President of the Association des Femmes de Gourcy
(Association of Women of Gourcy, or AFG)
Profile by Alyssa Wilson, MPA '04
"Here in Burkina Faso, the woman is the first to wake up and the last to sleep at night," explains Mme Ouédraogo Azeto, the President of the Association des Femmes de Gourcy (Association of Women of Gourcy, or AFG). AFG is based in Gourcy, the capital of Zondoma, a rural province of in Burkina Faso, one of the three poorest countries in the world. Founded in 1998 by a group of local Burkinabé women to unite the women of Gourcy without religious or political distinction, AFG works to ameliorate the status of women by focusing on social, legal and health issues. From educating children to cultivating crops, cooking, fetching water and wood, and washing clothes, life is hard for the women of Zondoma province. A crude image painted on a faded banner hanging in AFG's one-room office perfectly captures women's multiple responsibilities: a women balances a jug of water on her head, holding a book in one hand to teach her children, clothes to wash in another, a farming tool in a third hand and wood in yet another hand. As women themselves, the officers of AFG know first-hand how time-consuming these responsibilities are and they know they have their work cut out for them to improve the lives of local women.
AFG's 250 members, Burkinabé women from the Gourcy area, pay nominal dues to the association. These fees represent the association's only source of funding; AFG receives no financial support from the Government of Burkina, although they work in close partnership with local government officials and receive some in-kind support. In return for their dues, AFG members are able to participate in a wide range of activities that are designed not only to increase their skills and supplement their incomes, but also to educate other community members. Recent projects include a literacy project in Mooré and a gardening project for vegetable cultivation, which simultaneously improves their families' nutrition and generates extra income through surplus crops. Micro-enterprise projects such as a small flourmill run by local women are critical for a province in which 45 percent of children are malnourished.
Since polygamy is common in Zondoma, AFG recognizes a need to make women's lives more financially and legally secure. As many Zondoma residents are not legally married, widows are often left without rights to their property when their husbands die. AFG has helped to organize collective marriages where numerous couples are officially married in one ceremony, so that the women can have identification cards and rights to their land. In a region where most people depend on subsistence agriculture to survive, the importance of secure land tenure cannot be overstated.
Maternal and infant mortality levels in Burkina Faso are high-484 deaths per 100,000 live births and 105 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.1 These health indicators reflect poor access to health services, particularly in rural areas such as Zondoma province, where AFG works. AFG addresses the important reproductive health issues that threaten the women of Zondoma. In addition to HIV/AIDS educational activities, AFG has organized activities in many local villages to educate women about the consequences of female genital cutting (FGC).
FGC is a deeply imbedded practice in the region: two-thirds of women in the area are excised. AFG has already identified the eight local women who are primarily responsible for most local girls' excisions and they hope to involve these 'excisors' in future educational activities. By targeting the women who perform the excisions, AFG hopes to discourage them from continuing their trade. Progress is slow in the region since the majority of both men and women support the cultural practice, but the women of AFG know it is important to explain the potentially dangerous effects of FGC on women's health. The day after an emergency delivery, the Cuban doctor who works at the local government-funded health clinic explained that FGC often complicates child birth and can endanger the lives of both the mother and child. The doctor was able to save both patients in this case, but many women are not so lucky. Although many local people are curious about the lone Cuban doctor working in Gourcy and they sometimes snicker at his broken French, he is welcomed because doctors are scarce in the area.
When asked about gender relations in Zondoma, Mme Ouédraogo conceded that there is still a lot of work to be done. "We try to bring together men and women through the educational activities, but men still say that there are many things that women should not do. There is some improvement, but it is slow." As a trained nurse, Mme Ouédraogo knows how this hampers efforts to improve women's health. In a country where women are often ashamed to speak in front of men and many people refuse condoms given out during educational activities, progress comes in small steps. There is no doubt, though, that the participation of women themselves through organizations such as AFG is essential to improving the lives of women in Zondoma.
For more information, please contact Alyssa Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact AFG directly at the following address:
Mme Ouédrago Azeto
Présidente de l'Association des Femmes de Gourcy
Boite Postale 11
Gourcy, Province du Zondoma
+(226) - 55-21-37 or 55-22-77
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