International Women’s Day

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we interviewed Nathalie Ilboudo, Executive Director of our partner organisation ODIS

Nathalie Ilboudo is a Burkinabè based in Ouagadougou. She is the Executive Director of ODIS, as well as a founding member of the “Making Change” movement.

Nathalie working with ODIS project beneficiaries

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 8th March. In Burkina Faso, women celebrate this day by dressing in outfits made from a special women’s day cloth and celebrating together with dancing and feasting. This is also the one day of the year that husbands go to market and buy food to cook a meal for their wives. This year’s theme is Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow, and Nathalie shared with us her thoughts on the challenges of gender equality faced by women and girls living with disability in Burkina Faso.

Tell us about yourself and how you got involved in ODIS.

My name is Nathalie Ilboudo. I am a lawyer by training as well as a trainer in gender leadership and inclusive development. I am a founding member of the USA-based “Making Change” movement, which is an international network of women leaders with disabilities that exists to advance the issue of disability in policy-making around the world. I work in the humanitarian sector as a Gender-Based Violence Case Manager in the eastern region of Burkina Faso, an area affected by the security crisis and the presence of armed groups. Firstly, I identify as a disabled person as I was a victim of poliomyelitis at the age of 5 and I lost the use of my right leg. I walk by leaning on my knee and with the help of a crutch, and sometimes I use a wheelchair for longer distances. Since 2019, I have been the Executive Director of the Organization for Inclusive Development and Solidarity (ODIS). The idea of ​​setting up ODIS came to me in 2017, as a way to address the difficulties encountered by vulnerable people, the majority of whom are people with disabilities.

What motivated me the most was the case of a child with disabilities who had been abandoned by his father and who was rejected by the children in his neighbourhood. I said to myself that it is imperative to do something to help this young child who did not choose to be disabled.

By nature, I like to help others and I don’t hesitate to risk my life to help or save a person in distress.

Who was your female role model when you were younger?

When I was in school (in Year 8) a woman named Mrs. Rosalie Gansonre inspired me a lot. She was my form teacher and French teacher. She had a disability and walked with a prosthesis. It was the first time I had met a disabled person amongst the teaching staff. She was a fighter, and she encouraged me to speak in class and appointed me head of class so I could lead the working groups. This allowed me to improve my school results and overcome my shyness. This woman set up an association for deaf children and fought for inclusive education in Burkina. Mrs. Gansonre is a big role model for me because, thanks to her support, I learned to accept and overcome my disability.

Nathalie wearing the International Women’s Day pagne (cloth) for 2022

This year’s international women’s day theme is Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow.  What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing women with disabilities in achieving equality in Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso has been experiencing a very difficult security context since 2015, and this has further deteriorated over the past two years. Inspired by the international theme for Women’s Day, Burkina Faso has chosen a national theme which is: “Security and Health Challenges: Which Strategies for Better Protection of Women?”

When we talk about equality, women with disabilities must have the same chances and the same opportunities as other women, which is not yet a reality here. Women with disabilities in Burkina must overcome several challenges, the greatest of which are security and health challenges. Most of Burkina (two-thirds) is occupied by terrorist groups who make their own laws and oppress women.

In regions affected by insecurity, women with disabilities are more or less forgotten; they are victims of sexual assault and have their dignity taken away. They often suffer in silence without any opportunity to have their voices heard.

Women with disabilities do not have access to shelter, water and sanitation, health centres or education. In addition to these difficulties, they must overcome challenges such as access to vocational training, micro-finance and employment. To speak of equality and a sustainable future, these challenges must be addressed.

What advice would you give to other disabled women and girls to help them overcome these challenges?

You know that alone a person cannot change his or her condition. I invite women with disabilities to join movements and associations for people with disabilities, as well as organisations and networks that promote opportunities for female leaders with disabilities. In these different bodies, they have the opportunity to develop projects in a participatory manner and to make their voices heard. Above all, I invite them to get in touch with ODIS, where they can express their needs and try to find solutions to their problems.

Girls with disabilities need to be stronger, and they need to fight without giving up; they must speak out, denounce what they are experiencing and claim their rights.

What will you and the organisations you work with be reflecting on this International Women’s Day?

This year, Burkina Faso is living in a much more difficult political and socio-security context than in previous years. We are in a period of transition and so far the members of the government and the representatives of the people are not yet known. We cannot therefore officially organise ceremonies without the approval of the authorities. Nevertheless, two women with disabilities from ODIS have been invited by a charitable community to participate in an interactive radio program on the national theme for Women’s Day.

What can LAFI Burkina and other organisations do to support disabled women to become leaders in their communities?

We thank LAFI Burkina, our partner organisation that has supported us since the creation of ODIS in 2019 up to now. Through technical and financial support for our two largest projects – mobility and inclusive education, and inclusive vocational training – this year we have benefited from greater funding, which allows us to reach more beneficiaries, and we think that in the future we will be able to have structured, longer-term programmes ranging from 3 to 5 years.

For us to support women with disabilities, we need to provide them with further training in leadership and personal development. They also need the opportunity to meet and share experiences with other women in the West African region and internationally.

We appeal to international NGOs to support LAFI so that they can, in turn, support us. The more autonomous ODIS is, the better it will be able to properly support disabled and vulnerable women.

To learn more about International Women’s Day, please visit the United Nations International Women’s Day page.