How One Young Leader is Helping Women Economically Empower Themselves
This month, Women Deliver is focusing on the issue of women's economic empowerment, an issue that is critical not just for girls and women, but for everyone. To hear more about how women are economically empowering themselves, Women Deliver spoke with Annick Thiombiano, a Women Deliver Young Leader from Burkina Faso, who serves on the board of an African NGO called Buayaba that provides economic training and opportunities to young women in Burkina Faso. Annick shares her thoughts on economic empowerment and why this issue is everyone's business.
Women Deliver: Annick -- how did you come to be so passionate about the issue of economic empowerment as a young woman in Burkina Faso?
Annick Thiombiano: Someone who is economically dependent is not free. He or she is not free to act, to talk, or even free to live. Economic empowerment has to be a core objective that we focus on, especially in developing countries where the rate of poverty is high and so many people lack access to basic necessities, like food. I'm a 24 year old young woman who studied Business Administration, and I have been able to empower myself. I want to help ensure that others have that chance.
WD: You are on the board of an African NGO called Buayaba that aims to provide young women in Burkina Faso with opportunities to economically empower themselves. What kind of work do you do?
Annick: Buayaba is an NGO for girls and women, and we have experimented with ways to best help girls and women in Burkina Faso empower themselves economically. When given access to tools and resources, girls and women empower themselves. That's why we provide financial and written literacy training for girls and women. This is a very important part of empowering yourself because if they cannot speak the language, they cannot run their own economic activity. We also provide training on how to transform shea nuts, a local commodity, into shea butter, which can then be transformed into body cream and soap that young women can sell. We have dialogues around how to sell and how to be competitive.
WD: How many girls and women has Buayaba served, and what results have you seen?
Annick: So far, the organization has trained more than 20,000 girls and women in Burkina Faso. Many of them were marginalized in society. Some were accused of witchcraft and banished from their villages; others were infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS; some were disabled and others were living with cancer. While they all come from different backgrounds and situations, they all have something in common. The hard realities that they are living made it hard for them to be economically independent. Buayaba aims to help that change that.
When I think of the power of Buayaba, I think of women like Suzanne, a widow and mother of three children. She came to Buayaba in 2000, after the death of her husband and the loss of all of her money to his family. At Buayaba, she learned to read in a local language, and she received a training on shea butter production. After receiving these skills and training, she became a teacher. She now teaches other women how to read, write, and calculate, and she also teaches how to produce shea butter. Not only that, but she became a business woman herself, making and selling shea butter and cosmetics. She is now able to provide for her family and all of her children are attending good schools; she has been able to buy a motorbike to transport herself and her products, she has a social security account to save for retirement.
WD: What kind of transformative power do you feel economic empowerment has or could have on society, particularly in Burkina Faso?
Annick: When women are no longer economically dependent, we will be able to send our children to school. We will be able to create businesses, which will then create jobs. We will then pay taxes, and our industries and overall economies will grow. Ultimately, economic empowerment can lead to a more peaceful world because when girls and women are not dependent, everyone is able to live freely.
Photo courtesy of Arne Hoel / World Bank.