Women work to ensure election-related violence is a thing of the past
“Just like not everyone will vote for the next president, we can still come together and accept whatever result emerges.”
February 2016—Women from five cities in western Côte d’Ivoire took to the streets last fall to promote harmony before the October presidential election. Their marches, which involved hundreds of participating women and thousands of spectators, conveyed a central strong message: Regardless of people’s political allegiances, the region is committed to peace.
The country’s political division and protracted crisis dates back to 2002, becoming more dramatic with violence following the presidential election in 2010.
With support from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, women from Bangolo, Daloa, Duékoué, Guiglo and Issia worked for six months to reestablish peaceful coexistence in their communities in the lead-up to the election.
As part of their activities, the women designed a pagne, which is fashioned from a simple draped cloth and can be used as a scarf, necktie or handkerchief—to fully tailored outfits. Pagnes showcasing native creativity are worn with pride by millions of Côte d’Ivorian men and women.
The often intricately designed pagnes convey messages, depending on the social context. For the 2015 elections, the women designed a pagne with symbolism to express their commitment to peaceful elections and encourage their fellow citizens to join them. Working with a designer from the county’s premier Arts & Culture Institute, they created a pagne that expresses their desire to reconcile their differences with dialogue rather than violence.
“This fabric is bringing women from different backgrounds together … just like not everyone will vote for the next president, we can still come together and accept whatever result emerges,” said one of the women’s group members.
The images and colors chosen for the pagne depict the western region’s agricultural base with its abundance of fruit and vegetables, and cocoa production, for which the country is known throughout the world.
The western region is also a rich tapestry of ethnic diversity and relies on a steady supply of laborers to farm the fertile lands. The clasped hands on the pagne represent this inter-dependence and communion; the dove and palm tree represent peace.
Through their activities, the women emphasized the need to turn the page on Côte d’Ivoire’s recent past and participate in the elections without conflict.
In the last decade, Ivorians have lost a great deal, but they are forging ahead with a willingness to accept their differences and build a more peaceful environment now and for generations to come.