Emmaus International

Suzanne Ware, Chair of the Pag-La-Yiri association, talks to us about the role of women in the informal economy in Burkina Faso. She relates this to the health crisis that the country is currently facing.

In Burkina Faso, a significant part of the population (45.3%) lives below the poverty line, estimated at an annual income of 72 690 FCFA per adult (approximately 110 euros). However, discrimination plays a role, and poverty varies according to gender, civil status, size of household, level of education and the home environment. Women are more affected by poverty than men. Of those living in extreme poverty, 52.4% are women whereas 47.6% are men; in the non-poverty group, women account for 48.6% versus 51.4% of men. Poverty hits households headed by men more (35.9%) than those where women are at the head of the household (19.8%).

The low level of schooling of girls which has persisted for such a long time means that we see more women working in the informal sector (58.1%), particularly in agriculture, food production, retail and in other non-paid domestic jobs. Women’s activities are all too often statistically ignored.

In rural settings, women are more dependent on nature (water, forest, land) to provide food and income to support their families (agriculture, livestock, environment, processing of agricultural and forest products). However, they have very limited control over these resources as they have no access to land. Women very rarely participate in creating conservation plans and programmes and in managing these resources. Furthermore, they do not have the physical strength and the time required to use soil conservation techniques, such as digging pits in the soil at regular intervals (zaï technique) or stone cordons. Consequently, their land is the most damaged during floods or heavy rains. Their portion of land is loaned by their husband or by a relative, and is often poor quality, which low agricultural potential.

In urban areas, thousands of women work in catering, in markets (trade) and in processing.

With the protective measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of borders, markets, restaurants and public houses, and the curfew in place, all economic activity in the 80% female informal sector has virtually come to a standstill. These prevention measures to contain the COVID 19 disease have impoverished the population, especially women.

Currently, women are organising to quickly restart their activities whilst respecting health guidelines issued by the Health Ministry: setting up a handwashing or hand sanitiser station in front of their workplace, respecting social distancing between customers, with waitresses and retail assistants wearing protective overalls and face coverings. Restaurants have started selling meals to takeaway and have invested in disposable plates, among other initiatives. Despite this, many women living from hand to mouth on a daily basis need financial support to relaunch their activities. The Emmaus International emergency fund has provided an essential response.

Thanks to this support, the Pag-La-Yiri group has been able to support 1,110 vulnerable people between April and June 2020, the majority of whom are women, by providing food items (rice, corn flour, oil and corn).

Suzanne Ware
President of the Pag-La-Yiri association (Burkina Faso)