Promoting inclusiveness and gender equality in Côte d’Ivoire through the building and the practice of Balafons

All over the world, culture is increasingly being recognized as a proven and powerful means of achieving sustainable development, in that it increases employment rates, contributes to poverty reduction and promotes more inclusive societies.

And yet, inequality is still present as far as who participates in, contributes to and benefits from culture. Especially gender inequality. Several examples clearly illustrate this fact.

In Australia, over 90% of directors of photography are men1. In the United Kingdom, men represent close to 75% of employees working in the audio-visual and digital industries2. And in Mali, as well as in many other countries of West Africa, girls and women are even discouraged from learning musical instruments, which is deemed a “male” cultural activity.

It is precisely in one of these West African countries, Côte d’Ivoire, that UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD) is supporting a project that is giving women the opportunity to learn musical instruments. In fact, a very particular one: the Chromatic Balafon.

Ba Banga Nyeck, an NGO committed to the promotion and professionalization of Balafon practices, is the organization behind this project. 

For Nyeck Paul Junior, president of the NGO and pioneer in the art of Chromatic Balafons, the relationship between gender and creativity is really simple and clear: giving Ivorian women the chance to strive and explore their creative talents in an environment historically dominated by men, such as the Balafon music scene, will also give them the confidence and the skills to have a more independent and proactive approach to their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Kouassi Affouet Nina Valérie, a student enrolled in the “Music and Communications” program offered by The National School of Music in Côte d’Ivoire and one of the proud participants of Ba Banga Nyeck’s project, agrees with Mr. Nyeck: “The participation of women in the Balafons’ workshops and concerts really improved the self-esteem of many women, which indicates that we’re making great strides in promoting gender-equality in Côte d’Ivoire in particular and in Africa in general”.

Ms. Kouassi is joined in her remarks by fellow graduate Goulaye Minnibomon Estelle, a teacher at the National Institute for Arts and Cultural Action in Côte d’Ivoire: “the workshops helped us, as women, to understand our value in the African society. Ba Banga Nyeck gives men and women alike the chance to become leaders. And that’s really important, because for a country to fully develop, it needs all of its children. Both sons and daughters”.

So far, the results show that the project has been a great success. Since its inception, countless people - including stakeholders, beneficiaries, etc – have been impacted; the demand for Chromatic Balafons has been on the rise and educational projects related to the instruments have been developed. Mrs. Goulaye, for example, recommended that the instrument be taught in schools.

Still, Mr. Nyeck pinpoints ways to strengthen the relationship between the Balafon culture and gender issues in the country: “it is our goal to guarantee access of more and more women to the practice of Balafons. It is our wish that these women get involved in all aspects of cultural productions, from creation to dissemination. Above all, it is our duty – as a society - to accompany them in their entrepreneurial quests. And we can start doing that by encouraging them to further their education and by teaching them to act proactively. Ultimately, they should be able to show their creativity to the world and capitalize on it”.

 

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Employment in Culture (2011): http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/D1EC003C2812C253CA257AD9000E8B1E


2. Skillset, Women in the new creative media industries (2010), p. 10 http://www.ewawomen.com/uploads/files/surveyskillset.pdf

 

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email: ifcd.convention2005@unesco.org