"Political parties have to be more respectful of women. Women are the largest segment of the electorate and they have to head their lists with women candidates. Women’s access to new technologies should not be limited, because it is very important for the continent’s economic development. Women are just as capable as men of using the new technologies.” - Mariam Marie Gisèle Guigma
iKNOW Politics: Hello, Honourable Guigma, thank you for granting us this interview. As a woman politician, could you tell our readers what challenges you have faced?
Thank you for this exchange. Being a woman politician is a mission, a constant struggle. In our societies, women tend to have duties, not rights. We have to fight to earn our rights. When I first ran for election, I had to overcome doubt even within my own party. In Burkina Faso, like everywhere in Africa, women are very dynamic voters but they are less visible as candidates. A woman was first elected in Burkina Faso in 1978. During the 1980s there were four women in Parliament, now 17 of the National Assembly’s 107 members are women. Only two of the government’s ministers are women. As you can see, progress is relatively slow, we have to keep fighting to increase the number of women and above all convince the political parties to put women first on their lists. We can’t give up, there are barely three or four of us heading a list, the others are placed second or listed as substitutes. In the local elections, very few women headed lists. The authorities have taken steps to reverse the trend, and require that every place have equal numbers of men and women. This explains the large number of women in municipal councils.
The other challenges facing women are socio-cultural constraints, problems of education and literacy. The best means of fighting these burdens is to increase women’s economic empowerment. In my panel on women, I made a point of saying that our problem is the application of texts. We have a lot of texts in favour of gender equality and the promotion of women, but unfortunately they are not applied. In parliament, two women insisted that a report be prepared on the condition of women in Burkina Faso. We are very active within the National Assembly, we have a women’s caucus, and we’re involved in resolving the problem of fistulas. We plan to introduce laws on domestic violence, violence in the workplace, etc. Penal law protects the rights of women; the question now is whether we need to legislate or to review the Penal Code.
iKNOW Politics: Do you think that the media project stereotypes of women?
Women’s images are used to promote beauty products. The women of Burkina Faso were appalled at this and asked the President of the Republic to act. They turned to the High Council for Communication, which is headed by a woman who is very protective of the image of women and young girls. The High Council commissioned a series of documentaries to heighten public awareness of the importance of conveying a positive image of women in the media.
iKNOW Politics: How do you encourage young women to get involved in politics?
In 1990, a meeting of heads of State in Moncton agreed to establish national youth parliaments. Burkina Faso has therefore had a National Youth Parliament since 30 July 2009. Its members are 48 girls and 48 boys between the ages of 18 and 23. This is one way of interesting young people in politics. Burkina Faso has also established the Ministry for Youth and Employment.
iKNOW Politics: What role did the support of other women play in your election campaign?
We have a saying that women are only a semi-support, because women are their own worst enemies. Women are “versatile”. When women have to choose between a man and a woman candidate, they usually find it hard to make up their minds. Women intellectuals harbour a kind of egoism. In my constituency, 90 per cent of those who voted for me were women and young people, they have always supported me. I was Minister for the Promotion of Women; I met many women who remember that time. I gave them technological tools and built women’s centres throughout the country.
iKNOW Politics: What message do you have for African women politicians? How are new information and communication technologies used on the continent?
Political parties have to be more respectful of women. Women are the largest segment of the electorate and they have to head their lists with women candidates. Women’s access to new technologies should not be limited, because it is very important for the continent’s economic development. Women are just as capable as men of using the new technologies. I organized a day on “rural women and new technologies”. A woman used the computer with software in Moré, the national language, she read everything, it was astonishing to see how easily she was able to work the computer even though she was illiterate. Women have to be approached taking into account their level of education and have to be provided with appropriate tools, and then they’ll outdo themselves. They’ll be able to take greater advantage of the Internet; they’ll do business on the web and earn money. Software has to be developed for the main ethnic groups. Women will work more and more with the Internet and will travel less, because it’s dangerous and costly.
iKNOW Politics: What advice would you give young women who want to engage in politics?
I would tell them to be brave. I’m going to use a metaphor and say it’s like “serving yourself up” for an unknown adventure. You have to be brave, and always ready to deal with the political cards you’re handed.