The Delwendé centre of the Missionary Sisters of Africa community in Ouagadougou welcomes women accused of witchcraft and thrown out of Burkinabe society. Older women that AFD has decided to highlight on International Women’s Day by offering them faso dan fani loincloths woven for them and sharing very emotional moments.
To mark International Women's Day in Burkina Faso, AFD is offering a unique look at the different facets of Sahelian women through a mini-series of discovery articles. Exclusion, peace, entrepreneurship and development are the themes addressed through the prism of women's initiatives that symbolize and move the lines.
Centre Delwendé de Sakoula on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. There are 190 women there, old, withdrawn, forgotten by all, struck with infamy because they are accused of witchcraft. This institution, run by the Missionary Sisters of Africa, is the only one to consider them and to take them in in all humanity.
« The centre has 190 residents, including 5 men (…) Previously the centre received all kinds of patients with mental disorders. Today, [it is mainly people accused of witchcraft]. Accusations that cause a lot of depression, and pathologies linked to emotional problems, » explains Sister Vickness Muleya in the preamble to the meeting.
Here, the women carry out several small economic activities, including cotton spinning, gardening, animal husbandry, making soumbala (a local condiment) and soap, and recycling waste.
But they remain totally marginalised. Sister Vickness, on behalf of each and every one of them, is deeply grateful for AFD’s visit to the centre. « I thank you for what you did today. It is a wonderful gift for the residents to have contact with you », she confides.
Especially on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
And to recall, in her introduction, the evolution, in spite of everything, of the status of women, but also the progress that remains to be made, with the will « to move forward in development towards the total emancipation of women in our society ».
It is a sad social phenomenon that this centre. AFD wanted to focus on these women, these grandmothers, who are victims of the cruelest ostracism, on 8 March. They are also part of the many facets of Sahelian women.
Nearly twenty AFD staff spontaneously responded to the call in a delegation led by the Secretary General of the Grand Sahel Regional Directorate, Hervé Kahane, who acknowledged that he was « deeply touched » by the meeting. « I think we were all moved », he said at the end of the event.
« When we look at gender issues, we see an inequality in terms of fundamental rights. These women have lost all social recognition » explains Anne-Marie Zouré Sawadogo, Gender and Education Officer at AFD’s Grand Sahel Regional Directorate.
By organizing this meeting AFD wishes to « raise awareness » about these women who have been banished by their families. Women plunged into extreme social deprivation. Women who are simply no longer allowed to exist.
To pay tribute to them the idea is simple. The idea is to make faso dan fani pages for International Women’s Day and to go and deliver them in person and spend some time with them. Report and explanations…
If at the beginning, the atmosphere is somewhat ceremonial, the posture of the group and the pretext of the meeting break the ice. And it is each woman of the centre that each and every one will symbolically go and drape the homage loincloth. The faces relax, find smiles that one would have guessed were rare. To the point of joy. A joy to be shared. So much so that the drums come out for a completely improvised party. To the point, at the end, of dancing to celebrate.
A striking contrast which shows to what extent it is possible to make an impact on people with the sheer force of the consideration one can have for them. The staff members present, who mainly represented support professions, were able, thanks to this immersion in the field, to give even more meaning to their work at AFD.
The fact that they all weave cotton to contribute to the centre’s livelihoods gave Noelie Coulibaly, the manager, for example, a small idea of development. She imagines equipping women with looms so that they can process the yarn on site and thus increase their sources of income. Simplicity of evidence.
The fact remains that the dearest wish of the women of Delwendé is to be reunited with their family, their life as it was before. « We could mobilise psychologists and social workers for individualised care to help them renew these precious ties, » thinks Anne-Marie.
The ideas are there, planted in the fertile soil of the day.
And when you listen to the poignant testimony of Antoinette, a resident for the past 6 or 7 years, you become more aware of the suffering and heartbreak that allegations of witchcraft can cause. Hunted and mutilated, she lost everything in her life before.
A testimony that is an ode to respect and human dignity, especially of women. A testimony that nourishes a necessary questioning.
Below you will find pictures of the atmosphere of a March 8th like no other.
The Director of the Ouagadougou Agency, Gilles Chausse, concluded: « Rebuilding social ties and combating ignorance are at the heart of the missions, strategies and actions financed by AFD in Burkina Faso. Through our commitment in this country we are working for even more humane societies.
Through this simple initiative, the Ouagadougou agency team is proud to have been able to show that solidarity actions remind us of the challenges that need to be met, particularly in favor of women. Beyond the 8 March alone, over the long term, ‘On est ensemble’, also for these cause