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Combined second and third periodic report submitted on 11 December 1997 (CEDAW/C/BFA/2-3)


A landlocked country in west Africa, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Predominately rural, it has an agricultural, subsistence economy.  The capital, Ouagadougou, is the fastest growing city in the world, growing at a rate of ten percent per year and doubling every seven years. [1]   Approximately 46 percent of the population is under 15 years. [2]   Since 1985, the World Bank’s World Development Reports have ranked Burkina Faso from the 5th to the 20th poorest country in the world. [3]  
The country’s extreme poverty affects virtually every aspect of life.  The number of registered AIDS cases has risen from 2,285 in 1992 to 10,000 in 1997, many of whom remain untreated.  An estimated seven percent of the 10 million inhabitants of Burkina Faso have contracted HIV/AIDS. [4] Ten percent of Burkina Faso’s population work in other countries, [5] with long-standing traditions of migrating to Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. [6]   As of 1992, 45 percent of all children under the age of five were estimated to be malnourished. [7]


Approximately 80 percent of the workforce is employed in subsistence agriculture, which is vulnerable to variations in rainfall. [8]  The majority of the country’s basic food crops must be imported. [9]   The country ranks in the top ten percent in the world in women’s participation in the work force, with 77 percent of women participating. [10]
The following report is a result of IWRAW research.  Despite our efforts to get in touch with NGO sources in Burkina Faso, we were unable to connect and receive any materials.
The average age for a women’s first marriage is 17.4, compared to 27.0 for men.  This early marrying age for women ranks the sixth lowest age in Africa, and the bottom ten percent of all countries in the world. [11]  
Cultural factors have an impact on the high rate of HIV infection among women, many of whom are shunned by their families and friends as having loose morals. [12] Such stereotypes also inhibit patients’ ability to seek treatment.  Despite guarantees of confidentiality, just 225 people have come forward to the country’s two major clinics to be tested for HIV. [13]   One experts states that “AIDS is closely linked to sex, which is a taboo subject so people do not think of the other methods of infection. . . Then again, they tell themselves it makes no sense knowing if you are infected or not.  ‘Even if I know I am infected, what would I do?  It’s a certain death,’ they say.” [14]
Traditional practices of the Mossi, Burkina Faso’s largest ethnic group, perpetuate the inferiority of women in Burkinabe society.  These traditions include pogsyure, an intricate series of practices in which the male side of families and lineages negotiate the marriage, exchange and circulation of women. Referred to as the “capitalization of women as a means of power, the practice of pogsyure has been compared to the slave trade, in which women, who hold the power to reproduce, are managed like a scarce resource. [15]  
Polygyny also continues to be practiced.  According to the 1985 census, 20 percent of married men had two wives, seven percent had three wives, and three percent had four or more.  A reflection of economic means, in which “the accumulation of women or servants. . . is an accumulation of forces of production,” instances of polygamy become more frequent as men age and accumulate wealth.  Polygyny is more widespread in rural than urban areas. [16]
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced by most ethnic groups in Burkina Faso.  The most often cited reasons for performing the operation is preventing sexual promiscuity, and the belief that if a child touches his or her mother’s clitoris upon being born, he or she will soon die (also see under Article 12). [17]

Following the May 1997 parliamentary elections, the Government created a Ministry of Women's Affairs and appointed a woman as minister. Women comprise six percent of the legislature, and 13 percent of cabinet members are women. [18]

Ninety-two percent of women are illiterate, ranking in the bottom ten percent in the world. This compares to 73 percent illiteracy rate for men. [19] Just 39 percent of students enrolled in primary school are girls, and the number decreases to 23 percent of female students enrolling in higher education. [20]

Although 77 percent of women participate in the labor force, women are underrepresented in the formal economy and public administration, where they constitute less than ten percent of the salaried private sector and less than 20 percent of the public service work force. [21]   Women employed in the formal economy are significantly better off financially than their rural counterparts.  The Labor Laws Act of 1962 establishes that female public servants receive 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and one hour off per day for breast-feeding for 15 months thereafter. [22]  
The vast majority of women are limited to the informal sectors of the economy in order to make a living.  This includes selling fruits and vegetables that they or other women have cultivated, making beer and pastries, and spinning cotton. 


Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced on an estimated 70 percent of the female population. [23]   The government has taken steps to promote awareness to end the practices, including regional seminars and collaboration with the Ministry of the Promotion of Women.   IWRAW does not have specific information on the programs and their impact.
Approximately half of the 10,000 Burkinabe suffering from the AIDS virus are women.  According to one West African health expert, “Our women are disproportionately disadvantaged because of societal and cultural norms that do not permit them to skillfully negotiate sex.” [24]
Access to Health Care
Women, especially those from the poorest sectors of the population,  do not have adequate access to medical care.  In order to improve the population’s access to health services, the Ministry of Health has developed a decentralized system which facilitates access at the regional and district levels.  In addition, the ICO is supporting programs that link the income-generating activities of women to their families’ health. [25]  
Child Bearing and Family Planning
Just eight percent of couples of childbearing age report using contraceptives. [26]   Eleven percent of all births are to teenage mothers.
The life expectancy for women in Burkina Faso is 48.9.  The maternal mortality rate is 930; the average Burkinabe woman has a one-in-seventeen chance of dying from pregnancy related causes. [27]
Women have shown an increasing interest in the female condom as a method of birth control and a way of protecting against contracting the HIV/AIDS virus.  Medical practitioners believe that, because it is protective of the female organs, it could reduce HIV transmission from men to women by 46 percent. [28]


"A visit to Ouagadougou cannot suffice to understand the relentless, grinding poverty which burdens rural women from age two until they die, at an average age of 47, leaving behind five to six children and almost no movement toward self-sufficiency and/or choice. . . . we cannot flatter ourselves that these conditions are improving. They are not and the separation and stratification of these women in poverty are growing more severe and desperate.  There is no easy answer and nothing to be pleased about on progress to date." [29]

Animata Ouedraogo Bakayogo, Burkinabe feminist film producer.

Seventy percent of the population of Burkina Faso live in rural areas. [30]   As mentioned earlier in this report, rural women have the additional burdens of cultural barriers to full equality.   The vast majority are employed in the informal sectors of the economy, where they lack legal labor protections and benefits.  Most are subjected to discriminatory cultural traditions, including polygyny and female genital mutilation. 

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  21/08/97.   CERD/C/304/Add.41.
No recommendations concerning women were issued by this Committee.
Committee on the Rights of the Child.  25/04/94.  CRC/C15/Add.19
Suggestions and Recommendations
Develop, elaborate and implement a comprehensive strategy to eradicate existing discrimination against girls and women.  Make special efforts to prevent forced marriage, female circumcision and domestic violence.  Disseminate information about modern methods of family planning.

[1] Peter Strzok, Zontans in Leadership Positions in Burkina Faso.
[2] “Burkina Faso:  Country Profile,” Africa Review World of Information, July 1999, Nexis, 28 July 1999.
[3] Pierre Englebert, Burkina Faso:  Unsteady Statehood in West Africa (Boulder:  Westview Press, 1995), 112.
[4] Abdoulaye Gandema, “Human Rights-Burkina Faso:  HIV Means Rejection Unless You Hide It,” Inter Press Service, 3 February 1998, Nexis, 25 July 1999.
[5] Maggie O’Kane and John Vidal, “Weaving Together; Ghana and Burkina Faso Poorest Women Build the Future,” The Guardian (London), 17 June 1999, Nexis, 26 July 1999.
[6] Burkina:  History, available at <http://www.africanet.com/africanet/country/burkina/history.htm>, accessed 27 July 1999.
[7] Pierre Englebert, 133.
[8] “Development Aid for Burkina Faso, Haiti and ACP African States, Europe Information Report, 22 May 1999, Nexis, 25 July 1999.
[9] Burkina:  History,.
[10] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, Where Women Stand (New York: Random House, 1997), 492.
[11] Ibid., 89.
[12] Abdoulaye Gandema, “Human Rights-Burkina Faso:  HIV Means Rejection Unless You Hide it,” Inter Press Service, 3 February 1999, Nexis, July 30 1999.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Pierre Englebert, 138.
[16] Ibid., 139.
[17] Gilbert Tarrab and Chris Coene, Femmes et pouvoirs au Burkina Faso (Quebec: G. Vermette and L’Harmattan, 1989), 21, quoted in Pierre Englebert, Burkina Faso:  Unsteady Statehood in West Africa (Boulder:  Westview Press, 1995), 139.
[18] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 485.
[19] Ibid., 491.
[20] Ibid., 39.
[21] Pierre Englebert, 140.
[22] Ibid., 140.
[23] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 163.
[24] Edward Ameyibor, “Health-West Africa:  Women Suffer Most from AIDS Scourge,” Inter Press Service, 8 October 1998, Nexis, 25 July 1999.
[25] World Health Organization, available at <http://www.who.org/ico/countries/burkina.htm>.
[26] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 502.
[27] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 506.
[28] Aida Soumare Diop, “Female Condoms Gain Ground in Fracophone Africa,” Panafrican News Agency, 12 May 1999, Nexis, 28 July 1999.
[29] Peter Strzok, Zontans in Leadership Positions in Burkina Faso.
[30] Ibid.



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