Rights of rural women in Côte d’Ivoire

Gender equality


1. Introduction

  • According to the fourth general population and housing census in 2014, the total population of Côte d’Ivoire is estimated at 22,671,331, composed of 51.6% men and 48.4% women. This population is distributed between urban (50.3%) and rural areas (49.7%). The estimated population in 2021 was 27.1 million.
  • Despite the existence of a legal framework and institutional mechanisms to promote gender equality, women are still under-represented in various sectors. In fact, in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, women are mostly obliged to negotiate plots of land with their families or husbands to grow food crops. According to the 2015/2016 Farmers and Farms Census, there are only 379,658 female farmers out of a total of 1,742,838 farmers, or 21.8%. It is clear that these inequalities are mainly due to socio-cultural factors.
  • According to a 2013 World Bank report, Ivorian women are marginalized and often do not have access to basic social services such as education and health.
  • In Côte d’Ivoire, the total fertility rate (number of children per mother) is 4.7%, while the percentage of women aged 15-49 using contraception is 25.2%.
  • The teen birth rate for 2015-20 was 123.3, while the percentage of births that occurred at of before the mother was 18 was 25%.
  • 51% of women aged 15-49 had at least four prenatal visits for the period 2015-20, while 47% of women aged 15-19 had at least four visits.
  • The maternal mortality rate in 2017 was 617 (per 100,000 live births).
  • According to the latest statistics from the United Nations, the proportion of girls and women aged 15-49 who have undergone female genital mutilation/excision was 36.7%, while the percentage of adolescent girls aged 15-19 who have undergone female genital mutilation/excision was 10%.
  • In rural areas, 75% of women live below the poverty line. And in the business world, Ivorian women are not faring any better.
  • According to figures provided by the Investment Promotion Center in Côte d’Ivoire, in January and May 2013, only 15% of the 800 businesses registered during that period were being run by women.

Who is considered a rural woman in Côte d’Ivoire?

Rural women live in the countryside or in the village where activities are concentrated in agriculture, artisanal fishing, and livestock).

2. Some essential data

  • In Côte d’Ivoire, women account for 67% of the agricultural workforce and produce 60-80% of food.
  • In rural areas of Côte d’Ivoire, 75% of women live below the poverty line. An estimated 8-10% of women own land compared to more than 60% of men.
  • 32 of the 254 elected parliamentarians (12.6%) in Côte d’Ivoire are women.
  • Rural women account for 67% of the agricultural labour force and 60-80% of food production.
  • Nearly one-quarter of married women experience physical violence at the hands of their partner.
  • Two out of five women have been physically abused since the age of 15.
  • One out of three women between the ages of 20 and 49 was married before the age of 18.
  • Law No. 98-750 of December 23, 1998 on land tenure, revised in 2013 and in 2019, does not discriminate between men and women in terms of access to and control of land. But national law does not grant land ownership rights to a person who did not originally have them under existing customary rights, which often favour men. For example, if a man owns land while married, his male relatives rather than his wife will inherit the land after his death.

3. Key information

Rural women’s activities

The rights of rural women

As stated in international agreements on basic human rights, rural women, like other women, should enjoy all fundamental rights on an equal basis with men. Unfortunately, socio-cultural constraints such as habits and customs, whereby women do not have the right to speak or to attend school, or have less access to land than men, act as obstacles to women’s rights.

The constitution adopted by Côte d’Ivoire since 2000 refer to gender-related concerns. The constitution adopted in 2000 establishes the freedom and equality of all human beings before the law, the prohibition of all forms of violence against men and women, and guarantees all citizens equal access to health, education, culture, information, professional training, and employment.

The new constitution of 2016 goes further by strengthening the promotion and protection of women’s rights. Articles 35, 36 and 37 stipulate that the state must do everything possible to ensure that women are better represented in elected assemblies and that women have socio-economic rights to enable them to achieve parity with men in the labour market. The earlier ban on gender-based violence and the commitment to promote women, particularly rural women, are reinforced.

However, besides national law, customary law exists in rural areas and is predominant in communities. But when an individual violates national law, the wronged party can bring the case to court and potentially win.

CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) emphasizes the rights of rural women, and Cote d’Ivoire is one of 189 parties to this international convention. It calls on States to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas so that they can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with men.

Challenges faced by rural women

  • In Côte d’Ivoire, traditional land tenure systems in some regions exclude women from control of land resources. According to the Agence Foncière Rurale, the share of women in the total number of land certificates issued from 2017 to 2020 is only 12%.
  • There are huge disparities between the level of male and female activity in agricultural production. According to the 2015/2016 Farmers and Farms Census, only 379,658 of the 1,742,838 farmers are women, or 21.8%.

Access to credit, inputs, and technology

  • Access to financial services is a problem for women in general and even more so for rural women. Rural women are confronted with financial, social, and other barriers to access inputs and technology.
  • According to the 2015 ADB report, African women farmers receive only 5% of agricultural extension services. In Africa, 5% of women benefit from new agricultural opportunities that combine technology and scientific research.

Decision-making bodies

  • In most communities, women do not sit in assemblies alongside men. They may be consulted informally in the secrecy of the night, leading to the famous adage that “the night brings advice. But things are evolving in the right direction. Law 98-750 of December 23, 1998 relating to rural land establishes women’s right to land ownership on an equal footing with men. To accelerate its application, which was slow to take off, Decree No. 2019-264 of March 27, 2019 on the organization and responsibilities of the sub-prefectural rural land management committees and the village rural land management committees (CVGFR), provides for the representation of women in the CVGFRs to ensure that their needs are better taken into account.

Reproductive health

Violence against women and girls has reached worrying proportions with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • At the national level, provisional data for 2021 show 3,019 cases of violence from January to September, including:
    • 454 cases of rape,
    • 152 cases of sexual assault,
    • 21 cases of female genital mutilation,
    • 729 cases of physical assault,
    • 64 cases of forced marriage,
    • 1,079 cases of resource denial, and
    • 520 cases of psychological and emotional violence.
  • During the same period, Côte d’Ivoire registered 2,202 cases of domestic violence and 134 cases of spousal abuse.
  • The percentage of women who consider that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife if she burns his food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses sexual relations is 42.9%.
  • In 2020, 5,405 cases of violence including 822 cases of rape, were reported and attended to. The majority of rape cases were perpetrated on minors under the age of 18.
  • In 2012, 22.9% of women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months.

To effectively curb this violence, which is a public health problem that prevents women from enjoying their rights and freedoms, the government has taken several measures, including the creation of the National Committee for the Fight against Gender-Based Violence, under the Ministry of Women, the Family and Children.

Gender inequalities

  • Customary law is generally favourable to men, who take all the decisions and have sole rights to land.
  • Generally, women in general do not inherit from their parents or their husbands after their death, and are often stripped of what they have acquired. Widowhood rites are a source of great hardship.
    • Widows are confined to the house for up to 40 days.
    • They are no longer allowed to dress as they please.
    • Widows are accused of having killed their husbands, and are harassed.
    • Widows are sometimes forced to remarry a brother of the deceased husband.
    • Widows are deprived of their children and parental authority is given to another family member.
    • As a result, widows are physically and morally devastated.
  • Women are denied basic rights and freedoms: right to public speech, inheritance rights, right to land, education, and even reproductive health (contraception and family planning).
  • Girls are particularly discriminated against when it comes to their access to schooling and continuing in school. They are also discriminated against in terms of food and occupation: they are obliged to do chores and take care of family members, especially when a mother’s is unable or absent.
  • In Côte d’Ivoire, 53% of girls compared to 60% of boys finish primary school, while 22% of girls compared to 36% of boys finish lower secondary school, and 15% of girls compared to 17% of boys finish upper secondary school.

Women’s right to speak

  • Women do not always have the right to speak, since there are still communities where they do not attend important meetings.
  • However, with sensitization on gender and gender-based violence and implementation of projects in villages such as the school for husbands, the project for the empowerment of women in the Sahel, attitudes are changing.
  • Women are increasingly participating in village management committees.
  • In rural areas, the National Drinking Water Office (ONEP) has developed local mechanisms for managing water points through the establishment of village pump management committees. ONEP has included women in these committees for the past few years.

Constraints related to climate change for women

  • As in other developing countries, economic constraints and cultural norms in Côte d’Ivoire prevent women from accessing paid employment. For many women, their livelihoods depend on climate-sensitive sectors such as subsistence farming and water collection.
  • Climate change has exacerbated existing inequalities between men and women. These are reflected in the difficulties of access to cultivable land. In some Ivorian customs, women do not have land ownership rights. They can access it, but have no power to control it. As a result, in the context of climate change, women are increasingly relegated to degraded lands. In the arid northern part of Côte d’Ivoire, women continue to produce fonio despite climate change, but they do so on infertile land with only a little water.
  • With limited access to resources and limited participation in decision-making, women are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As a result, they are experiencing a decline in agricultural production for subsistence and commercial purposes, which will lead to an increased workload.
  • Women’s first line of defence against climate change is to organize themselves in informal or formal groups to make their voices heard at all levels (village, commune, department, national) so that their constraints can be better taken into account and they can benefit from the necessary support. Although women have limited access to land, they are increasingly adopting agroecological production practices. Indeed, for many civil society organizations such as Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire, agroecology or regenerative organic agriculture is the most appropriate response to the adverse effects of climate change. Despite the difficult conditions, women are involved in the preservation of biodiversity and, in particular, of endangered seeds.

Advocacy for rural women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire

  • Through the spokesperson(s) of the National Action Platform for Family Farming, women are claiming equal access to and control of land and the means of production as well as to financing. They are also claiming their right to education and training.
  • Women are demanding that 10% of the budget of Regional Councils be set aside to finance family farming and social security through universal health coverage.

Organizations supporting rural women in Cote d’Ivoire

  1. Observatoire National de l’Equité et du Genre (ONEG) – 01 BP 1533 Abidjan 01 Tél. : (+225) 27 22 41 09 75 – E-mail : observatoiredugenre@gmail.com
  2. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Côte d’Ivoire.
  3. L’Association des Femmes Juristes de Cote d’Ivoire.
  4. AIBEF (Ivorian association for family welfare) (+225) 27 21 21 80 80
  5. Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire (+225) 27 22 50 40 71


Contributed by: Soro Yafolo, journalist in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

Reviewed by: Maria Ouattara, Regional Directorate of Bélier MFFE, Professor of Continuing Education, Master in Science and Techniques in Socio-Educational Facilitation, majoring in Andragogy

This story was produced thanks to a grant from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), which implements the Green Innovation Centers program.

Information sources

  1. La Banque mondiale, 2013. En Côte d’Ivoire, les femmes font entendre leur voix. https://www.banquemondiale.org/fr/news/feature/2013/08/06/women-of-cote-d-ivoire-speak-out
  2. UNFPA, 2020. Assurer les droits et les choix des femmes et des jeunes en période de COVID-19. https://cotedivoire.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/rapport_annuel_2020_ok_fin.pdf
  3. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics, undated. Data sets available at: https://worlds-women-2020-data-undesa.hub.arcgis.com/pages/sub-saharan-africa
  4. UNICEF, 2021. State of the World’s Children, 2021. Data sets available at: https://data.unicef.org/resources/sowc-2021/
  5. Republique de Cote D’Ivoire, 2017. Synthèse des Résultats du Recensement des exploitants et exploitations Agricoles (REEA) 2015/2016. https://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/wca/docs/CIV_FRE_REP_PRELIMINARY_2015_VOL1.pdf 


Ouattara Maria, Regional Director, Ministry of Women, Family and Children, Aries Region (Yamoussoukro), Côte d’Ivoire

Kaba Fofana Yaya Fanta, Executive Secretary, ONEG (Observatoire National de l’Equité et du Genre Côte d’Ivoire)

Pauline Zei, Director, Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire

Interviews conducted in October and November 2021