Inside the Turmoil in Burkina Faso: the Struggle of Displaced Women
In the north and the east of Burkina Faso, over the past year armed groups have devastated villages, with more than 750,000 people displaced by early 2020. Most have fled to urban centres where they feel safe from attack, with large numbers of displaced people arriving in areas where resources were already scarce.
And among these displaced people, there are women. A lot of women. Women on the front lines who fight for their own survival and that of their children.
Photos credit : Sylvain Cherkaoui / Oxfam
During their flight, many of them have lost everything: their homes, their dreams, and often even relatives; their husband or brother killed or kidnapped. Several have been victims of violence and of rape.
At the Kaya and Pissila IDP sites, thousands of IDPs share the scarce resources that humanitarian organizations have been able to distribute. But with an increase of 1,200 percent displaced in a year, resources are no longer sufficient.
Mariam, 25, a mother of one, fled her village near Dablo, in north-central Burkina Faso, leaving behind the ambition of a lifetime: to finish her studies.
"My dream was to have a high school diploma. I became a mother while still in school but I hung on and continued until 10th grade. But in April they closed the school because of insecurity and classes stopped completely. "
"I didn't want to be yet another victim of the violence, so I decided to escape. "
With a child to take care of, each day is a challenge for Mariam:
"I have to ration my lunch if I want something left to eat in the evening. "
"There is no firewood and, as a woman, I am afraid when I have to go to look for it in the bush; I do not feel safe. "
To survive, Mariam tries to do laundry in town for families, or pound millet or sorghum for a few cents.
"At the moment, we need everything: water, food, shelter. "
Fatoumata is 31 years old and mother to five children. She fled the violence when armed groups took possession of her village, only a few kilometers from the Pissila site for displaced people where she is currently living with her family.
In the village, Fatoumata lived peacefully:
"I was doing agriculture and livestock farming. In the dry season, I grew leaves and tomatoes. "
But Fatoumata lost everything when she fled to save her life and those of her children. In desperation, she tried to return home to collect some of her tools, but was met with violence from armed groups who beat her mother in front of her.
"Since the attack in the village, I am terrorized. I don't sleep at night anymore; I am traumatized, fear never leaves me. My poor mother never goes out and said that she would never go back there. "
At the Pissila site, Fatoumata has received some food aid and a hygiene kit. But under the hot Sahelian sun, access to water remains the main challenge:
"If I go to get water at 7 am, I have to queue in the sun until at least noon. Even then, the little water I am able to collect does not even meet my family's needs for the day. I have to repeat that every day. "
Huguette Yago is a water and sanitation engineer for the l’Association pour la Gestion de l’Environnement et le Développement (Association for the Management of the Environment and Development – AGED), an Oxfam partner. She supervises eight activity leaders at the Pissila site who carry out awareness sessions with people living there around proper hygiene standards, as well as managing groups of volunteers who maintain the latrines.
"Everyone knows their job; we have 3 awareness sessions per week and the hygiene committee made up of volunteers takes over."
Huguette has always wanted to work in the humanitarian sector and she feels in her element but the conditions are difficult, especially for women:
"Women say that during their period they don't have sanitary towels or tampons. They don’t even have enough soap to keep themselves clean. "
"Without water there is nothing you can do and all the drilling attempts so far have come to nothing. It's not rocket science. For there to be hygiene, there must be water."
In this context of great fragility, the risk of epidemic is very high and would have disastrous consequences in these areas where thousands of vulnerable people live and where health services are overwhelmed and often too expensive for those who have lost everything in their flight.
Huguette also highlights the lack of clothes and shoes, and the problem of access to healthcare.
"These families need cash to be able to meet the pressing needs of everyday life, buy firewood to cook, buy basic food items; no one should have to survive like this. "
For Mariam, Fatoumata and Huguette, as for the thousands of displaced women and humanitarian workers in Burkina Faso, resources must increase dramatically to help 1.8 million people before the end of the year.
And as carts, motorcycles and tricycles bring new waves of displaced people daily, all too soon the bravery of women like Mariam, Fatoumata and Huguette will not be enough. More must be done to provide them with assistance – and soon.