Burkinas Women to the Forefront

By James Bennett,2014-05-13 12:55
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Burkinas Women to the Forefront

    Burkina’s Women Shape Progress

Ouagadougou, April 2008

    by Brenda Gael McSweeney and Scholastique Kompaoré

Something positive is afoot in villages of West Africa that the rest of the

    world should know about. The timing is perfect, coming just as UNESCO

    has chosen „gender equality‟ and „Africa‟ as its two global priorities. Burkina

    Faso‟s development actors are investing strongly in women and girls,

    building on the path-breaking work begun years ago by UNESCO and the

    Burkina Government, with the support of the UN Development Programme.

“The Platform saved us,” exclaims Marie Nikièma, from Poa in the Center-

    West of the Sahelian country of Burkina Faso. “Before, we spent a crazy amount of time hulling then grinding grain, both exhausting tasks, and

    crushing shea butter nuts which took two days with all the interruptions.”

That was before the

    arrival in early 2007 of

    the Multi Functional

    Platform in her village -

    a simple diesel engine

    made in India with units

    the villagers selected,

    like a shea and peanut

    butter press, grain huller

    or flour mill. The

    Platform is only the

    physical part of a

    development package.

    Essential components

    are a system of pre-

    project village

    consultations, the naming of a women‟s management committee by the women themselves, and follow-up visits by non-governmental technicians.

Far away from Burkina in North America and Europe, development policy

    debates are dotted with important yet abstract concepts such as poverty

    eradication, sustainable development and democratic governance. “Afro-

    optimism” has recently been added to the international development

    vocabulary to reflect the continent‟s robust growth rate and dwindling number of conflicts. The last few months we witnessed these concepts

    being translated into action at the grassroots level throughout Burkina.


“Since the Platform came, we can leave off our grain at dawn for

    processing, then tend to other tasks, like making soumbala (a spice cake

    for cooking) or growing and marketing vegetables,” the women declare.

    We now have money to send our girls to school and our husbands prefer millet pancakes from flour finely ground by the Platform‟s mill.”

    We watched the Women‟s Management

    Committee members measure grain,

    negotiate prices, mill the flour and collect

    and record cash earnings. Their bank

    account serves as collateral for loans,

    permitting expansion of their rural


    In Poa‟s neighboring village of Songpelcé, we

    were asked to photograph the villagers

    crowding alongside a small indigenous plant

    called Jatropha, growing right at the door of

    the Platform‟s shelter. Soon the countryside

    will be covered with acres of this plant, to

    serve as bio-fuel. With the sky-rocketing

    price of gasoline, it is fortuitous that this bio-

    fuel can go straight into the Multi Functional Platforms without any engine


“We take turns doing everything” explained

    a woman from Gomoré village near the

    town of Fada N‟Gourma in the east of Burkina. The Platforms‟ motors in 119 of

    120 installations countrywide are humming.

    They start typically early in the morning or

    in the evening at the choice of the women.

    Disputes have only stopped down activities

    in one village. Other cases of conflict have

    been resolved. Most women‟s committees

    volunteer their time to manage the Platform.

    However, in one case the women were

    paying themselves too much to balance the

    books. Heated negotiations ended that, and

    led to broadened participation and

    involvement of more neighborhoods “democracy” and “transparency” in action at the local level.

Time and again, we witnessed the ingenuity of these women. In one village

    we watched as a Platform support piece fell clanging onto the cement floor

    from a running engine. Yet minutes later, the female millers had solved

    the immediate problem with a rope.


The rural women and men are highly enthusiastic about advances the

    Platform brings to their communities. They give it a strong approval rating

    in independent evaluations. “This is the work of the UNESCO pilot project

    for women and girls that we‟re

    pursuing,” declared a beaming

    Benoit Ouba, President of Tin Tua,

    the Non-Governmental

    Organization (NGO) in charge of

    the Platform initiative in the

    eastern part of the country. Other

    Non-Governmental activists also

    plan to stay the course. “No more

    project cemeteries,” says Louis

    Ouédraogo who heads the NGO

    catalyzing the Multi Functional

    Platform action in the centre-west

    of the country.

The Government of Burkina Faso and several others in West Africa intend

    to scale up the Platform approach in partnership with their main donor the

    United Nations Development Programme. Presently a regional project is

    carrying the idea across Africa, for which UNDP‟s Regional Bureau for Africa

    just mobilized 19 million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

From village to village around Burkina the bright eyes and deep laughter of

    the women vividly personify the benefits of investing in women and girls.

    We too are placing our bets on success.


Brenda Gael McSweeney began a decades-long international development career in

    Ouagadougou. She is Visiting Faculty at Boston University’s Women’s Studies Program,

    and at Brandeis University is Resident Scholar of the Women’s Studies Research Center

    and teaches at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Scholastique

    Kompaoré was National Coordinator of the Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) pilot project

    for Equal Access of Women and Girls to Education. She is the President of the Burkina

    arm of the World March of Women.


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