Burkina Faso: Elections cannot ignore women’s crisis

15 July 2015, 16:00 UTC

Burkina Faso must urgently tackle the nationwide crisis where forced and early marriage, unwanted pregnancy and lacking sex education reduce hundreds of thousands of girls and women to second class citizens, said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International is today launching the My Body My Rights campaign in Burkina Faso, with a human rights manifesto calling on presidential and legislative candidates in the 11 October 2015 elections to commit to a tougher stance on forced and early marriage, and to making it easier for women and girls to access contraception and sexual and reproductive health information and services.

“A young girl growing up in Burkina Faso today faces many barriers preventing her from fulfilling her own hopes and dreams for her life. She could be married off by her family and even if she can afford contraception, her partner may refuse to use it or not allow her to use it,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International regional director for West and Central Africa.

“For too long, the Burkinabé authorities have neglected the rights of women and girls. Redressing this wrong and lifting the barriers faced by women and girls must be a central aim of any election candidate’s campaign.”

While gender equality is protected under Burkina Faso’s constitution and law, in practice, female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage and domestic violence are widespread. Women and girls told Amnesty International that decisions about pregnancy and marriage are often taken by male family members. As a result, only 17% of women in Burkina Faso use contraception and more than 2,000 women die in childbirth every year. 

Several barriers to sexual and reproductive health and access to contraception

It is very common for men to prevent their wives from using contraception with threats of violence. Therese, a 23 year-old fruit seller and mother of three told Amnesty International:

“Since I gave birth to a second child, I hide to take my contraceptive pills, which are also cheaper for me than other methods. My husband does not know about contraception. He thinks that it brings diseases and he threatens to lock me up if I fall ill because of it.”

Other barriers women face in accessing contraception include high costs and a lack of access to comprehensive sex education. Mariama, a 24 year-old mother of three, told Amnesty International how lack of education can lead to unwanted pregnancy:

“When I had sex and got pregnant for the first time, I didn’t know that I could get pregnant after having sex. I didn’t know anything about contraception. After my first child was born, I got pregnant again. I did not use any method of contraception because I still didn’t know what to do.”

Alarming rates of forced and early marriage

Burkina Faso’s next government will have to respond to alarming rates of early marriage by reviewing national legislation to ensure that laws prohibiting early marriage are enforced, including through sanctioning families who marry girls without their consent, Amnesty International said.

Burkina Faso has the sixth highest rate of early marriage in Africa, with 52% of girls married by the age of 18 and nearly half already mothers at that age.

Malaika ran away from home to avoid being married off by her parents. When she was picked up by the police they told her to go back to her mum and dad, she told Amnesty International:

“I was 15 when my parents wanted me to marry an old man of 75. He is older than my father and already has three wives and daughters of my age. The day that I had to be introduced to the old man I told my parents that I did not agree with their choice and that I wanted to finish my education. They told me that I had to marry the man they had chosen and that I had no choice but to accept.”

“Amnesty International is calling on all legislative and presidential candidates to sign its human rights manifesto and commit to making the meaningful changes that will enable women and girls to make fundamental decisions about their bodies and their sexual and reproductive rights,” said Alioune Tine.

“Whoever wants to lead the country in future must end this discrimination against young people. Childhood is cut short, and women and girls are robbed of their right to make decisions about their lives and their bodies. Today in Burkina Faso women and girls are not always free to choose when they marry, and who; when they have children and how many – this has to change.”

My Body My Rights

My Body My Rights is Amnesty International’s global campaign against government efforts to control women and girls. The campaign is already running in El Salvador and Ireland.

The campaign in Burkina Faso will seek to raise awareness about barriers facing women and girls through advertisements, concerts and other activities, with Amnesty International supporters handing out free condoms to highlight the need for greater access to contraception.

Petition: Let’s break the barriers to contraception for women and girls in Burkina Faso