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The relationship between undernutrition and gender inequality

Interview with Bertille Zoungana

What is the relationship between undernutrition and gender inequality? And what needs to change to give woman and children better rights and access to food? We asked Bertille Zoungana, Advocacy and Communication Officer at Association Monde Rural (AMR) in Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso, rights of men and woman are still far from equal. Men do most of the decision making and this affects many aspects of the lives of women and children, from what they eat to their future perspective. And this is a problem, especially with Burkina’s malnutrition rates still being the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Within the Right2Grow Alliance, AMR works on creating sustainable change.

Living from leftovers

Bertille: “Gender inequality is still a reality all over the world, but especially in local communities in African countries like Burkina Faso. Here, the husband’s job is to make sure that there are enough resources like water and nutrition for the family. The woman takes care of the children and the elderly. So, the husband chooses what to eat and what the wife puts on the table. When the family is eating, the husband eats first and gets the best portion. The children and the mother get what's left, the leftovers. Women are not autonomous about what they want to eat, what they can eat. The husband is in control.”

Independence of women

“Most people here live from agriculture. Here, again, it’s the men taking the decisions. About what crop is being planted, when the harvesting is done, etc. In an equal society, the women should have a better view and say in what is being produced. They know what’s best for their children to eat. If women had more access to more land, they could grow their own crops, using the seeds they choose. But up to now they don't have access to that. They don't have time and they don't have the land. It's the man who decides whatever is happening in the kitchen of the families.”

Women in decision making

“Our organization strives for more women in politics and more women involved in decision making. And making women more involved in the whole community. To realize that, we’ve been identifying women from a very poor situation and paired them into groups of 20 to 25 women. We reached up to 2025 women that way. Within the groups we work on empowering them and teach them different skills. We teach them for instance how to manage a little shop or keep animals. After a while, the women receive 50,000 francs to start up something like a little shop or a herd. They also support each other. In cooperation with a German partner, we set up profitable gardens, so that the women can grow their own crops. Thanks to these, they can feed themselves and their families with nutritious food, but also earn money by selling these crops. Globally there are around 100 groups like this with 20 to 25 women. This system supports the women in becoming more independent, taking care of the children and to even pay for school and scholarships.”

Female leadership

“Besides focusing on the mothers and wives, we also focus on girls, young women, and young men in high school. We’re establishing clubs of young leaders and train them in certain skills, like public management. It's mostly men that are in the management positions. Right now, we have a group of ten girls and five men (positive discrimination). We want to give girls a chance to participate in local management, teach them how to save more money and train them also in decision making. They also receive ‘dialogue training,’ to train young women to speak up to local municipalities, about for example, clean water and nutritional subjects. We train women to get more autonomous. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough partners to reach all the women in Burkina with our programs. We are dreaming and planning to realize that in the future.”

Emancipation of men

“In the groups of women we work with, we always involve the men to make sure that they accept and embrace the changes. It can be difficult for a man when his wife suddenly becomes autonomous and more involved in the community. If the woman has a lot of tasks in the house, a lot of housekeeping and taking care of the children, it's difficult to have other activities on the side. She needs help. With our programs, we want to show the men that by having - for example - a little shop, the women can get their own finances and be more autonomous. That will result in better food and clothing for the whole family, and that's a good thing. In the groups of high school kids, we try to make the boys realize that women are also a big part of the community and that they should be more involved. Besides the programs to make women more autonomous and men more supporting, we also have programs for women and men who are expecting a baby. We organize consultation appointments during the pregnancy to make parents aware of what’s healthy for a baby and what’s not, but also to encourage men to be more involved during the pregnancy.”


“An amazing example of the women we worked with is ‘Hélène.’ Because she is handicapped from birth, missing both arms, Hélène was abandoned by her family and living on her own. She was added into one of our women groups and could start with her own small herd of sheep. With that, she makes her milk, cheese, all that, and she sells it. She’s able to manage her own finances. She’s amazing! We don't know how she does it, but she manages to wash the sheep and take care of them.”

Right2Grow for sustainable change

“When women are more autonomous and if they have more access to resources, they can make conscious choices for themselves and their families. We need more programs and projects like these we have to benefit all women. More women need to be in our programs, get access to loans, etc. Another important thing is creating behavioral change. And this is where Right2Grow comes into the picture. Right2Grow is a program that can accelerate local community change and can help making communities more autonomous. Because we work with adults, children, and governments, we can create a sustainable change. Women will get to be more involved, have better access to resources, will be taken more seriously by authorities, have better access to the community and become more autonomous in general. If men and women have the same rights and if women are more autonomous financially and have part in decision making, inequality will eventually fade away.”

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