8 March 2021

A vital partnership: women and donkeys in Burkina Faso

This International Women's Day, Rouguiatou Ka, Advocacy Officer, Brooke West Africa, explores the impact of working animals on women's empowerment in Burkina Faso. 

As Advocacy Officer at Brooke West Africa, I have been investigating the impact working animals have on women’s empowerment in Burkina Faso. Supporting rural farming communities through training, especially in animal welfare, has been important to me from a young age. Watching the role of draft horses in the life of my Fulani parents in the Ferlo region of Senegal taught me that without these animals, rural life could come to a standstill. In my region, donkeys in particular not only help the women to transport water over fifteen kilometres but also serve as a means of supporting women’s market gardening. Women are often the primary caregivers for these animals.

The story is similar in Burkina Faso, where animal husbandry allows women to contribute to improving their families’ lives, come together in self-organised support groups, fetch drinking water and firewood more easily, cultivate land, and transport people and goods from the field to market. Overall, this allows women to have high levels of financial independence. Brooke’s recent study shows that in Burkina Faso, 100% of the income generated from working donkeys is spent on food, healthcare and school fees, highlighting the key role of these animals in helping women improve their families’ lives.

To facilitate their work and better manage their daily lives, women place donkeys at the heart of their fight

Donkeys also play a key social role at the centre of the family in Burkina Faso. For example, women belonging to the Yarse community in the Sahel region own donkeys that they pass down to their daughters-in-law, so that the next generation of women can manage their daily responsibilities. In many cases, working donkeys also become ambulances in cases of childbirth where women need urgent transportation. Ultimately, donkeys also improve the social standing of women - when a woman owns a donkey, she has a social position of authority within her community. This, combined with the economic benefits of owning a donkey, shows that a donkey can be a tool for the emancipation of women.

The results of this study clearly show that when a woman does not have a donkey, she becomes the donkey of the family

Without working livestock, the lives of these rural women would be incredibly difficult. This is why the world needs to invest in livestock owning communities, especially the women who depend on these animals for their livelihoods. This is why Brooke partners with rural organisations such as the Fédération des associations paysannes de la région de Louga (FAPAL) to provide carts to owners of working livestock (e.g. horses, donkeys, mules and oxen). These carts help rural smallholders carry over 1.5 tonnes of seeds which are then distributed among 32 villages.

I proudly advocate that women are some of the strongest animal welfare champions in rural Africa

Women truly realise the difference made when their animals are healthy and in a positive welfare state. This, in turn, impacts on their incomes, their ability to send children to school and their ability to provide nutrition for their families. Working donkeys are loyal companions of Burkinabe women - without a donkey, the women play the role of the donkey themselves and are unable to escape the cycle of carrying out exhausting work with their bare hands. Overall, within Burkinabe society, when a woman has a donkey, she gains financial independence, is able to provide for her family and her reputation in the family and community improves.

During my time in the livestock sector I have seen how investing in rural people, especially women, can really make a difference in their lives. My time at Heifer International in Senegal helped me to appreciate the impact that livestock has on the lives of women and my time in my current role at Brooke has further concretised this.