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Ivory Coast women encouraged to break the silence surrounding violence

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Liz Stimson
WVoN co-editor

The refugee charity, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has launched a multi-media social marketing campaign to stamp out violence against women in the Ivory Coast.

The campaign, called Breaking the Silence, aims to challenge the widespread attitudes and social norms surrounding violence against women and girls, and to encourage greater reporting of violence.

A decade of political instability and on-and-off civil war has taken its toll on Ivorians, including post election violence in April last year when the former president of the Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo  lost the November 2010 election to Alasanne Ouattara.

Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war – the IRC has reported horrific stories of gang rapes and the sexual slavery of women and girls.

Almost a year on from the uprisings the political situation in Ivory Coast has become more stable. Gbagbo has been charged with crimes against humanity and awaits the verdict of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Ouattara’s newly formed government has called for an investigation into the violence surrounding the elections and has acknowledged the improvement of women’s rights as an important issue.

However, social attitudes normalising violence against women remain, making it difficult for victims to come forward.

The IRC has recognised the importance of social attitudes and the need for a cultural change, so is using a wide range of media to challenge deep-rooted ideas about men and women’s roles in relation to violence.

“Shifting deeply ingrained attitudes is never easy, but we want to tell people that there’s something simple they can do today to stand up for themselves and help others do so” said Virginia Williams, media consultant for the Breaking the Silence initiative.

Thought-provoking and catchy messages targeted at men and women are being spread using radio and TV programmes, Facebook, Twitter, billboards and mobile phone SMS messages in an attempt to reach as many people as possible.

“In a country with…almost 15 million mobile phone subscriptions, mobiles can be an incredibly effective campaign tool” explained Williams.

The messages targeted at men include “protect women, it is your business”; with others aimed at women such as “there is no place for violence in our home” and “brave woman, stand up against violence!”.

Challenging cultural attitudes is important to changing behaviour. However, it is not a quick process.

“I don’t think we’ll have a huge impact on social norms after six months, but it’s a seed we are planting” said Bakayoko-Topolska, Gender-Based Violence Coordinator for the IRC.

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