Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Burkina Faso is a country afflicted by extreme poverty where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Women are generally poorer and more vulnerable to economic shocks. Because they lack access to economic gain and higher levels of income, women are particularly at risk to plummet deeper into poverty when faced with even a small economic hurdle, such as a sick child or unpredictable price fluctuations. Further limiting their opportunities, only 22% of women are literate, compared with 37% of men. Socially, women’s roles are rigidly defined and confined to the home; common social practices such as forced marriage, large families and lack of family planning restrict women’s upward mobility.
Lack of reliable access to financial services further complicates women’s ability to grow profitable businesses and improve their economic situation. While microcredit exists in some areas, it is generally ill-planned or intentionally exploitative, only offering women loans at high interest rates and for very short periods of time, preventing them from developing a robust business because they are required to repay the loan quickly. Through these microcredit schemes, women rarely benefit from their hard work, often only earning enough to pay back the loan and interest.
Many of the socially acceptable professions with low barriers to entry perpetuate conditions in which women live day to day on the margins. Women with few resources who want to earn an amount that allows them to support their families in a substantial way, such as by sending their children to school or preparing healthier meals, find few roles left to them. The production of dolo offers a lucrative, but ostracizing, option. Dolo is very deeply embedded in the social fabric of many ethnic groups across Burkina Faso and West Africa. This beverage is mandatory at cultural events such as weddings, baptisms and funerals and is the daily beverage of choice in many regions. Production of this drink is clearly defined as a woman’s role. It is estimated that 15% of the women in Burkina Faso are involved in the organization and preparation of this drink, including over 5,000 women in the capital alone. Despite the cultural value placed on the consumption of this traditional beer, production of dolo is highly stigmatized. Society negatively perceives these women who produce and serve dolo because this industry requires them to expand beyond their predefined social roles and the realm of the home. Successful beer producers must be highly visible in order to draw in new customers and deal with larger sums of money, serve alcohol, and interact regularly with men—including men from outside the community. These women are victims of deep seated prejudices and are often subjects of harmful rumors, such as that they are “soul eaters” or negative forces on society. Many of the women who choose this profession are widows or have unemployed husbands.
While dolo is strongly engrained in many cultures, traditional methods of preparing beer over wood fires are incredibly harmful to women’s health and the environment. Prolonged exposure to high levels of heavy smoke results in blindness and other eye problems, cardiovascular disease and increased blood pressure. A successful dolo producer will use about seven tons of wood per month. Because of the enormous amount of wood required to cook the beverage, traditional beer production is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the region. It is estimated that half of the wood destined for Ouagadougou is used for the production of dolo.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Blandine is changing the public’s perception of socially excluded women by first profoundly improving the lives of these women. She is enabling women to pull themselves out of poverty, to improve their health and to exert a greater influence on family decisions—such as whether or not to force their young daughters to marry. At the core of her approach is educating women on a range of subjects, including social and environmental issues, so that they can change their own actions and prompt others to change as well. Blandine is beginning with women who produce dolo, a traditional beer-like beverage, because they are the least respected due to their profession. These dolo producers are often the subjects of malicious gossip because of their association with alcohol and male strangers.
Blandine enables the dolo makers to become successful, respected business women by increasing access to literacy courses, by disseminating cost-saving methods of dolo production and advising on the importance of paying taxes. Blandine educates women on health issues such as hygiene, HIV prevention and family planning. She hosts conversations about the consequences of forcing daughters to marry at a young age, and guides women on how to lead discussions with their husbands and families to prevent early marriage. Blandine couples this education with action and resources to enable women to improve their business, health and the environment.
While this education is targeted at dolo makers, women of all professions are invited to learn, thus educating all women and solidifying the dolo producers as role models supporting other women. Repositioning the dolo producers as leaders is one way that Blandine is revaluing the dolo profession and changing public perception of the producers. Additionally, she increases awareness of the dolo producers’ new role in protecting the environment, improving health and leading others to address social issues in their community. She is spreading this message with a combination of high profile media appearances, engagement with political and administrative authorities and a series of fairs that integrate beer producers with other professions and create a forum to dispel myths. Blandine is first beginning with the most difficult case and improving the lives of the most marginalized women. By making them role models for other women, Blandine is changing perceptions of all women and demonstrating that the image of women of any profession can be improved.