Issiaka NGuessan | December 20, 2021
At 64, Elise Goueu has defied gender norms and achieved what many women in Ivory Coast consider impossible. Mrs. Goueu is a landowner and a recognized land chief in her community. As a young girl, Mrs. Goueu inherited 15 hectares of land from her parents in Logapleu, a village in the Man region of Ivory Coast more than 650 km from the capital, Abidjan. Mrs. Goueu voluntarily donated five hectares of the land she inherited. To donate the land, Mrs. Goueu followed a local custom of the Dan people. Now, as a land chief, she has the power and responsibility to help resolve local land disputes. But not all women in the region are so fortunate. Women often cannot enjoy their right to own or inherit land because their status is considered lower than men. To promote gender equality in Logapleu, staff members at the NGO Likoleh organized a campaign to raise awareness in the community.
At 64, Elise Goueu has defied gender norms and achieved what many women in Ivory Coast consider impossible. Not only has Mrs. Goueu become a landowner, but she is also a recognized land chief with decision-making abilities in her community.
As a young girl, Mrs. Goueu inherited 15 hectares of land from her parents in Logapleu, a village in the Man region of Ivory Coast more than 650 km from the capital Abidjan. Thanks to her parents’ generosity, Mrs. Goueu’s brothers and uncles also inherited their fair share of land, and so did not dispute her inheritance as many male relatives might have done. Since then, the village has grown, thanks in part to Mrs. Goueu’s land donations, which have allowed other families to settle in the region and create their own farms.
Mrs. Goueu voluntarily donated five hectares of the land she inherited from her parents, and uses the remainder to cultivate crops. To donate the land, Mrs. Goueu followed a local custom of the Dan people by toasting the spirits of her ancestors and of the land with gin, then pouring the drink on the ground. In this part of Ivory Coast, it is believed that the earth belongs to these invisible spirits, and that land donations must honour them.
Oulaï Gueu Barthélemy is a local traditional chief. He explains that, in the Dan tradition, anyone who donates land in this way becomes a land chief. Normally, men enact this ritual, but as a landowner, Mrs. Goueu was also able to do so. Now, as a land chief, she has the power and responsibility to help resolve local land disputes.
But not all women in the region are so fortunate. Bih Tiémoko is the coordinator of a local NGO called Likoleh. He says that there are no laws in Ivory Coast that prevent women from owning land. But, he adds, “Women often cannot enjoy their right to own or inherit land because their status is considered lower than men.”
He says this sometimes stems from the belief that God created women in order to accompany men. He adds that women’s families fear losing their land to the husband’s family when their daughters are married.
Other barriers to women owning land derive from myths about women’s lack of physical strength, or beliefs that men have the responsibility to take care of the family, and that part of this responsibility involves owning and operating the family farm. Other traditional beliefs maintain that women cannot or should not carry out the spiritual ceremonies needed to access, own, or transfer land as Mrs. Goueu did.
Whatever the cause, Mr. Tiémoko says that these perceptions must change. He explains, “A woman who has the right to land can have full autonomy and income-generating activities. In this way, she makes herself and her family stronger.”
In an attempt to promote gender equality in Logapleu, staff members at the NGO Likoleh organized a campaign to raise awareness, hanging posters on buildings throughout the village. The posters show a woman with a baby on her back as she pounds maize in a mortar. Beside her, her husband carries another baby. The image is meant to show that men and women are equal.
Mr. Tiémoko says the NGO held community meetings to explain the poster’s message and to facilitate discussions about gender equality. He says that community discussions and advocacy with traditional chiefs have helped dispel some misconceptions about women.
He adds, “It is not easy, but in the village, we have succeeded in achieving some land ownership exclusively for women’s groups.”
Elsewhere, however, the beliefs that limit women’s rights continue. This is the case among the Sénoufo people in the Korhogo region, 500 km from the Man region. woman can access land but not own it, either through purchase or inheritance.
Soro Ziéfigué lives in Korhogo region. He explains: “In the Sénoufo tradition, a woman cannot own land because they are not allowed to complete the spiritual rituals involved in land ownership. Instead, women must offer the landowner kola nuts, a piece of firewood, and 200 FCFA (0.34 USD). In return, they are allowed to create market gardens on the land, or grow food crops.”
Recently, Mr. Ziéfigué released some village land to women through an NGO called the National Agency for Support to Rural Development. He says that allowing women to own land has benefits for the whole community, and encourages other villages to do the same.
He says, “When women are involved, funders bring projects that move the whole village forward.”
This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.
Photo: A homestead in Debre Markos, Ethiopia.