Imagine not knowing that sex could make you pregnant. Imagine finding out how to prevent a pregnancy only after you’d had your third or fourth child.
Now imagine knowing about contraception but being refused it just because you don’t have permission from your partner or in-laws. And even if you have permission, with clinics and pharmacies so far away from where you live, you simply can’t afford the journey there, let alone the contraception itself.
This is the reality for many women and girls in Burkina Faso, where most are already married and have more than one child by the time they are 19.
Burkina Faso has one of the lowest contraceptive prevalence rates (17%) and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. As a result, if you’re pregnant and live in Burkina Faso, you’re more likely to die from health complications than most other places in the world, and you are less likely to have any access to contraception, information, or control over your own body.
This is why Amnesty International joined with local women’s rights defenders and Burkinabé people to launch Levons les Obstacles: Elles Ont le Droit de Décider (Remove the Barriers: They Have the Right to Decide) as part of Amnesty’s global My Body My Rights campaign on sexual and reproductive rights.
I was in Burkina Faso as part of our Amnesty International delegation to officially launch the campaign, which we did in a rural village about 2 hours north of Ouagadougou. In this and other villages and cities throughout Burkina Faso, Amnesty International has been working to ensure that women and girls have access to the information they need to realize their rights—information about their human rights, about birth control, about the importance of girls’ education, and about how to empower girls and women to be able to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures.
We were joined at the launch by over a hundred members of the local community, and we watched as women from the village acted out a series of plays on topics meant to educate their community on women’s rights. Each short performance spoke to critical human rights issues for girls and women in Burkina Faso: the need for education for girls, the need to end child and forced marriage, and the need to stop female genital mutilation (FGM). Such education tools are critical throughout the country, where women and girls are denied their right to make crucial choices that belong to them, and such barriers are fueled by social attitudes that value men and boys over women and girls.
Women and girls in Burkina Faso have long worked to claim their rights and ensure their dignity—from the women who motor around villages with sensitization information (on birth control, pregnancy, and health), to those who run shelters for girls fleeing forced marriages, to those who work in their families to build opportunities for themselves and their daughters. Amnesty International’s campaign shines a light on that work and calls on the Burkina Faso government and donor governments to remove the barriers for women and girls. While Burkina Faso must commit to protecting and ensuring sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls, countries like the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium—all major donor countries to Burkina Faso—must equally commit to ensuring that human rights, and the rights of women and girls particularly, are at the heart of all aid.
For the girl whose family forces her to get married, for the woman who needs her husband’s permission to use contraception, for the teenager who becomes pregnant after being raped and has no choice but to carry that pregnancy to term—
join us in lifting the barriers to human rights for women and girls in Burkina Faso.