Activists and advocates rally support for African women’s voices through Voix EssentiELLES 
Activists and advocates rally support for African women’s voices through Voix EssentiELLES 

Activists and advocates rally support for African women’s voices through Voix EssentiELLES 

Violence against women and girls is today one of the most widespread human rights challenges in the world, particularly in Africa. It is even reported that one in three women is a victim of some form of physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

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The reason is that violence against women and girls is rooted in gender inequality, discrimination, and harmful cultural and social norms that emphasize men's superiority over women, normalise violence against women, and allow perpetrators to act with impunity.

When women and girls are empowered and supported to play a role in the decision-making process, truly effective health policies and programmes that take into account gender differences and cultural sensitivities can be developed and implemented, building on the lived experience of women and girls. 

It is for this reason that Voix EssentiELLES initiative held a forum in Abidjan on February 20, 2024, to discuss issues such as public-private partnerships, multi-sectoral collaboration, self-esteem, gender-based violence, the intersection between gender and public health, and how positive masculinity could be used to advance and promotes women’s rights and their participation in decision-making at all levels. 

The Voix EssentiELLES initiative is aimed at strengthening organisations led by women and girls, in all their diversity, by engaging them meaningfully in decision-making processes and spaces that influence health policies and programmes. 

Implemented by Speak Up Africa and co-financed by the Global Fund and the CHANEL Foundation, the initiative, launched in 2021, now includes 39 community-based organisations in Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. 

The event highlighted exchanges and panel discussions between Dr. Danielle Adjafi, President of the CCM (Country Coordination Mechanism) of Ivory Coast; Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa; Ghislain Coulibaly, Sociologist President of the Network of Men Committed to Gender Equality in Ivory Coast; Nene Fofana, Founder of Africa Forward Consulting Group; Aïssata Sidibé, Founder and CEO of Afrique Femme; Amanda Savadogo, General Secretary of the Support Association for Vulnerable Children and Women; Sylvie Diack, Coordinator of the Kolda Young Girls' Club, and Aicha Ouédraogo from the Association Tends-moi la main.

Speaking on the theme: “The Importance of Platforms, Dialogue Spaces, and Representation in the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence and for Achieving Gender Equality" during a panel discussion, the Director General of Health of Ivory Coast, Professor Mamadou Samba, said "We know that if we want to end the diseases and scourges affecting our communities and economies, it is essential that health policies effectively address gender issues by integrating the experiences and lived realities of women and girls." 

Also sharing her views on the same panel discussion, the Executive Director of Speak Up Africa, Yacine Djibo, said "Voix EssentiELLES embodies our commitment to amplifying the voices of women and girls in decision-making spaces. Their leadership is essential to shaping inclusive and equitable health policies."

For her part, a member of the CCM of Burkina Faso, Amanda Savadogo, said "Women, at the heart of their communities, must be integrated into decision-making spaces, as they are better able to speak about field issues."

During the second panel on "Platforms, Partners, and Coalitions Working Together to End Gender-Based Violence in Ivory Coast and Africa," Ghislain Coulibaly, Founder and President of the Network of Men Committed to Gender Equality, also a sociologist and Gender Specialist, discussed positive masculinity as an alternative to reducing gender-based violence in Africa: "Positive masculinity is a new alternative for effective reduction of gender-based violence in Africa."
France, a Founding Member of the Global Fund, was represented by Ms. Emmanuelle Espié, Regional Health Advisor at the French Embassy in Ivory Coast, who reaffirmed the country's commitment to global health, and to women's health, pointing out that "Supporting African women is fundamental to building resilient communities and promoting gender equality. We must be aware of our realities and responsibilities." 

For instance, at the previous Resource Replenishment Conference in September 2022, France pledged 1.596 billion euros, a 23 per cent increase over its previous contribution. This commitment demonstrates the country's strong commitment to positioning global health as a priority of French development policy, which is also reflected in its recent global health strategy for 2023-2027.

The government of Canada is also a staunch supporter of the Global Fund and a champion of gender equality. In November 2022, during the "16 Days of Activism" campaign, the Ambassador of Canada to Ivory Coast, Mr. Anderson Blanc, and his team met with a team of Voix EssentiELLES from Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. 

A #HeForShe champion, he stated during his speech at the event: "Canada, through its feminist international aid policy, is deeply committed to promoting gender equality and actively supports the empowerment of women and girls. As such, we support the Voix EssentiELLES initiative, because Canada firmly believes that women and girls must be at the heart of decision-making processes, encouraging them to contribute to the development of health policies and programs. Women have the right to speak up. Let's hear their voices! For them, for inclusive development, and the prosperity of their communities!"

To conclude the exchange session, Irad Gbazale, a Voix EssentiELLES from Ivory Coast, activist, and President of the organisation Women in Action, based in Agboville, stated: "We must be ready to face challenges and inspire change throughout Africa. Gender-based violence is a scourge for all of us. Do not be afraid to speak the truth. Shame must change sides." 

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