussed in society by both men and women. If governments and civil society organizations heed this advice, Gabala is hopeful for truly gender-balanced societies.
Looking at the African continent as a whole, Gabala encouraged optimism and patience. She felt that the US-Africa Summit illustrated the transitional phase of Africa today. She emphasized the youth of democracy throughout Africa compared to the rest of the world and that the continent is currently undergoing a “deep transformation”. Although Africa faces many crises today, Gabala feels that with realistic goals and a positive outlook, African leaders and communities will achieve success.
Image courtesy of the Responsible Investment Association (RIA).