2011 International Women's Day and
“The Ivorian 7” of Côte D'Ivoire

In a press conference in honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, executive director Michelle Bachelet of the newly-formed UN Women, discussed her plans for the new organization, the challenges facing women in Libya and Côte D'Ivoire, and why women and girls need to stay on top of the international agenda.

In January, at the inaugural meeting of UN Women, Bachelet set forth a 100-Day "Action Plan" that defined the organization's major thematic priorities, and upon which she expounded in the recent conference.

"We understand education is fundamental in all directions of the opportunities that a child, a young girl, a woman will have in life. So for us it is a very essential issue that is linked directly to the full priorities for our agency," she said. "The first priority is to enhance the voices and leadership and political participation of women. The second is economic empowerment, we believe that women's rights will be only possible if we have women empowered in terms of having access to jobs, and of course a better a job will be linked to a better location. The third is women at the heart of peace and security and I will be working very hard in all these areas. And the fourth is on ending violence against women."

While the United Nations is scaling up aid delivery to Côte D'Ivoire, and officially boosting their peacekeeping efforts there, there is clearly an escalation of violence between forces of the rival political factions, in which a particularly tragic incident against women took place on March 3, when hundreds of women gathered to protest peacefully in Côte D'Ivoire to end the political stalemate and the worsening security situation.

In honor of the courageous women who lost their lives on that day, and to commemorate their courage for this year's International Women's Day, we would like to share the following statement on "The Ivorian 7" drafted by the Women's Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN), the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), and the West African Women's Association (WAWA).

It is their sincere wish that you might share, circulate, and post this among your family, friends, and colleagues.


The women of West Africa strongly condemn the killing of seven Ivorian women expressing their rights to protest on March 3, 2011. This incident has reminded women across the region of the dark days of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone where women's lives were expendable commodities. We refuse to be drawn back to that past. These women embodied all the aspirations of West African women and indeed women across Africa; to be able to speak our minds, air our views, show our support for whomever we wish without fear of intimidation, reprisal attacks, or even death.

We call on ECOWAS to take a higher visible stance on Côte D'Ivoire. The stakes are clearly high, the causalities are increasing and the audacity of the parties in conflict are becoming blatant. These women were not shot in secret; they were gunned down in full view. We believe the conflict in Côte D'Ivoire is challenging the courage and humanity in all of us. We cannot let this incident remain simply a news item on international and local media. These women deserve more. They command our attention, our outcry and activism.

Those of us who have protested in the past, know how easily we could have been one of them. Therefore, this is not an Ivorian problem, it is a human problem.

The world stated clearly after Rwanda that "never again" will the collective international community stand by while crimes against humanity unfold. The Responsibility to Protect norm, which was adopted by the Heads of States during the UN World Summit in 2005 agreed that each state has the responsibility to protect its citizens and where that state has failed to execute that responsibility, the international community should intervene. While we acknowledge the ongoing efforts to seek a peaceful political solution to the current impasse in Côte D'Ivoire, the killing of these women has revealed that more stringent actions need to be taken to end the escalating situation. We also stress that the perpetrators of this crime should be brought to justice. The culture of impunity that has existed where crimes committed against women are concerned should not occur here.

We therefore call on the following actors/institutions to take action:

All Parties in the Ivorian conflict: We strongly urge all parties in the conflict to prioritize human life and security above political agendas and mandates;

The Economic Community Of West African States: ECOWAS should take a more visible role in intervening in the situation in Côte D'Ivoire. ECOWAS' inaction on this issue will contradict its commitment of moving to an "ECOWAS of Peoples," where citizens in the region have security, freedom of movement and expression;

The International Criminal Court: The ICC should investigate this incident to ascertain if these women were deliberately targeted and what measures can be taken against the perpetrators;

The Africa Union: Members of the AU should "speak with one voice" against these types of crimes in Côte D'Ivoire and begin credible mediation processes to mitigate the conflict;

Civil society: National, continental and international civil society actors should petition their governments to take a vocal stance on this issue; they should monitor investigation processes conducted by national and international institutions to identify perpetrators.

The Ivorian 7 and other victims did not die in vain. Their voices for justice must be heard.