"At This Moment, We Are Very Brave"

World Neighbours Society Canada

Sam and Mary*, a husband and wife from the Gourma province of Burkina Faso, were struggling to provide the basics for their family. Years of drought had exacerbated poverty in the region, putting extreme pressure on families like theirs. The couple found themselves fighting with each other nearly every day over debt, school fees and their inability to provide health care for their children. 
“Often, between my wife and I, it was very hard. I know it was due to poverty,” said Sam. “We had no credit left at the school (to pay school fees).” 
Burkina Faso, and the Gourma province in particular, has seen many of its residents fall into extreme poverty in recent years. The area is experiencing frequent and worsening droughts that destabilize the single season of rain-fed subsistence agriculture that provides the basis of most people’s livelihoods. Decreasing agricultural production and food security have led to acute malnutrition, exceeding critical thresholds in many areas.  

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Women in the region face the greatest barriers to income generation. Few women in rural Gourma are literate, and most women aged 16 and older have no formal education. Illiteracy, innumeracy and lack of skills training means their inclusion in income-generating activities and decision-making power in the household is extremely limited.  
Supported by FIT, World Neighbours Canada (WNC) and their local partner Association d’Appui à la Promotion du Développement Durable des Communautés (APDC) tested an innovative solution aimed at increasing women’s full and equitable economic participation and empowerment in both household and the livestock smallholder sector. The innovation provided women with the funds to purchase livestock (sheep) as well as professional training in animal-fattening, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and gender sensitization. It also provided men, as well as adolescent girls and boys, with age and gender-specific sensitization workshops that allowed them to critically reflect on changes to the existing notions of gendered power relations and labour roles, and to recognize the potential benefits of women’s economic empowerment.    
The innovation had a significant and positive impact on participants. The women involved developed an increased income-generation capacity; upgraded their professional knowledge and skills; structured animal-fattening activities as informal and family-based businesses; secured increased support from household members, especially husbands and male family members, for tasks related to the care and purchase of animals; and began to identify themselves as contributors who are deserving of respect in the household and community. Despite ongoing challenges related to COVID-19, armed conflict, food security and more, the impacts were substantial.  Men’s engagement in the innovation testing was encouraged through a novel approach to animal-fattening that is family-based.  Positive intra-marital and intra-household relations have been harnessed to promote knowledge-sharing and increased participation of women in the animal purchase and sale processes. 
In addition, it was noted that gender awareness sessions had a larger impact than expected. Though it was assumed that practical training skills would be most valued by participants, the gender sessions were deeply appreciated by both men and women.  

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“Since [the innovation] our fights have decreased a lot,” said Sam. “Our community has seen the impact on the [participant] households. Women and their husbands are united. There is more understanding between couples.” 
The innovation has also allowed women in the community to connect with each other in empowering ways. Participants meet every two weeks to discuss best practices and other topics of choice. Josephine*, a women participant, said the innovation has changed the lives of women in her community. 
“Between our husbands and us, there is a lot of consideration now. Thanks to the support of [the innovation] there is respect. They encouraged us to stand up and fight to become autonomous. At this moment, we are very brave.” 
World Neighbours Canada and their local partner APDC will continue to monitor the progress of participants and offer support by providing input and encouraging a reinvestment of profits into more livestock. 
*Names have been changed to protect participant identities. 

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