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Burkina Faso: Women leaders fight to be included in decision-making

It’s 10 a.m., the beginning of the dry and dusty harmattan season, and the sun is shining over Sabou, a town 29 kilometres outside of Koudougou in central Burkina Faso. Workya Rouamba chose this moment to return to her village. On Nov. 22, Mrs. Rouamba was re-elected to the National Assembly. She returned home to thank those who contributed to the victory of her party in the presidential and national election.

This is her second mandate. And it’s the result of her hard work. According to Mrs. Rouamba, society does not give women many opportunities—she must fight hard to maintain her position amongst men as a decision-maker.

Burkina Faso has a population of about 21 million, and women account for 52%. Despite a law mandating that women must occupy 30% of seats decided in legislative and municipal elections, less than 8% of those elected to the National Assembly are women. These numbers demonstrate the difficulty women face in becoming part of decision-making bodies in Burkina Faso.

Mrs. Rouamba has a degree in financial accounting, and was previously a municipal councillor and president of the finance committee in the municipality of Sabou. In her second term, she chaired the finance committee for the Central West Regional Council. Mrs. Rouamba collaborates with many associations, particularly those that work with people with handicaps, women, and vulnerable groups. She promotes women’s causes and is a member of the gender caucus.

She explains the situation facing women: “Women are fully engaged, but the question of their participation remains a concern because those who are interested don’t have the opportunity to prove themselves. [This is] either because the leaders are not ready to make room for them or because of, purely and simply, a complete lack of confidence in women.”

Like Mrs. Rouamba, other Burkinabe women are fighting for their place in decision-making spaces. Lydia Zanga Ouedraogo trained as a lawyer and is the executive secretary of CODEL, the convention of civil society organizations for the observation of domestic elections. She has worked in civil society for her whole career and has seen various types of reluctance.

She explains: “There is a reluctance to promote women for certain positions. There is also reluctance even among women, because it requires a lot of sacrifice, self-sacrifice, [and] social constraints that they are not ready to face or that society doesn’t let them take.”

Bintou Marie Ruth Diallo is another example of a successful woman. She is a public relations specialist with Tall Media and a passionate activist for human rights. She also advocates for the promotion and development of youth in Africa. She says socio-cultural constraints have contributed to the lack of women in public positions. In the recent past, and still in some places, people see politics as an arena exclusively for men. Women are afraid to get involved because of the backbiting and social pressure that exclude women from public positions.

Martine Yabre is the president of the consultation framework for organizations working on gender and citizen participation in Burkina Faso. Through advocacy, appeals, and events to raise awareness, she and her colleagues called on the Head of State and politicians to unconditionally respect the rights of women. For example, they raised the issue of women’s position on electoral lists. Women’s names are often at the bottom of these lists, which reduces their chances of being elected.

She adds, “Our efforts have enabled us to gain support from the Canadian Embassy to translate the quota law into the four languages of Gulmatchéma, Fulfulde, Dioula, and Mooré.”

With these translations, they hope that more women become aware of the quota law, particularly those with less education. Once the law is understood, more women may be motivated to get involved in politics because they will understand that it is not just for men.

These four women are just a few examples of women’s leadership in politics and decision-making in Burkina Faso. Despite being influential in their fields, they have had to brave many obstacles to get where they are. They all agree that women are not yet in the spotlight in politics or economics, despite representing more than half the country’s population.

In Burkina Faso, women’s associations continue to work towards positions of responsibility alongside men. And while the work is tough, they won’t give up.

This story 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.