YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Catholic leaders in Burkina Faso say migration has a female face, after a panel discussion on “Women, gender and migration” November 29 concluded that more and more women in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region are moving away from their homes in search of a better life elsewhere.

The panel discussion was organized as part of activities to implement the project to support the protection of the most vulnerable migrants on the Sahel migration routes (PROMISA).

The project, sponsored by the European Union, is an initiative of Caritas Switzerland and jointly implemented on the ground by the Catholic Organization for Development and Solidarity (OCADES), along with Caritas Burkina Faso and the German non-denominational, non-profit and non-governmental aid agency, Welthungerhilfe.

Launched in 2021, the three-year project spans three countries: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. It’s based on the idea that very often attention is given to internally displaced persons, while scant attention is paid to people migrating across borders.

‘The project’s objective is to accompany migrants in coping with the difficulties they experience, either during their transit or upon settling in their host country,” said Aimé Sanon, Welthungerhilfe PROMISA  project manager.

“The project intends to support these people in three areas, namely humanitarian assistance, housing assistance and access to drinking water,” she explained.

Sister Jeannine Sawadogo, director of the Center for Research and Training in Integral Human Development, noted that “for a long time women were less present in global migration flows.”

But that has changed, according to Constantin SERE, Secretary General for OCADES in Burkina Faso.

“We have discovered that migration increasingly has a female face,” he told Crux.

“The IOM reports that 49.9 percent of international migrants in 2020 are women. They are often motivated by the search for a better life; but unfortunately, they are often victims of abuse, exploitation, trafficking,” he said.

“We are helplessly witnessing high human mobility with new profiles of migrants, namely women,” said Sawadogo, and urged the Church and the global community to “pay attention to the situation of these migrant women and in particular to their health… because, during the migratory flows, these women are prey to violence and abuse of all kinds.”

Yasna Mimbela, director and founder of of Besity AS, a Norwegian social enterprise specializing in migration and integration noted that the feminization of migration was a “crucial” problem  and that it was “fundamental that when we work in the protection of migrants, we should  take into account the different profiles of vulnerability.”

Father Constantin Sere said the outset of migration in itself is not a problem, but it is a problem in the conditions in which this migration takes place.

“Indeed, the difficulties that people encounter on the migration routes, such as human trafficking, and the fact that many people venture into irregular migration, constitute a real problem.”

He talked about the push and pull factors that trigger migration, noting that “the push factors are very often the cause of migration in Burkina Faso and in the Sudan-Sahel zone in general, because of the difficult living conditions, conflicts, and poor distribution of rainfall (80 percent of the population lives on agriculture).”

While the Sahara-Sahel region is particularly dry, the situation in Burkina Faso has been compounded by conflicts. Annual temperature increase in the region is 1.5 times faster than the global average, with the dry seasons getting both longer and more severe.

With that, access to drinking and farming water is a rising challenge. According to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, approximately 2.5 million of Burkina Faso’s 20 million population suffer from food shortages as droughts reduce crop yields, which in 2018 resulted in almost a half-million-tons underproduction of grain.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, nearly one in 10 people in Burkina Faso have been displaced by conflict.

With such a picture, the quest for survival has become a daily challenge for millions, and “leads many people to cross borders,” said Sere.

“Instability has a twofold consequence on migration: on the one hand, it provokes departures; on the other hand, it causes blockages for migrants with the closure of borders. It should also be noted that the flow of migration in Burkina Faso is negative, in the sense that there is more emigration than immigration, and this may not necessarily be positive for the country,” Sere told Crux.

Mamoudou Tao, a specialist in the protection of migrants noted that it was critical to know who the victims are and how to proceed with reparation.

“Reparation for the victims must take into account the psychological and judicial aspects,” he said.

But to prevent this phenomenon, Tao advocates upstream, awareness raising in order to disseminate maximum information on the phenomenon, and also promote the rights of victims to access justice.

Sere said there is a national strategy on migration, but without a focus on gender.

“It is a plea that we make in this sense, especially in terms of protection of migrant women,” he said.