Domestic Violence Awareness Month Around the World: Ivory Coast

In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Rev. Neal Christie, the Assistant General Secretary for Education and Leadership Formation, interviewed advocates against domestic and gender-based violence from around the world.

This is the third in a series of articles this month highlighting the work United Methodists across the globe are doing to end domestic violence.

Ivory Coast: Hortense Aka

Dr. Hortense Aka is a clinical psychologist and chair of Church and Society in the Ivory Coast Conference.

October is domestic violence awareness month in the United States. Is this the case in Ivory Coast?

Domestic violence affects women, men, as well as children. However, they often refer to violence against women. In Côte d'Ivoire, the month of March is a particular time to focus on women. Given that women are the majority of victims and survivors of domestic violence, it is on “Women’s Day” on March 8 that we draw attention to gender-based violence.

How do congregations address domestic violence?

The EMUCI Conference intervenes through COMEFA (the unit that deals with family issues), and the UFMUCI (United Methodist Women’s Union of Côte d'Ivoire) for awareness and prevention. Presentations, role plays, films against gender-based violence or domestic violence are the tools we use to communicate the urgency of this reality in the church. The Conference also participates in national events on the issue of domestic violence and especially the rights of children who suffer violence in the home.

What impact is there in the community?

Communities are sensitized to recognize the physical and moral violence that has existed for a long time but remains too often hidden and masked because of the weight of traditions and prejudices. It is masked above all else by the silencing of victims and the indifference of others.

In United Methodist congregations in Côte d'Ivoire, gender-based violence and domestic violence are recognized as harmful to the victims. Prevention is encouraged. However, it is at the level of the larger society that the problem arises because expectations are based on a set of historical, cultural, social and psychological factors that reflect a relationship of domination of men over women. There are also rare cases where violence is perpetrated by women on men and this leads to a real problem in society.

What legislation guides your work on domestic violence?

Sometimes actually the lack of law is an obstacle to ending domestic violence in Côte d'Ivoire. For example, it should be noted that if rape is classified as a crime and punished by Article 354 of the Ivorian Penal Code, the Legislation has refused to define it and so it is difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. The second obstacle is that women are silenced in the courts.”

How can the church respond to laws that do not reflect their belief in the full dignity of women and children and their security in the home?

By acting as a community, by advocating with the relevant state structures, by creating Centers for Active Listening, Support and Care for Victims of Violence, by raising awareness of the rights of women and children in the community through workshops, symposia, and by teaching the basis of biblical ethics that oppose violence.