International Women's Day: 'Sweeping' changes in Côte d'Ivoire
GUIGLO, Côte d'Ivoire, March 8 (UNHCR) - When passers-by saw their mayor with a broomstick and a white mask protecting his nose and mouth from the dust as he swept the littered market ground bordering the main road, they almost failed to recognise him.
This unusual scene on Monday morning was mayor Bernabe Gah's way to kick-start a two-day celebration of International Women's Day in Guiglo, one of the major western cities of Côte d'Ivoire. Along with him, other guest sweepers of the day included National Director of Education Blaise Tioule and UNHCR head of office in Guiglo Zeidan Ould T'Feil. Dozens of other people were also sweeping along, including Liberian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
What they all had in common was that they were men who, for one day, symbolically traded roles with women, the traditional bearers of the burden of most daily chores in West Africa.
"This is a time to share responsibilities with women and to break from preconceived ideas," said Mayor Gah.
For this year's celebration, the city opted for the slogan: "Less burden on women." Female UN and humanitarian workers helped organise the activities around that theme and that was how the idea of "Operation Sweep" came to light.
"We were charmed by the idea and said why not," said UNHCR's Zeidan as he swept along, his nose and mouth also covered. "I have several daughters, so I am very supportive of the idea of lessening the burden on women," he added with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
"Operation Sweep" provided a momentary break from the usual tensions experienced in most of western Côte d'Ivoire. The mood in Guiglo has been tense following a clash between pro-government militiamen mainly based in the town, and rebel forces further north who were attacked by the militiamen on February 28.
As part of Monday's big sweep, cars were stopped and men wooed into joining the operation. A well-dressed driver provoked a laugh when he asked awkwardly if he had to take off his jacket to sweep. "I told him it was OK. He would only have to sweep for one minute," giggled Irene Kouame, an active member of the organising team from UNHCR.
The organisers also held a cooking contest for men on Tuesday. While the men competed for the title of best cook, the women played handball matches between refugees, aid workers, Guiglo residents and displaced Ivorians originating from other parts of the country.
By Simplice Kpandji in Guiglo, Côte d'Ivoire