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COTE D'IVOIRE: Marital equality law sparks controversy

ABIDJAN, 4 December 2012 (IRIN) - The adoption by Côte d'Ivoire’s parliament of a law on equality between legally married couples has sparked anger, especially among religious people. For them, this law will create more problems in the home than it will solve.

Adopted on 21 November, the law says family affairs should be managed jointly by both spouses in the interests of the household and children. The previous law stated that the husband was the sole head of the family.

"To remove this status granted to the man and say man and wife are joint heads of household - there’s something up for debate here since Islam recognizes the man as the sole head of the family," said Imam Mamadou Dosso, secretary-general of the National Islamic Council.

For him, the new law does not reflect realities on the ground. "There has not been a poll or survey. Before the text was adopted, there should have been a consultation exercise. Had there been one, the powers that be would have realized that the new law is not supported by Ivoirians," he said.

Rev Ediémou Blin Jacob, president of the Church of Christ Celestial in Côte d'Ivoire, agrees. "Laws must bring us together and not divide us. Governments must tackle this. If you want to nourish the body with something the mind rejects, it is difficult. Man cannot change the instructions of God," said Jacob

President Ouattara was against any amendments to the law. After week-long inter-party negotiations and a cabinet reshuffle, of the 229 deputies voting, 213 approved the law, 10 voted against and six abstained.

"Our entire civilization is built around the concept of chief: head of the family, head of the community or neighbourhood, village chief, business owner, head of state. To get rid of the concept of head of the family is, in my opinion, not necessarily going to promote the rights of women," said Yasmine Ouégnin, an MP who voted against the bill.

This view was not shared by Constance Yai, a former minister and ardent campaigner for women's rights.

"All the noise you are hearing is being made by people who are using this law as a pretext to express once again their resentment of women. There is nothing new. The law merely formalizes what we all knew already - gender equality in marriage. Protesting against this law should stop," said Yai.

Destructive law?

In homes, the law is being met with some skepticism by women, the main beneficiaries. "This law is destructive to the family unit. Not because women do not need to be equal to men, but because our beliefs and cultures do not envisage such a thing. That should have been taken into account," said Henriette Kobenan, married with four children.

"In my home, I do not seek to be equal with my husband. For me he is still the leader and when he makes decisions, it is in the interest of the family of which he has total charge," she added.

This is not the case for Sandrine Etilé, a businesswoman who has been married for five years. "I do not understand the fear around this law and especially the reaction of women. It is a right they have always claimed - to be treated on the same footing as men and take their place in the home. Why are they fleeing their responsibilities?" asked Etilé.

For her, the controversy is groundless. "In the home, the man can no longer decide everything on his own; there has to be acceptance of his decisions. We are tired of suffering from the unhealthy practices of men who treat women as less than nothing," said Etilé.

"There is a danger the law could engender fear which might push people to opt for other styles of conjugal life - whether legal marriage or even homosexuality - that come to pass in the name of evolution," said Mamadou Dosso, imam in charge of the documentation and research at the Centre for Islamic Education and Research (Cedris) in Abidjan.

"Even before, there were couples who could start coming to blows if women kept insisting on this point of law. This will frustrate many spouses. Therefore, it is vital that those in government educate people to accept this law," he said.

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Theme (s): Gender Issues, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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