In recent weeks, the project to reform Ivory Coast’s family code has caused a stir across the country. Some people have even cited the revision of Article 58 as cause for the government’s recent dissolution. Yet, for some families already practising gender equality, the new family code is not simply second nature: it’s the way forward for Ivorian society.
By Selay Marius Kouassi, Abidjan
Since the post-electoral crisis, clients are no longer queuing at the print shop where Jean-Christian Yobouët works. But that’s OK; the 38 year-old uses the extra time on weekends to spend with his wife, Carine Yobouët. She manages a hair salon and a small second-hand clothing shop situated a few blocks away from their home.
“I don’t know why there is so much talk about the reform of the family code,” says Jean-Christian. “We have been living out this new law in our family for years. My wife and I agree on jointly running the home – and it works.”
Carine, 32, confirms. “My husband and I discuss and together decide on matters concerning our small family. We also divide the household shores between us. When we had to send our little girl to kindergarten, for example, it’s the money from my small business that we used,” she says happily.
Then and now
“Woman now the head of the family.” “Two now wear the pants in the home”. Headlines like this appeared in newspapers in the wake of heated debates among MPs on the revision of Article 58 of law No. 64-375 of 7 October 1964 relating to marriage.
Newly revised Article 58 stipulates the following: “The family is to be jointly run by both spouses in the interest of the home and the children. They are to work together towards the moral and material wellbeing of the family; provide education for the children and prepare them for the future.”
The old provisions of the same article say: “The husband is the head of the family. He plays this role in the interest of the home and the children. The wife contributes with the husband to guaranteeing the moral and material wellbeing of the family, maintaining it, raising the children and preparing for their future. The wife replaces the husband in his duties of head of the family if he is not in a condition to fulfil his obligations due to disability, absence, distance or for any other reason.”
Patriarchy of the past
According to many NGOs and associations for gender equality, the reform of the family code came to rectify a longstanding injustice.
But for most men – who feel they are being stripped of their dominant status and for whom consensual decision-making in a couple is inadmissible – the new law undermines male authority.
Generally speaking, in Ivorian culture, the man has always been the head of the family and the household. Although the woman does almost all domestic chores, her contribution is rarely acknowledged. What’s more, it is not unusual to see the man abandon the home, leaving the woman to raise and educate the children on her own. Worse even, in some cultures, women cannot possess or inherit land; in other societies, they are simply not allowed to speak in public.
Those who oppose revised Article 58 try to justify their position by claiming that the social and cultural environments are not favourable for the implementation of such a law. They claim that people, in their current mindsets, are not ready to accept it.
Joint management = love
But that’s hardly the mood at the Yobouët home, located in the noisy neighbourhood of Koumassi Sicogi, south of Abidjan. It’s early afternoon and Jean-Christian is busy washing up his three-year-old daughter while Carine sweeps the yard.
“The joint management of a home by both spouses does not necessarily mean that the authority of the husband is undermined. On the contrary, helping one’s wife in household chores increases feelings of love and respect in the couple,” says the hands-on father.
In his opinion, the local press should strive to explain the merits of this law to Ivorians instead of confusing them with sensational headlines. “It’s about the advancement of our homes and society,” Jean-Christian insists.