On 2 June, on the occasion of the International Assembly of Hydrological Sciences which took place in Montpellier, the Unesco Icireward Centre and the UM signed a partnership agreement with the Unesco Chair 'Water, Women and Decision-making' and the Felix Houphouet Boigny University in Abidjan. Interview with Euphrasie Kouassi Yao, holder of this chair, former minister and special adviser to the Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara.
You are the head of the UNESCO Chair in "Water, Women and Decision-Making Power" in Abidjan. Why a chair bringing together these three themes?
If we look at the uses of water, 90% of them are used by women, and yet they only occupy 17% of the professional activities around water. How can society improve? We need to give decision-making power to women who know a lot, who know the importance of water. We need to address this imbalance with the gender and development approach.
In this approach, how do you define gender precisely?
Gender is a tool, a method, a development strategy. A gender approach analyses the situation of women and men in a comparative way, identifies the sources of inequalities in order to reduce and correct them. Social inequalities in terms of education and health; economic inequalities in terms of opportunities; political inequalities in terms of decision-making between women and men, between girls and boys.
This chair has existed since 2006, why is it important that it is located in Africa?
Because in Africa we have our norms, our cultures, our ways of doing things that are different from what is done in Europe. We have to take the tools of gender and adapt them to our context. And don't forget that many African countries are developing countries. We do not lack wealth in Africa, nor resources, nor even money, I would like to say, but we lack strategies to reconcile these resources with the expectations of the populations, and this is the mission that we have given ourselves with this chair.
What actions are you taking to achieve these objectives?
The first thing is training because people lack knowledge about the gender approach. We have structured these gender equality issues, we have put in place tools such as practical and strategic needs, the distribution of roles, stereotypes... We have already welcomed nearly 200 people and I can assure you that when these decision-makers come to our training courses, they change their trajectory both for their family and for their company.
Today you came to sign an agreement with the Icireward centre and the University of Montpellier. This agreement provides for exchanges between teachers-researchers and students. What do you expect from it?
For me, the University of Montpellier is the only university that counts. I know its power, I know its international influence. With this partnership, we will have a greater influence and we will be stronger to meet the objectives of sustainable development in the fields of water, gender and technological innovation. We could save the world, and I am weighing my words carefully. Many countries are knocking on Côte d'Ivoire's door, if we can count on a university that is already known, that already has the technology, then we can go faster.
This agreement also provides for joint research programmes, academic and scientific activities. President Philippe Augé mentioned earlier the possibility of creating an international establishment diploma, what could this bring?
I think it would be a very good collaboration between France and Africa, I think that is exactly what it is about. I have already mentioned the importance of training, there are skills in Africa and there are skills in Europe, how do we put them together? So we are really in favour of setting up this international diploma.
This agreement also mentions the reciprocal participation of partner entities of the two institutions, such as research centres but also companies. In Côte d'Ivoire you yourself participated in the creation of the label Gender and Competitiveness in Business, what is it for?
You know, companies are in favour of profitability, we must not just tell them that they must take women into account in their company. We need to present them with a label that will enable them to increase their profitability, their reputation and their leadership thanks to women. We have set up a vast programme to do this in the hydraulic sector, and we must extend it to all sectors. Thanks to the label, these companies will become more structured, they will benefit from more strength, intelligence and human resources. We already have 67 companies on the list.
You have been Minister for the Promotion of Women, the Family and Child Protection and you are now a special advisor to the President of Côte d'Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, in charge of gender issues. How has this career path enabled you to advance the cause of women?
I started by teaching in girls' high schools. I saw how brilliant they were and yet I didn't see them in society. Why? Women didn't believe in themselves, society didn't give them much space, and I had to do something to get them back. I started working at the ministry, we set up the Côte d'Ivoire Women's Competence Competence Centre programme, which reveals women, reinforces their visibility in all sectors at all levels and without any distinction of ethnicity, political party or religion. I then created the Directorate for Equality and Gender Promotion, the first in Africa. From there I was a minister and then a special adviser on gender issues. At each level I issue projects, at each level I try to influence and I assure you that gender is an influencing approach.
In France, the gender issue is also being debated. How do Ivorian women view what is happening in Europe?
European women are doing a lot of things, but it is important to remember that what happens in Europe should not be deported to Africa, nor what happens in Africa to Europe. In our country, if we want women to be a force for decision making, we must start by improving their living conditions. We have to give them access to health and education, we have to make them aware of what is happening in the world and then allow them to participate and control. I have seen in Europe the Me Too movement , the rapes... All this exists in Africa of course but we will not be able to do anything if we do not fight against poverty first.