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Burkina Faso: Married couple defy gender roles to help their family flourish

It’s a cool August evening and the sun is shining weakly in Pissila, Burkina Faso. It will soon set, reminding Paul and Esther Sawadogo to leave their fields, where they have spent the day. Mrs. Sawadogo puts their three-year-old child on her back as her husband carefully ties a bundle of wood to his bicycle for cooking the evening meal. 

When they arrive home, the whole family gets busy washing and cooking. Mr. Sawadogo arrived before his wife and makes sure that all six children have bathed and that the older ones have started cooking before their mother returns. Mr. and Mrs. Sawadogo have been married for 15 years. 

Pissila is a rural commune in the Centre-North region of Burkina Faso, 30 km from Kaya, the capital of the region. It is a small community and the population is predominantly Mossi, the majority ethnic group in Burkina Faso. Despite the influence of modern life, traditional beliefs and ways of life play a large part in the daily lives of people in Pissila. In this part of Burkina Faso, women are assigned all the household tasks, resulting in a heavy workload that can hold women back at home and in the community. The Sawadogos feel that some traditional beliefs and customs disadvantage women and girls. 

Mr. Sawadogo is a farmer. Now in his fifties, he has decided to break with the old village custom of letting women do all the household work. He says he does this for the well-being of his family, and is one of the few men in the area who supports his wife by sharing domestic responsibilities. 

Other men in the village often criticize him for this behaviour. But Mr. Sawadogo is convinced of the importance of his role—and his wife’s—in their family’s well-being, even when it means adopting non-traditional roles.

He explains, “My wife and I support each other and I am proud of it. I am not ashamed to do it.” 

Mr. Sawadogo says that everyone contributes in his family. For example, the whole family farms together. He says, “This makes it possible to work quickly and well, and we have good harvests every year.”

He continues, “That’s why, since I noticed this, I keep helping out at home so that my wife can rest and be effective [on the farm] the next day.”

Thanks to her husband’s support, Mrs. Sawadogo says she is fulfilled. She explains, “When my husband helps me, I manage to work well and stay healthy. It brings us closer together and we fight less.”

She is very satisfied with their marriage. She says: “I am very happy with my husband. He helps me a lot with tasks that many people think are only for women. Sometimes women ask me what I do so that agrees to give me a hand.” She says she does nothing in particular, but that Mr. Sawadogo sees the value in supporting her. 

Mrs. Sawadogo helps her husband manage the family expenses. She also runs a small business that provides her with income during the dry season. She contributes this income to the family’s expenses to support her husband. She also works with her husband to support their children’s education. 

Mr. Sawadogo is pleased with this. He says, ”My wife supports me a lot in the family duties, in the education of the children, and this really relieves me a lot, because it would be difficult for me.”

Mr. Sawaodogo’s behaviour is having a positive impact on his community and attitudes are changing around him, much to the delight of the women. 

Joseph is a resident of Pissila and a friend of Mr. Sawadogo. He says he was inspired by Mr. Sawadogo’s behaviour and is starting to change his habits. He explains, “Here in the village, men don’t get involved in work such as cooking or washing up.”

But that’s changing. Joseph says, “From time to time, I heat the water for our child’s shower.” 

Mr. Sawadogo says that the cooperation between himself and his wife is all for the good of their family. He says, ”Together, we try to ensure a good future for our children.”

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 : Paul and Esther Sawadogo in their field. Credit: Sita Diallo Traoré.