With coronavirus, peace is more than ever a question of survival in Burkina Faso

Naomie Ouedraogo Bicaba, woman peace activist in Brukina Faso

A committed and optimistic woman living in a dramatic security context, Naomie Ouedraogo Bicaba is shaking up traditional thinking to make her contribution to the return of peace in Burkina Faso. And with the coronavirus pandemic, peace is more than ever a question of survival in the country. Photo: Amadou Cisse/Oxfam

Since 2015, the security situation in Burkina Faso has continued to deteriorate, with disastrous humanitarian consequences. This crisis, which has displaced more than 840,000 people inside the country, 84% of whom are women and children, has been aggravated since March 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.

As of May 10, 748 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country, with 48 deaths. However, relatively limited testing capacities may well hide a much higher number of cases. The population lives in this double crisis, with immense challenges to their survival.

The crisis has displaced more than 840,000 people inside Burkina Faso, 84% of whom are women and children.

Women for peace

In a country where the distribution of roles in society confines women to mostly domestic responsibilities, Naomie Ouedraogo Bicaba fights for social harmony through the Network of Women of Faith for Peace (NWFP), an Oxfam partner organization in the area of peacebuilding.

Naomie strongly believes that women have a role to play in building social cohesion: “Women are endowed with sweetness. At home, in the family, children’s education is more the responsibility of women. We must put women at the heart of building peace because they can bring a lot as mothers, daughters, sisters”, she says.

“They attack the men first. Even if the husband isn’t killed, he leaves. He gets scared, he takes off and leaves the woman and children behind. So women are left alone and become the head of the household.”

The contribution of women to building social cohesion is all the more necessary in families traumatized by violence. As part of her work, Naomie lives and works in Nag-rengo, a rural commune located 40 kilometers outside the capital city of Ouagadougou where over 16,000 displaced people found refuge after fleeing the violence of armed groups. The majority of them are women and children who are the most affected by the conflict.

Representing the Federation of Churches and Evangelical Missions of Burkina in the NWFP as treasurer, Naomie, together with the Catholic and Muslim representatives, invests herself with determination in the cause of interreligious dialogue and harmony with women, regardless of their origin or faith : "I will help my sisters to better educate their children so that they become actors of peace and not actors of conflicts," she insists.

The contribution of women to building social cohesion is all the more necessary in families traumatized by violence in Burkina Faso.

A feeling of compassion

However painful it is, Naomie often takes the time to visit these women uprooted from their land with nowhere to go: “When I get there, I have a feeling of compassion because I put myself in their shoes. My heart breaks to see such dignified women forced into such a desperate position”. And with the threat of the coronavirus, the situation is even more complex for women living in overcrowded spaces with very basic hygiene conditions and often a lack of water.

It’s not simply a conflict between people. It’s also a fight against a disease. If the displaced women are affected by the virus, it will be a disaster.”

Although the situation in her country is more and more difficult, Naomie never loses hope, convinced that “if women are involved [in peace processes], we will get there”. For this, she fervently hopes for all stakeholders, including women, to be invited to sit round the table in order to find a solution for a lasting return to peace in Burkina Faso.

Oxfam has been present in Burkina Faso since the 1970s. With our local partners, we support the Burkinabè population with aid in the areas of food security, protection, and water and sanitation, by improving access to basic and social services and to livelihoods. We also work with our partners to strengthen the resilience of communities and to ensure social cohesion, in particular through peacebuilding projects with partners such as NWFP.

Photos: Sylvain Cherkaoui/Oxfam