Disabled Women Confront Stigma In Burkina Faso
By Morgane Le Cam
“Before this initiative we were confined to our homes. We couldn’t go out.”
Sitting under the shade of a tree, a group of women drink traditional beer to escape the searing 40-degree-Celsius heat.
Perched on a massive tricycle, one woman passes a wooden bowl full of beer to her neighbour, whose eyes are closed. The 30 women gathered in this town of central Burkina Faso are all blind, paralysed or suffer from epilepsy.
“I used to crawl on all fours, dragging myself on the ground to get to school,” said Ela Bonkoungou, who since contracting meningitis at the age of five has been paralysed in both legs.
Disabled people make up more than 10 percent of the population in Burkina Faso, and are more likely to live in poverty and struggle to find jobs, according to Light for the World, an international disability and development charity.
Rights activists say the situation is even worse for disabled women, who face additional stigma, even from their families.
But change is afoot. In 2010, a group of 70 disabled women started the town’s first union for disabled women, with the help of a local community centre.
The women meet several times a month at the Garango centre to discuss anything from jobs to their children’s education.
The union, with help from Light for the World, aims to facilitate disabled people’s access to education, jobs and health and social services – an approach developed by the World Health Organization, UNESCO and the International Labour Organization, and known as “community-based rehabilitation”.
In the centre’s courtyard, wooden tables showcase basketwork, bright wrap skirts, bronze statuettes and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions and cucumbers.
“We sell the items to visitors, which gives us money to pay for rice and millet at home,” said Bonkoungou, the association’s secretary, sitting proudly on a massive metal tricycle.
Thanks to a local Catholic mission, she and other paralysed women from the association have received free tricycles, which allow them to move freely on the region’s sandy roads.