Engaging their husbands

Members of savings groups welcome Grameen Foundation’s Sybil Chidiac to their community in northern Burkina Faso.

(As told by Sybil Chidiac, West Africa Director, Grameen Foundation)

On a recent trip to northern Burkina Faso, we turned down a dusty, unpaved road to a remarkable sight. Women from local savings groups had lined both sides of the road, along with their spouses, children and local community leaders to greet us. The women were there to talk to us about a program we had started three years earlier to help families cope with their harsh, rural environment.

Like other African countries near the Sahel, Burkina Faso is under constant threat of parching drought and damaging floods. The uncertainty makes life difficult, especially for farmers. We work with local organizations to help the women start self-run savings groups and also facilitate nutrition education and gender dialogues to build stronger bonds within families.

At first I was surprised to see that their husbands there. I soon learned why. They also wanted to testify and show their appreciation. They spoke about the gender dialogues and how it had helped them partner with their wives. As a result, they carved out land for their wives' agricultural activities. They were proud that their wives could now contribute financially to the household because of their savings and farming activities.

On this trip, I specifically wanted to learn how the women were using the microfinance loans they had begun receiving from our partner Reseau des Caisses Populaires au Burkina Faso Microfinance Institution (RCPB). I spoke with three women, including Georgette Diendéré. In fact, her husband insisted that I speak to her! Three years ago, Georgette had used her share from the savings group (each women receives a payout according to a fixed schedule) to purchase a sheep worth nearly US $500. She later bought a ram. Together, her sheep have produced several offspring - she sold the males for $200-$350 each, during the Ramadan festivities. Even the enclosure she built using money from the savings group and RCPB is one of a kind in her community.

Meeting women like Georgette is always the highlight of my trips to the field. Their determination, drive and passion keep me inspired.