COVID-19 and Displaced Women in Burkina Faso

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SEATTLE, Washington — Burkina Faso, a small, West African country, faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. In 2015, The New Humanitarian reported that jihadist groups began attacking the region, hoping to create religious divides and disrupt “diverse and tolerant” communities. Pressure from terrorist organizations exposed the Nord, Centre-Nord and Sahel regions to extreme violence. Medecins Sans Frontieres reports that women in Burkina Faso remain especially vulnerable as they are subject to rape, lootings and massacres.

Women in Burkina Faso

Given the rise in gender-based violence (GBV), women and children fled Burkina Faso for refugee camps. Oxfam International reports that 84% of the 848,000 displaced people were women and children. While the United Nations struggles to provide humanitarian aid to Burkina Faso and its communities, the position of women remains precarious. For displaced women in Burkina Faso, COVID-19 poses a new threat to their safety and security.

Within refugee camps, women already struggle to meet their basic needs. Women in Burkina Faso lack access to clean water, adequate shelter and nutritious food. The arrival of COVID-19 further complicated their situation as it “deprived women and girls of access to essential public services and the opportunity to protect themselves.” Indeed, their cramped tents and limited access to water magnified the spread of the virus.

To alleviate their suffering, Oxfam International decided to step in and aid women in Burkina Faso. COVID-19 illuminated these women’s vulnerability as they are caught between their war-torn country and a global health pandemic. Oxfam International’s commitment to ending gender-violence inspired the organization to speak with displaced women in the country.

After interviewing survivors of rape and victims of COVID-19, Oxfam International offered two suggestions to the U.N. and other NGOs.

1. Directly Support Women’s Needs

Oxfam International encouraged the U.N. to funnel resources to displaced women in Burkina Faso and it suggested an increase in funding for WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programs. This will foster education around COVID-19 and counter misinformation surrounding the virus. Alongside this, Oxfam International recommended funding food, nutrition and shelter services to strengthen the health of these women throughout the pandemic.

Gender-based violence (GBV) continues to plague refugee camps. After speaking with survivors, Oxfam International discovered that women in the country craved more “comprehensive care options,” including healthcare for rape victims and psychological support. Oxfam believes that implementing GBV survival programs might not slow the rate of COVID-19 but it will “build women’s resilience” and ensure their basic survival.

2. Increase Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding Initiatives

Oxfam International’s report highlights the valuable role women play in Burkina Faso. Despite extreme violence and terrorism, these women strive to “build trust and foster social cohesion” through the “dissemination of positive moral values.” Essentially, these women act as reservoirs of knowledge as they educate their children about peace and build “transgenerational solidarity.”

Oxfam International wants Burkina Faso’s national and local governments to listen to rape victims’ testimonies, protect women from violence and use them as peacebuilding resources. With backing from the United Nations, these women should receive training around leadership, mediation and negotiation to amplify their voices.

To construct a proper COVID-19 response, Oxfam International maintains that Burkina Faso must first prioritize women’s needs. Listening to displaced women will not immediately slow COVID-19’s contraction rate but it will help the government form a response plan.

Oxfam International made these recommendations in May 2020 and even put the first suggestion into action. The organization is raising $11 million for humanitarian response efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso. Its response programs support women and girls by providing hygiene kits, prevention and awareness training and 107 rehabilitated water points.

Prioritizing Women in Burkina Faso

The U.N. and other NGOs yearn to solve Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis, however, Oxfam International considers women an integral focal point and an invaluable and untapped resource in this. By supporting women’s basic needs, ending GVP and inviting them into government conversations, women in Burkina Faso can help their country survive COVID-19 and foster sustainable peace.

Kyler Juarez
Photo: Flickr

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