Marriage law and women’s rights
From the perspective of modern living standards, the traditional rural life of a woman in Burkina Faso is unimaginably hard. Not only poverty and ignorance but also constraints imposed by tradition prevent women from creating relief for themselves and standing up for their rights. Often they stand in their own way.
The modern civil law is traditional ideas of marriage and the subordination of women diametrically opposed. According to patriarchal thinking, a woman is determined by her father until she marries, then her husband and, after his death, one of his brothers. A man thus retains control over female sexuality in order to ensure the socially meaningful descent of the child from a man. The fact that a woman has the right to self-determination is a very recent discovery for a Burkinabe, which came with the onset of modernity, i.e. at the end of the 20th century.
Demanding a bride price is customary in traditionally certain areas to this day.
The age of women at marriage is traditionally very low, whereas today awareness-raising campaigns by the Ministry of Social Affairs and others are directed against it. 51.6% of Burkinabe women are married before the age of 18. In the Sahel, 76% of all girls get married between the ages of 15-17.
According to the constitution, men and women have equal rights. Labor law and property laws also refer to gender equality. In marriage law the options are monogamy and polygamy, although both spouses must of course agree.
An essay describes how the Burkinabe on a scooter, the Yamaha dame, regained her self-confidence in the city. The period of the revolution 1983-1987, which was also called the revolution of women, provided decisive impulses for women to take on new roles. By means of bizarre measures such as shopping bans for women, an attempt was made to put women’s perspectives at the center of society.
The pan-African network of organizations for women’s rights and development WiLDAF / FeDAFF offers comprehensive information on the position of women in West African countries. The government is trying to apply the instruments adopted at the World Conference on Women in Beijing (national action plan, progress reports to CEDAW, etc.).
Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, eviction of witches
Controversial issues in Burkinabe society that deal with the rights of women are female genital mutilation, forced marriage and the expulsion of witches.
According to programingplease, 76% of all adult Burkinabe women are said to have suffered circumcisions through clitoral decotomy or excision. The average age is 6 years. Traditional circumcisers perform the operation with non-sterile knives or blades, which carries a high risk of infection. Even if motives can be cited from a social, religious, traditional, sexual or other point of view, the meaning and origin of this practice, which cuts across ethnic groups and religions, are in the dark.
The acute and chronic consequences (fistula formation) and the physical and psychological consequences that extend over the further life of the woman are no less cruel than the excision itselfor psychosomatic consequences as well as difficulties in childbirth.
Since November 1996, circumcision has been prohibited by law in Burkina Faso and must be reported. Numerous clubs like Songtaaba have declared war on her. Extensive awareness-raising campaigns, in which imams are also involved, as well as teaching units in schools have caused a decline in this practice over the past 15 years. But campaigns and bans only partially counteract mental obduracy. Cases of secret circumcision are known again and again. In the province of Boulgou, the population freed circumcisers who were forcibly detained. After reinforcements arrived, the gendarmerie could ring leaders arrested.
The central hospital “Yalgado” offers women a partial repair through the reconstruction of the clitoris.
The marriage of daughters is traditionally subordinate to the family head’s inter-family network of relationships among the Mossis and other ethnic groups. In other words, the father can promise his daughter to a friend or his son at the time of the birth or beforehand and receives gifts such as tobacco or kola nuts for years. With the promise, he can also atone for guilt or forge important relationships. The daughter’s subsequent refusal is a taboo violation and is severely punished with banishment. Modern law prohibits forced marriage, but cannot prevent family tragedies. The many cases of marriages with underage girls are also problematic: more than half of the girls and women are married before their 18th birthday and 10% before their 15th birthday. In northern Burkina Faso, where the NGO Mwangaza is fighting against child marriage and genital mutilation, these numbers are even higher.
According to traditional thinking, serious disaster has its cause in the will of another person. With the help of magic, culprits are tracked down. Scapegoats for the death of children are old women who are exposed as soul eater. They have to flee their villages and some get to the capital, Ouagadougou. They spend the rest of their lives in asylums such as the “Center d´accueil de Delwende”, which houses over 400 women. In November 2011, Burkinabe television reported on the relocation of the asylum to Sakoula, the north-eastern outskirts of Ouagadougou. The displaced women were referred to as “pensionnaires”.