Women must be present

Interview with Aïcha Tambura, by Olivier Barlet

Burkina Faso
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Women’s groups put the new technologies to use in Africa.

How did you become involved in the internet?
I studied communications. Who says communications, says the internet. I then became interested in the internet when working for an information and communication network in order to have access to, and to exchange, more information.
How did you go about getting training?
I trained in Dakar, after training myself in Ouagadougou. I got a grant to go to Dakar from the CTA, and I didn’t hesitate! The CTA is a Dutch agricultural techniques centre, which offers training in new information technologies in the agricultural field. I was planning to set up an electronic communications network for the group’s members.
I imagine that you are active in women’s groups.
Yes, very active!
They are well-organized in Burkina…
There are over 200 NGOs and groups… There has been a huge explosion. All the partners, the Scandinavian, English-speaking countries, etc. want to finance activities involving civilian society. Women are always prioritized.
What activities are you involved in at present?
With my network, I am in charge of finding information which I send to members. The network was born out of a survey of women’s access to information in Burkina, notably those who work in the organizations, commissioned by the German Cooperation body. It transpired that the women in positions of responsibility did not have access to information, or that it was outdated… The men kept it to themselves! Women did not often have access to consultation or exchange structures either. Given the cultural realities, however, it is hard for women to become integrated into men’s groups. When training opportunities arise, it is the men who immediately benefit. Women have to have their husbands’ permission: they must not be pregnant, or on maternity leave…
The work group concluded that a system needed to be set up to enable working women to gain access to information, to communicate with others, to have consultation structures, and to reinforce their skills through training. They can then share their knowledge back in their village. It also became clear that if women seem shy or inhibited at work, it is not because they are afraid, but because they lack skills. These would allow them to influence the organization programmes to their advantage, as they are rarely even consulted when the outlines of a programme are drawn up.
My job is to gather information and to put it at the members’ disposal. I create exchange structures, I give information on the television and radio, in quarterly newsletters, etc. I have tried to set up the internet for the RECIF to try to find out what is going on for women in other countries. We have also set up a distribution list.
What rate is the distribution list turning over at?
That’s where the problem lies: for the time being we have to keep recontacting people the whole time.
In Burkina, which is very poor, I imagine that the women’s groups don’t have much I.T. equipment?
More and more women’s groups have computers, even in the villages, but are not always connected to the internet.
Is the information you put out on the internet different to that which you publish in the newsletter?
Yes, they are different. On the web site, we only put the content page of the newsletter on-line. We have an NGO site which is linked up to Anaïs. We have carried out three studies on the forms of violence suffered by women. The first is about the forced marriage of women in Burkina Faso, another about sexual abuse in schools, and the third about marital violence. We have published a resume on the site.
Do women have any specific difficulties in appropriating this tool?
Not women in general. But there is a type of woman who has access to computers. They are paid, working women: they only represent between 10 and 15% of women in Burkina. They are often secretaries, heads of departments, or heads of associative groups.
Do you concert with women from other countries?
For the time being, it’s a one-way thing. It is the women from other countries who come to see us in order to learn from our experiences. We have just had a group of women from Niger. We have set up a network of women’s groups in the Sahel, which comprises Burkina, Senegal, and Chad. We are the ones behind this project. There is also e-mail correspondence with Famafrique. Every morning, we select information concerning the specificity of our members. Recently, for example, on community radio. I belong to the administrative council of the Famafrique newsletter, and thus often send them information.
Are you involved with the state institutions?
Yes, with the Administration, not economically, but for exchange and collaboration. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women invites us, for example, to workshops, seminars, etc. And we invite the ministry to our events. And we are also often consulted on a national level for the amendment of certain texts, such as those relating to food security, children’s rights, etc. There are no financial returns, but it gives our work recognition.
Men in Africa often pay homage to women without relations changing much in society…
We are still stuck in obsolete traditions, but the poets, writers sing the praises of the wife, mother, female worker. It all boils down to basic education. For them, that is what the woman is. That is how their saw their mothers. Perhaps our children will have a different conception of women. They will no longer look for the traditional woman, but perhaps a svelte woman, a more modern woman… It’s a question of customs, of generation, and of time.
Are the same contradictions present in relations with the institutions?
The environment is favourable, amongst the politicians, to developing women’s participation in the running of things. But in real terms, it’s another matter… There are only 6 women out of 33 deputies, and 1 or 2 out of twenty or so ministers. The government tries to promote the image of women through laws, such as the condemnation of female circumcision, or by setting up a special ministry.
Will using the internet change things?
That will always depend on the State’s political strategy in wanting to develop the internet so that everybody has access to information. In Africa, the authorities control information, because by controlling information, they hold onto power. Which means that the television is state-run, the radio too. There are private radio stations, but their contents are censored… The use of internet could take off massively, but it will depend on the government’s will. The Bamako 2000 event will reveal the importance of the internet to everyone: this media has to be demystified, and no longer confined to a small minority. If we want local populations to develop, they have to be given access to information.
You are developing inter-African cooperation, but not really relations with the West…
We need the Europeans in terms of material and financial backing. But with regard to contents, I think you have to be African to apprehend African realities.
Burkina has sixty or so languages…
There are large linguistic groupings. The East and South-West speak Dioula. The centre, East and North Moré. We don’t need to work in sixty or so languages. All the populations – even the minorities – can relate to Dioula, Moré or Fulani.
Are the texts you publish translated into these three languages?
It depends. If they are targeted at the authorities, we don’t need to translate. If they are destined for the population, however, we translate. Take our training sessions about the network: they are in French for the female managers and leaders, but are held in these three languages for the local population.
Do you have anything to add?
We are going to try to do all we can not to be left on the sidelines. We have to be the look-out, and the internet is the best way of participating in the evolution of this new information society. It is not a matter of catching up, but of being present when needs be. Of course women’s literacy levels have only recently started rising. There is a vast difference between those who are educated and the rest who are marginalized from society. In a village where the men are in the majority on the administrative council, it is first and foremost their projects which go through, then the women’s if there is a bit of money left. The women present on the councils were lacking in skills, were not well trained: women in the provinces were afraid of speaking out in front of men, of defending their opinions… It is not their fault, it has been like that since childhood. It has taken a generation of educated women who are open to the outside world to become involved in new plans and projects.

Aïcha Tambura is head of the RECIF/ONG-BF* association’s Communication and Internet programme
*Réseau de Communication, d’Information et de Formation des Femmes dans les ONG du Burkina Faso///Article N° : 5416


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