It’s 8 a.m. in Dano, in the southwestern region of Burkina Faso, about 280 km from the capital, Ouagadougou. In the courtyard of the Dano Urban Medical Centre, women gather in small groups around a handful of midwives. Like every Monday, today is a vaccination day for babies and the courtyard is teeming with mothers. Some have come for the monthly weighing of their newborns, while others are here for their prenatal consultation.
As elsewhere in the rural and semi-rural parts of Burkina Faso, traditional beliefs have a great influence on the daily lives of families. One of these beliefs is that women are responsible for housework and childcare. But one man is committed to the well-being of his family. And he shows it by helping his wife with many of the tasks that are normally assigned to women.
Today, this man is attracting the attention of women in the Dano Health Centre. His name is Issouf Ouédraogo, and he’s a young entrepreneur. Mr. Ouédraogo arrives at the centre elegantly dressed, with his eight-month-old baby strapped to his chest. He has come for the monthly weighing, and is one of the few men there today.
A few women give him curious glances; they are not used to seeing a man doing this kind of work.
A young woman named Aminata Sawadogo is also here today. She is looking at Mr. Ouédraogo with admiration.
She says: “It would have pleased me to have my husband accompany me like this. A woman should not be alone during the difficult moments of childbirth and the first moments of the baby’s life.”
Abibou Drabo is another young mother who is here today. She says that Mrs. Ouédraogo is very lucky. Mrs. Drabo’s husband would never bring their child to the health centre because he is worried what people would think of him.
She says that some people look down on men who perform tasks that society assigns to women. Local beliefs maintain that drawing water, carrying the baby, and going to the market are tasks for women. Some say that for men to do these tasks is damaging to their honour.
But others, like Mr. Ouédraogo, disagree. His view of a man’s role in the family and household is much larger.
Mr. Ouédraogo says that he has been at his wife’s side throughout pregnancy, delivery, and now through child-raising. He acknowledges his community’s beliefs, but does not agree with them. He believes that men play an important role in the development and well-being of their family. This is why he wants to help change the minds of people in his community.
Mr. Ouédraogo asks, “If a couple has a child, why give custody only to one parent?”
He says that there are only benefits when a husband supports his wife, and he invites others to consider their wives as their sisters or mothers. Who wouldn’t want to help his sister or mother?
Jeanne Somda has been a midwife at the Dano Urban Medical Centre for more than 15 years, and was present when Mr. Ouédraogo’s wife gave birth. She remembers thinking that Mr. Ouédraogo’s actions were temporary, like many men who accompany their wives in birth. Now that he continues to be a supportive husband and father, she applauds him.
She says, “I really appreciate Mr. Ouédraogo’s actions and I encourage other men to follow his lead.”
For Mrs. Somda, Mr. Ouédraogo represents a model husband who listens to his wife and family and cares for his baby. She notes that he is active in doctor’s visits, and tries to improve his young child’s nutrition. The benefit, she says, is a healthy baby and a happy family.
André Bayala is a sociologist. He says that changing behaviours and traditional beliefs is a long-term task. Mr. Bayala says that positive change will come, thanks to people like Mr. Ouédraogo—but it may take time.
Despite the slow pace of change, Mr. Ouédraogo is not discouraged. With the support of Mrs. Somda the midwife, he hopes to create a club of men who participate in their children’s doctor’s appointments.
The young father says he is pleased to see other men bringing their wives and children to the health centre. Mr. Ouédraogo hopes that his actions will inspire other men and improve the well-being of families in his community.
This resource was produced for the VIMPlus project. ViMPlus is part of USAID’s Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) program, which supports vulnerable communities in Burkina Faso and Niger to effectively prepare for and manage recurrent crises and pursue sustainable pathways out of poverty.
Photo: Issouf Ouédraogo with his baby at the Dano Urban Medical Centre. Credit: Bakouan Ouaboué.
This story was originally published in July 2022.