Hortense Lougue/Kabore is Executive Director of the Association D’Appui et d’Eveil Pugsada (ADEP) in Burkina Faso. Hortense is committed to ending child marriages in her country. But is this still possible in these times of COVID and how does she see the future? An interview with a woman who is convinced of the power of the community itself: ‘With the sensitisation of community members, they take the fight against child marriage into their own hands’.
Are you still able to do your work during this period, and how has the pandemic changed this?
The year 2020 has been very turbulent because of the external factors that have had an impact on the smooth running of the programme. The COVID-19 pandemic that started in early March in Burkina Faso changed the operational calendar of the programme’s activities. To cope with this situation, all eight local partners in Burkina Faso had to develop new initiatives and strategies.
The implementation strategy for the activities of the Her Choice programme in Burkina Faso has been rethought to be able to take measures to stop the spread of the disease. Most of the public awareness activities – for example conferences, forum theatres, educational talks – were transformed into radio broadcasts. Capacity building activities were carried out in several sessions, with a maximum of ten participants per training session.
There were also activities such as the creation of a WhatsApp group to share initiatives and strategies for implementing the programme with strict adherence to COVID measures. There were also video conferences organised to follow the programme’s evolution in the intervention areas, but also to share ideas for the implementation of certain activities.
How big is the problem of child marriage in your country and what are the main reasons, you think?
Child marriage is a global problem that transcends countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. The practice exists in every corner of the world, from the Middle East to Latin America, from South Asia to Europe. My country, Burkina Faso, ranks 5th in the world with 52% of girls married before the age of 18 and 10% before their 15th birthday. This situation is more than deplorable.
Burkina Faso is confronted with several phenomena (economic, cultural and political) that undermine its capacity for progress and social and cultural burdens linked to social practices and norms and cultural beliefs that are detrimental to gender equality. All these phenomena have a strong impact on the development of women and girls. Among them are child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Which aspect of the Her Choice programme is most powerful in helping to address this problem, and why?
The community strategy seems to me the most powerful, more important because with the sensitization of community members, the community takes the fight into its own hands. We do all that is needed is to innovate in implementation, to empower the community and to use a participatory strategy to get them involved.
Within the communities, following the actions of the Her Choice programme, people get involved alongside us, organise awareness-raising meetings but also question the communities about the seriousness of child marriage during their preaching and worship. They intervene to dissuade parents when cases arise and, if necessary, denounce them to the authorities. This is a major step forward and a guarantee of sustainability.
In your opinion, how important is the fight against child marriage for the life of a girl or a boy in Burkina Faso?
I have not personally been a victim of child marriage, nor of early and forced marriage, but I have lived in an environment that is marked by social norms and practices that are detrimental to the rights of girls and women. In my environment, many girls are given in marriage without their consent and before they are mature: I have witnessed the social and family exclusion of girls, including cousins, friends and acquaintances who have refused forced marriage. I have witnessed neighbourhood peers dropping out of school due to forced and child marriage. The fight against child marriage is important in that it promotes the participation of young people in educational activities and protects their education, development and fulfilment in life.
What are you most proud of?
The gradual integration of the SRHR theme into education. Problems are no longer those of individuals or organisations but those of the entire nation, which hopefully will also make sufficient resources available for the realisation of these rights.
One example is the setting up of youth clubs that promote their own rights but also those of their peers, for example the denunciation of cases of violence against children, especially girls, by the children themselves. Another important development is the interest that some parents are now giving to the sexual education of children, such as the accompaniment of some girls by their parents to health centres for questions about sexuality.
We also think it is important that there is a synergy between the school and the health centre through listening points and guidance systems, and a reception adapted to adolescents. In the coming phase, advocacy could be made with the authorities to formalise this system and make health workers available to adolescents and young people. We also hope to carry out consultation frameworks set up between actors from all sectors at the level of municipalities. The same applies to mobile clinics, which are consultations in a delocalised clinical modality, which help to facilitate access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Do you have any hope for the future in being able to tackle child marriage in the future?
Most of the actions that are very important cannot continue without financial support given the fragility of the current context: the security situation in the country, the fact that it is a traditional practice that requires continuing awareness raising activities and the well-being of the victims.
His Choice has made it possible to mobilise a large population around child marriage. This population is now aware of the ban on child marriage, but ignorance, poverty and cultural beliefs do not allow them to abandon the practice. This obliges us to continue seeking funds to be able to carry out our awareness raising activities.