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Diversity is strength: Creating space for peace and inclusion in Côte d'Ivoire

Diversity is strength: Creating space for peace and inclusion in Côte d'Ivoire

Photo: Timothé Alao

Lasting peace and prosperity are possible when we embrace the diversity of our communities.

Côte d'Ivoire, the “Jewel of West Africa”, is home to 24.7 million people with many different ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures. Over the last several decades, however, socio-political crises have created a climate that has weakened social cohesion.

Women, as targets of violence, often suffer most from the effects of the weak social cohesion. Women remain marginalized; Côte d'Ivoire ranks 170th out of 188 countries on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index.

For Canada, diversity is an asset and a strength. For all countries, diversity and inclusion lead to more innovative, resilient and prosperous societies. That’s why the Embassy of Canada to Côte d’Ivoire is working together with Ivorian activists, academics and others to change the way Ivorian citizens perceive diversity and inclusion.

Starting a conversation around diversity

Participants spoke about the daily reality of conflicts and prejudices against women in Côte d'Ivoire. Photo: Timothé Alao

The Embassy of Canada to Côte d'Ivoire was proud to join the Women and Feminism in Dialogue project and the African Women’s Positive Initiatives Network in hosting a forum about the advancement of women in Côte d'Ivoire.

“Promoting gender equality does not mean taking the place of men,” acknowledged Suzanne N'Zué Kouadio, a farmer and president of a women's association from the interior of the country who attended the forum.

Seventy women and men academics, human rights defenders, activists and advocates from rural areas came together to identify common issues and ways of working together to improve women’s future in Côte d'Ivoire. Training sessions facilitated by Michèle Vatz-Laaroussi, Doctor of intercultural psychology and associate professor at Université de Sherbrooke in Canada, focused on:

  • women’s places in the work force
  • women with disabilities
  • intergenerational relations
  • unique obstacles women face in rural settings

A “research-action-mediation” concept guided the workshop, including questions, games, drawings, exercises and discussions. This interactive approach allowed participants to expose prejudices and inequalities, while identifying opportunities to work together.

Inequalities in land ownership were a main concern for the participants. Ivorian women make up almost 70% of the agricultural labour force, yet only 3% own the land they cultivate. Pinpointing these issues allowed participants to visualize a clearer path for improving the future of Ivorian women.

“I commit myself to act differently because I have understood that gender equality benefits everyone.”

Journalist, Wilfried Dembélé

A vision to restore peace

The Canadian embassy also partnered with the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny and UNESCO to host a symposium about diversity and development. The event brought together nearly 250 academics, civil servants, private sector workers and UNESCO staff for conferences, workshops and plenary sessions.

Participants explored the different dimensions of diversity and how to make it a source of development, social cohesion and peace. The aim was to better understand the benefits of diversity, and find a way to repair broken relationships through intercultural dialogue and inclusion.

Canadian academic Michèle Vatz-Laaroussi shared her thoughts during the conference’s keynote address. She believes the conversations emphasized, “How to take advantage of diversity and make conscious choices to promote inclusive policies and programmes that generate economic, social, cultural and political benefits for all levels of society.”

Canada's Ambassador to Côte d'Ivoire, Julie Shouldice, also conveyed her thoughts on the importance of diversity and inclusion.

“Because in the end, the greatest wealth we have is that of diversity, whether addressed from the point of view of gender, age, nationality or life experience.”

Canada's Ambassador to Côte d'Ivoire, Julie Shouldice

Symposiums like this help address the conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire, giving community members a chance to raise their concerns and learn how to address challenges.

“The dialogue has been initiated on the issue of diversity and development. It must continue through the sharing of good practices.”

Teacher-researcher participant

Building a more inclusive future

The Embassy of Canada to Côte d'Ivoire is committed to building an inclusive future for everyone.

As another country full of diverse ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures, Canada is proud to share our experiences embracing diversity, though not always perfect.

In the years to come, Canada and Côte d'Ivoire will continue working together to build a world where all people live together in solidarity and peace.

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