In Burkina Faso, women continue the spatula uprising. The struggle continues.


Last October, Burkinabé women picked up their spatulas and took to the streets, calling for the end of one-party and one-man rule. As women and as members of Balai citoyen, Citizen Broom, they charged the State with “a constitutional coup d’etat.” And they won, and ever since they’ve been organizing. On Wednesday, the military took control of the government, and the women have kept on organizing. Once again, they have taken to the streets, spatulas in hand.

Unable to organize in Ouagadougou, the women brought broomsticks and spatulas to the streets of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of Burkina Faso and the country’s economic capital. Once again, they demanded a clean sweep. Once again, women inspired others to principled, militant action.

Saran Sérémé, president of the Party for Development and Change, noted, “We must fight for the nation’s well being and for justice. The Burkinabé people are ready to defend ourselves, whatever the cost. We find the situation deplorable. We will not bow down to anyone.”

In Bobo-Dioulasso and across Burkina Faso, the women agree. They will not bow down, and they will stir the pot. In October of last year, hundreds of women marched, chanted, carried spatulas, and sparked an uprising, a spatula uprising. On Tuesday, tens of thousands marched in the streets. On Wednesday, a general strike was called, and soon after, the regime was swept out of power. The women did not put their spatulas away and they did not forget how to use them. The struggle continues.

Burkinabé women know the struggle continues. Women like Joséphine Ouédraogo, Genevieve Zongo, Mariam Sankara, and thousands of others know how to maintain the long march and the short sprint to democracy, while across Burkina Faso women hold on to their spatulas.


(Photo Credit 1: Twitter)

African women farmers reject the same old business as usual

Members of the Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana (RUWFAG) prepare a field for sowing.

The World Economic Forum is meeting this week in Cape Town, with much self-congratulation on “economic growth”, “poverty eradication”, and “women’s empowerment”, all brought by those who engineered a world economy based on growing inequality, galloping individual debt, expanding precarization of labor, and anything but the empowerment of women. Part of this circus maximus is the meeting, held largely behind closed doors, of the partners of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Across Africa, women farmers see this “new alliance” as the same old same old, and they’re not buying it.

The New Alliance, cooked up by the G8 and the European Union in 2012, sports all the “right language”: transformation, growth, partnership, security, sustainability, sharing. But the New Alliance opens ever-larger amounts of land to corporate investors and multinational agro-corporations, because nothing says sustainable security like over-the-top investments, land grabs and the forced eviction of local populations. Women farmers’ organizations have decried the physical and cultural violence of this project. They have protested the Alliance’s refusal to consult, and they have shown the devastation this “new alliance” harvests from the destruction of women’s bodies and lives.

But what do women farmers know about food security or nutrition, and, in particular, what do African women farmers know? Once again, they must be saved from themselves.

The premise of the New Alliance is that “land titling” will fix everything. Here’s what’s actually happened. Malawi was induced to release about a million hectares, or 26 percent of the country’s arable land, to large-scale commercial farming. According to ActionAid, “Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land. Secure land tenure does not necessarily require individual land ownership but can be achieved with clearly defined and sufficiently long-term use rights over land that is ultimately state property. The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

Notably women. Yet again, the “new” produces wider and deeper vulnerability, especially for women, all in the name of security and sustainability. This new is not so new.

Malawi women farmers are not the only targets. Women farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso report the same, as do women farmers in Tanzania. As Tanzanian farmer Anza Ramadhani explained, “We never had a chance to influence the decisions concerning our land and future. There has been no transparency whatsoever. We don’t know if we will be resettled, where it will be or if we will be compensated. We don’t know how much the compensation will be or if it will be at all.”

In Ghana, women farmers are threatened with being forced to give up their control, and knowledge of seeds, by a new law, called the “Monsanto Law”, which would restrict, and even prohibit, storing and trading seeds. This law is a condition of New Alliance aid. The new is not at all new. As farmer Esther Boakye Yiadom explains, “My mother gave me some seeds to plant, and I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Patricia Dianon, chair of the Rural Women Farmers Association of Ghana and traditional queen, agrees, “After harvesting, the women are able to store the seeds … They are able to dry it, tie it, and preserve it … So when the year comes, they bring these seeds to sow again.” Victoria Adongo, Program Director for the Peasant Farmer Association of Ghana, concurs, “Seed is where you grow your food from. So if you save the seed, then you grow food the following year. It’s very economical because you don’t have to go and buy seed. That is what we farmers have always done … We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives. We want to be healthy. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over our seed systems.”

In the pursuit of profit, the New Alliance condemns women to “new” lives of increasing, intensifying and expanding vulnerability, hardship, and disposability. Across Africa, women farmers are saying NO! to the international delegation of liars and thieves. They are saying, “We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves. We want good lives. We want to be healthy.”


(Photo Credit: Global Justice Now / Common Dreams) (Video Credit: Global Justice Now / YouTube)

In Burundi, the women demand peace, unity, democracy!

On Sunday, women brought the struggle for democracy to the capital’s city Center. This was the first major protest in Bujumbura, and the women were protesting much more than President Pierre Nkurunziza’s move to take a third term. They were demanding peace, unity, democracy, and recognition of their own power. Already many have likened this demonstration to the Burkinabé women’s spatula uprising last year, which helped overturn the government.

While the causes for the “current unrest in Burundi” are many, and familiar, the women brought something new to the national, and hopefully global, table. In their demands for recognition, they argued for the State’s responsibility to care about its resident, not just to take care of but to actively care for and about. Nkurunziza knew that his move to a third term, in violation of the Constitution and much more, would result in protests and then State repression, and he didn’t care. In Burundi the women see that as a failure of the State.

On Sunday, the women chanted, “We are the mothers. It is our children who are killed. It is our children who are in prison. We are here in the name of respect for human rights. We are here to oppose the third term.”

The third term comes after the recognition, after the mothers and children and deaths and imprisonment.

Beatrice Naymoya, one of the protest organizers, explained, “It’s not good for our country. You know the women and the children are the first to suffer. We’re asking the government and the international community to help us keep these two instruments intact: the constitution and the Arusha Agreement. Women decided to stand up today to say no to the violation of the constitution.”

Another spokeswoman, Elisabeth-Marie, added, “We are here today to support our brothers who are protesting the violations of our country’s fundamental laws.” As ever, the women take to the streets for themselves and in solidarity with all those who struggle for peace, unity, and democracy. That’s intersectionality in practice and in motion.

Ketin Vyabandiyaya elaborated, “We are tired. We want peace. We want respect for our nation and its laws. Our Constitution is sacred, as is the Arusha Peace Accord. They brought us peace after a decade of civil war in which we lost our sons and daughters. We never want that to happen again.”

Ketty Nivyabandi, Burundian poet, declared, “We came here to express our distress. We, the women, we are made helpless in this country because women are always the first victims of conflict. We are always the first to be affected by the situation, and we are tired. We want respect from our nation, we want freedom of expression for all Burundians.”

Despite the well-founded fear of brutal and even lethal repression, the women continue to organize. Having brought the first major demonstration to the nation’s capital, they are organizing another for next Sunday. Despite the fatigue and the fear, the women of Burundi are on the move, demanding peace, unity, democracy, recognition in a world where individuals and the State care.

(Photo Credit 1:  (Photo Credit 2: Getty;

In Burkina Faso, the women continue to push for justice and transformation

In October, women carrying spatulas took to the streets of Ouagadougou, and sparked an uprising that finally overthrew Blaise Compaoré. With spatulas and brooms, they pushed open doors and windows that had been long closed. Thomas Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, called for a real investigation into the circumstances of her husband’s death. Joséphine Ouédraogo, a minister in Sankara’s government, was appointed Minister of Justice. This week, Ouédraogo announced that she will re-open the investigation into the murder of Norbert Zongo, a prominent journalist who was killed in 1998. Genevieve Zongo, his widow, has been pushing for an investigation for the past sixteen years. Now, at last, as a result of women’s organizing, that investigation will take place.

In December 13, the anniversary of Norbert Zongo’s murder, Genevieve Zongo told the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered to demand justice, “I demand that that the perpetrators be arrested and judged for the full extent of their crimes.” Burkinabé women never stopped demanding justice, for their loved ones, for themselves, for the strangers who had been imprisoned, tortured, murdered.

As a militant feminist, trade unionist, and journalist, Genevieve Zongo never gave up on the struggle for justice. First, she tried the Burkinabé courts. Then, in 2008, she launched the Ten Years campaign, and went international. In 2011, Zongo took her case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in Arusha, Tanzania. On March 28, 2014, the Court “concluded that the Respondent State, Burkina Faso, failed in its obligation to take measures, other than legislative, to ensure that the rights of the Applicants for their cause to be heard by competent national Courts are respected. The Respondent State … failed to act with due diligence in seeking, trying and judging the assassins of Norbert Zongo and his companions. Hence, Burkina Faso simultaneously violated Article 1 of the Charter by failing to take appropriate legal measures to guarantee the respect of the rights of the Applicants pursuant to Article 7 of the Charter.” The Campaoré administration did nothing in response.

But that’s all changed now, thanks to the persistence of women, the road to justice and democracy is being built. Some of the women – like Mariam Sankara, Joséphine Ouédraogo, and Genevieve Zongo – are well known. Others are not. But the women’s message across Burkina Faso is clear. The years of impunity are over. Women with spatulas and brooms and elbows and voices and dreams and aspirations and demands are pushing for more. Thanks to these women, a new day is dawning, and hopefully not only in Burkina Faso.

(Photo Credit: AFP)

Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn to democracy

Joséphine Ouédraogo

For some, it’s the end of the year, and so a time for reflection and celebration. 2014 has been a year of brave, inspiring young feminists. It has also been a year in which women, young and old and in between, have pushed out long-standing rulers and sparked the process of State transformation. In Burkina Faso, women sparked a revolution with their presence in the streets and their raised spatulas. Joséphine Ouédraogo was there, as she has been for decades.

A number of commentators have identified Burkina Faso as a bright spot for the year, even though they seldom, if ever, recognize women’s role in that brightness:

For protesters in Burkina Faso who have known only one ruler for the last 27 years, 2014 was a very good year. The peaceful overthrow of Blaise Compaoré at the end of October was a victory for democracy.”

Large segments of society were demanding the benefits of genuine representation. Democracy could not be reduced to a facade while old authoritarian networks remained. It was a striking warning to other African autocrats who might be tempted to stay in power indefinitely.”

Over the course of a couple of days in late October, an awe-inspiring display of people power in Burkina Faso forced President Blaise Compaore to scuttle into exile, his tail firmly between his legs. It was a humiliating exit for the man who had ruled Burkina Faso since 1987 … This was a magnificent example that power is not immutable; that people can be in control of their own destinies.”

Call it Spring, call it harmattan, women’s protests led to mass protests led to hope and the promise of democracy. Inside Burkina Faso and around the world, people spoke once again of Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina from 1983 to 1987, when he was assassinated. In particular, people were reminded of Sankara’s commitment to women’s emancipation. He wrote and spoke of women’s liberation often: “The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.” More to the point, Sankara acted. His government outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy; encouraged women to work outside the home; encouraged girls and women to stay in school, even if pregnant; promoted the distribution of contraceptives. Finally, he appointed many women to high governmental positions. Joséphine Ouédraogo was one of those women.

During the Sankara years, Ouédraogo was Minister of Family Development and Solidarity. Every attempt to transform women’s status and place in Burkina Faso came out of and was implemented by Ouédraogo’s office, including State support for the Women’s Strike of 1984.

When Sankara was overthrown and murdered, Ouédraogo went into exile. She worked as a consultant on development and gender. She continued to work as a sociologist, researching areas that others overlooked, such as the role of women heads of households in rural Burkina Faso. In 1997, Ouédraogo became Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, followed by a stint as Secretary General of Enda-Third World, based in Dakar. In both positions, she spoke forcefully and directly of the central position of women in any program to improve the world or any of its parts.

And now, Joséphine Ouédraogo is back in Burkina Faso, and back in the government. She is a self-described militant feminist and militant anti-globalization activist, and she is now the Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso. From 1987 to the present, Joséphine Ouédraogo never forgot the revolution she had helped start, and she never tired of working to create the new spaces for militant democratic practice and for women’s emancipation. As she has known all along, the two need each other. And today, Joséphine Ouédraogo’s long slow burn has been a key part of the Burkinabé women’s spark that set off a revolution.

(Photo Credit:

The Burkinabé women’s spatula uprising


Burkinabé civil society, opposition forces, students, youth, workers, and women have been taking to the streets to protest a parliamentary move to extend the president’s 27-year rule. These demonstrations are as much about one-party rule as they are about one man. Since August, youth have been organizing, under the banner of Le Balai citoyen, the Citizen Broom. Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and they have had enough.

This week, the broom hooked up with the spatula.

On Monday, hundreds of women took to the streets of Ouagadougou. In their raised fists, they carried broomsticks, spatulas, and some carried pestles. Why spatulas?

As one demonstrator explained, “The spatula is the most important cooking utensil for women. It has a symbolic weight in our traditions. When it is used to hit a man, it’s a sacrilege; the consequences are disastrous and irreversible. Hitting a man with a spatula automatically undercuts his power, his virility, which he cherishes above all. This is the reason the women came out with spatulas. Because of the President’s monarchic tendencies, his refusal to hear anyone but himself, the women came with spatulas to warn him, to bring him back to reason.”

According to Juliette Congo, of the Movement of People for Progress, “We came out with our spatulas to give a warning to a man hell-bent on destroying our country … If Blaise Compaoré does not change his tune, the women of Burkina Faso will rise in civil disobedience!”

Cendrine Nama, 28, agreed, “Burkinabé women came out, armed with our spatulas, October 27, to say NO to a constitutional coup d’etat planned by those in power, with the complicity of the Deputies elected to represent the people. I am proud of my people who rise today. It’s time we took an active role in the decisions that affect us, for the people are sovereign.”

Germaine agreed and added, “The time for discussion is over. We want him to leave and leave us in peace. We, the women, we weep for our children, we weep for our nation, we weep for the fate and future of the Burkinabé people. We came out with our spatulas to show him that when a woman comes with a spatula, that says it all. We came into the streets with our spatulas because we are burning inside. The next time we will strip and come naked and cry on the head of Blaise Compaoré.”

On Monday, hundreds of women marched, chanted, carried spatulas, and sparked an uprising, a spatula uprising. On Tuesday, tens of thousands marched in the streets. On Wednesday, a general strike was called. And tomorrow … ?


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African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”


(Photo Credit:

How the women of Burkina Faso turned lemon into shea butter

The forests of the world are under attack, `thanks’ to consumer demand for food, fuel, and fiber. The people who live in, and depend on, forests are also under attack. In Burkina Faso, a group of over 4000 plus rural women forest dwellers have taken the lemon they were dealt and turned it into … shea butter. And by so doing, they are transforming the world.

That dealt lemon has many components. First, life for rural women is often one of severely limited education, income, and hope. Second, the labor market in rural Burkina Faso relegated women to collecting and processing shea kernels. Collecting is arduous work, and butter production is even worse. The profits were less than meager. Third, the sales of shea kernels and butter were controlled by more powerful multinational companies that would buy the vast majority of kernels and ship them to Europe or Japan, for processing there. 95% of shea butter went into chocolate, margarine, confections. The rest went into cosmetics.

That was before.

In the late 1990s, women in Burkina Faso and a French cosmetic firm, L’Occitane, teamed up. L’Occitane understood that the market for organic and sustainable and fair market cosmetics was growing. The women gatherers in Burkina Faso knew there had to be a better way to live, for themselves as women, for their households and for their communities.

So, with some assistance, in 2001, about 600 women got together and formed l’Union des Groupements de Productrices des Produits du Karité de la Sissili et du Ziro (UGPPK/S-Z), the Union of Women Producers of Shea Products of Sissili and Ziro. By 2009, they numbered almost 3000. Today, 4,6000 women are members of the cooperative, now called the Nununa Federation. And their ranks are growing.

The women set themselves to understanding the economies of scale, certification, market, and cooperative development. When they had to, they diversified. When the time seemed right, they moved into semi-industrial production. At each step, they have been a model of transparency and democratic and shared decision making. International bodies have certified their product as organic and their processes as Fair Market. They are committed to sustainable development, and they have largely succeeded. They are also committed to a better life. They redesigned the production processes so that no woman has to endure the kind of pain that went into `traditional’ gathering and butter-making processes. From the forests of Burkina Faso to the faces of Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, the women of the Nununa Federation are leading the way to a better world.

The Nununa Federation is the first organization anywhere to invest successfully in the semi-industrialisation of shea-butter production based on churning. As such, these women are literally breaking new ground. This organization of women has successfully increased its members’ income, increased their autonomy, increased their spare time, improved their health and wellbeing, and increased their stature … at home, in the marketplace, and around the world. And it all begins with the political education of standing up at a meeting and asking hard questions and getting direct answers. The Nununa Federation is simply “the best example in terms of organization, high quality service and products, and ingenuity.” They are a model of democratic, transparent governance.

Today, they say they “are filled with hope to continue the struggle.” The struggle continues.


(Photo Credit:


But tell me, where do the children live?

Maria Olvera with Valory, one of the two grandchildren she is raising in Altadena, Calif.

Where do children live?

Some children live at home. Sometimes, the families are their own extended families. Often they are their grandparents’ homes. Sometimes the parents have been taken by illness. Other times, the market has insisted that mothers and fathers travel extraordinary distances and stay away for long periods of time. And sometimes the parents have been deported.

Other children live in family homes that are worksites and worse. These children might be domestic workers, and they live as strangers in their own domiciles.

In Burkina Faso, for example, children, especially girls, work as street vendors, or hawkers, and as domestic workers.  Legally, domestic work is considered “light work”, and so children officially can begin working in households at the age of 15. In fact, children, mostly girls, begin as young as 7. Almost half of all children in Burkina Faso work, and proportionately the girls outnumber the boys.

The local Red Cross has a child labor project that is trying to help child domestic workers. Other local NGOs also are trying to help child domestic workers. How? The NGOs are offering girls training in cleaning and housekeeping, and, occasionally, reading, writing, and sewing.  The Red Cross is sending stern, `blunt’ text messages to government officials, employers, traditional leaders, teachers, business owners and housewives.  Here’s one example: ““Employers: domestics have the same rights as your children. Stop under-paying them; stop subjecting them to mistreatment, sexual violence, and long hours”.

Who are the children? They are typically described as children “from rural areas where there are few work opportunities”, and so they are sent, or some would say trafficked, to the cities, in this case Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulosso. They have the same rights as your children? Hardly. `Your children’ go to school. `Your children’ inhabit days and lives that aren’t measured by wage scales and work opportunities. `Your children’ are … your children, and their opportunities are the opportunities of childhood. These children are not `your children’. If they were, their situation would not be described in terms of lack of work but rather lack of school.

But tell me, where do the children live?

In the United States, one of every ten children lives with their grandparents. Close to three million children live with a grandparent or grandparents.  Close to three million grandparents are the primary caregivers to the children living with them.  Of the three million grandparents, 62%, or a little less then two million, are women. While the primary caregiver grandparents are disproportionately African American and Latina, the numbers are increasing, rapidly, among White grandparents as well. Of the primary caregiver grandparents, 65% are either poor or near-poor.

This development is considered a social trend. For Latina grandmothers, it is often complicated by another `social trend’: deportation. For example, Maria Olvera takes care of two of her grandchildren. Their mother, Maria Reyes, was deported, returned to Mexico, where she now lives, on the border in Tijuana. Their father died in 2008. Maria Reyes has four children. The other two stay with an aunt nearby. The four siblings come together daily, to encourage a sense of family.  Meanwhile, Maria Olvera is herself undocumented. A survivor of domestic abuse, she helped authorities locate and prosecute her abuser. Now she waits to see if she can obtain a U visa. Meanwhile, she has little or no formal rights or claims to the children.

And if Maria Olvera looks around, she will already know another `social trend’ that legal scholars are just beginning to discover and document: the deportation of grandparent caregivers, and in particular of grandmothers. Parents gone, grandparents under threat, where do you think the children live? Limbo.

The illegal but common child domestic workers of Burkina Faso, the grandchildren of undocumented grandparent primary caregivers in the United States, live formally, officially … nowhere. They are shadows. As nations design and implement so-called austerity programs, the world of shadow children expands as it grows more thickly populated. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is anticipated that, as a result of so-called austerity budget cuts, 300,000 children will be shoved into poverty. Like a bird, child poverty is set to soar.

But tell me, where will the children live?

(Photo Credit: Sarah Reingewirtz / San Gabriel Valley News Group /  El Nuevo Sol)