Empowerment of Women Living in Extreme Poverty, Burkina Faso

  • Date published:
    25 February 2015

Programme Overview

Programme Title Empowerment of Women Living in Extreme Poverty in Burkina Faso
Implementing Organization Association for Promoting Non-Formal Education in Burkina Faso (BF-APENF)
Language of Instruction French
Funding Korea International Cooperation Agency; Ilga Foundation; Association for the Promotion of Non-Formal Education; and associative structures or NGOs implementing literacy programmes in their intervention areas.
Programme Partners Educators without Borders (EWB) of South Korea; Korea International Cooperation Agency; Ilga Foundation; Ministry of National Education and Literacy (MENA); the Fund for Literacy and Non-Formal Education (FONAENF); and Swiss Cooperation in Burkina Faso.
Annual Programme Costs CFAF 75,000,000 (equivalent to US $15,000)
Annual programme cost per learner: CFAF 19,284 (equivalent to US $38.50 per learner)
Date of Inception 2009

Country Context and Background

Burkina Faso gained independence from France on 11th December 1960. Although politically stable, the country is classed by the World Bank as a low-income country. Almost three-quarters (72.6%) of its population dwell in rural areas (World Bank, 2014). With a GDP per capita income of US $683.90, it is estimated that 46.7% of the population live below the national poverty line (ibid.). In recent years, Burkina Faso’s economy has grown rapidly, with GDP up 10% annually. Agriculture and mining have been the main economic drivers of this trend (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2014).

The above graphs illustrate the numbers of illiterate young people and adults in Burkina Faso, and indicate the growth in size of the illiterate population since 1975.. In spite of literacy campaigns and international collaborations to reduce illiteracy, the country’s non-literate population keeps expanding, due only in part to the 2.9% annual increase in population size (ibid.). The Association for Promoting Non-Formal Education in Burkina Faso (BF-APENF) recognizes the large-scale negative impact of illiteracy, reducing people’s capability to respond to development challenges and limiting their access to information and knowledge that would make day-to-day life happier, easier and more profitable (Franck et al, 2010). The Human Resource Index ranks Burkina Faso 181st out of 187 countries, with a Human Resource Index of 0.388 (UNDP, 2014). Clearly, Burkina Faso needs urgently to address this growth in illiteracy, as well as its consequences for human development.

Burkina Faso remains a very unequal country, with huge income disparities and gender gaps. The status of women in Burkinabé society is low, despite of the government’s commitment to promoting gender equality through a legislative framework. Gender disparity can be observed in virtually every aspect of a woman’s life, for example, in the absence of legal protection against domestic violence, unequal access to land ownership, and discrimination against women seeking leadership positions (Helmfrid, 2004).

Gender disparity, however, goes beyond restricted access to resources and civil liberties. According to Education for All (EFA) reports, 72% of wealthy young men in Burkina Faso have basic literacy skills, compared with 54% of wealthy young women. The picture is the same with regard to less advantaged parts of the population, with 13% of poor men and 6% of poor women having basic literacy skills (UNESCO, 2013). Unsurprisingly, Burkina Faso is some way from achieving the fourth EFA goal, to achieve ‘a 50% improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults’ (ibid.). Because of this, women who are born into poverty in Burkina Faso are likely to remain poor. Progress towards achieving the EFA goals will require improvements in access to education, as well as to its relevance and usefulness. Recognizing the extent of this challenge, the ‘Empowerment of Women Living in Extreme Poverty in Burkina Faso’ programme works to integrate non-formal learning into the education sector in order to develop a more holistic education system (Franck et al, 2010).The programme, with its focus on women’s empowerment, regards the development of non-formal education as an essential contributor to economic development and social change.

Programme Overview

The Association for Promoting Non-Formal Education in Burkina Faso (BF-APENF) was created in 1997 by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) to promote non-formal education in accordance with education legislation in Burkina Faso. The association advocates for the importance of non-formal education, and engages in research and capacity-building work, as well as supporting innovations in community development. The association has approximately 400 members, scattered around the country, who support its work to promote non-formal education.

The ‘Empowerment of Women Living in Extreme Poverty in Burkina Faso’ programme aims to promote women’s empowerment by taking a holistic view of education, with an emphasis on community and lifelong learning. The programme’s aim is to support people in building capacities in health, education and finance in order to develop well-rounded individuals capable of improving their circumstances and those of their communities. The overarching objective is to promote literacy and local sustainable development as means to fight poverty. The programme has engaged adults and out-of-school young people in five villages in Burkina Faso and supported them to acquire basic skills in literacy and numeracy, and to develop income-generation activities, while raising public awareness of malaria and HIV/AIDS and how they can be prevented.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to:

  • Provide a non-formal education setting in which women can acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills;
  • Introduce a micro-credit scheme to strengthen income-generation activities;
  • Support women in developing practical skills that might support their future wellbeing.

Programme Implementation

The diagram below illustrates the process followed in implementing the programme.


    • The programme works with learners to ascertain the local challenges and issues that need to be addressed.
    • This is not a one-time start-up activity but an ongoing process to reinforce local ownership.
    • The programme aims to stimulate dialogue and reflection on learners’ knowledge but not as ‘the one who knows’.
    • It relies on local people as subject-experts.
    • Local research is conducted and evidence gathered from the Participatory Rural Appraisal.
    • Community constraints and concerns, and the topics to be covered, are defined.
    • Topics to be covered in the learning module are decided.
    • This is not a one-time start-up activity but an ongoing process to reinforce local ownership.
    • Outline facilitation tools, in-class exercises are devised.
    • Activities for social change that learners undertake as a result of their thematic analyses and discussions are developed.
    • The emphasis is on both the learning within the programme and the needs of the broader community.
    • Assessment of internal effectiveness, gauging the quality of learning content and the degree of mastery of instrumental skills, is undertaken.
    • Assessment of external effectiveness, evaluating the programme’s impact on individual and community development, takes place.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The pedagogical approach adopted by the programme focuses on the development of autonomous thinking and a critical spirit. Concentrating on learners’ language development, the course encourages students to engage critically with oral and written texts (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2014). The facilitator invites the learners to explain, describe, debate, and state their feelings about the text in question (ibid.). ‘Text’ in this context does not simply refer to traditional written material. It encompasses oral as well as written texts, and includes texts presented via digital media such as the internet and mobile phones. The programme recognizes the importance of working with text in different modes. Reading and writing, therefore, sit alongside ICT-based knowledge in the curriculum.

The pedagogy used in the programme is intended to change the social situation of the individual and give them the means with which to transform their community. The individual is seen not as a passive consumer of education but as an agent of change, both in their own lives and in those of their families and communities. Critical pedagogy stresses the role of education in providing people with tools to improve their lives and to strengthen democracy. It means ‘to deploy education in a process of progressive social change’ (Douglas, 2000). As women have, traditionally, borne the brunt of oppression in Burkina Faso, and there remains a troubling disparity between the genders in terms of wealth, education and life chances, the focus of the programme is on educating women about social change and giving them the skills and resources they need to advocate for their own rights.

The programme uses Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) as part of its approach to facilitating participation within communities. The aim is to enable local communities to conduct their own analysis and to plan and take action (Cavestro, 2003). This bottom-up approach allows learners to identify their needs, to analyze them, and to prioritize them in order of importance and feasibility. One distinctive feature of the PRA approach is that it makes available visual tools which stimulate learners’ participation in analysis and decision-making. These tools can be used to engage non-literate learners in the process of curriculum design. Assessing learning needs locally means that learners develop a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for the programme, leading, in turn, to its wider social acceptance within the community.


Programme Content and Teaching Material

The learning content is, in part, developed by the community, using the local needs assessment as a basis, and, in part, adapted from the curriculum developed by APENF on the basis of the Reflect approach to adult learning, in accordance with the national curriculum.

Reflect is a participatory approach to learning which links adult education to social change and local empowerment, and which has been adapted to different contexts in countries around the world. In Burkina Faso, APENF has been using Reflect techniques since 2000. Its curriculum is now the second most-practised approach to non-formal education in the country. APENF has adapted Reflect to the social and political realities of life in Burkina Faso. The use of PRA as one of programme’s methodologies means it is better able to secure the local involvement and buy-in essential to this participatory approach.

The three areas covered in the programme are:

  • Literacy: Rather than use pre-determined themes, learning materials are developed through PRA schemes to facilitate the discussion of identified topics. Instrumental skills in the areas of communication and language (reading and writing), as well as in the fields of mathematics and technology (arithmetic, geometry and ICT), are taught, with provision shaped by thematic discussions with learners.
  • Health: Public awareness campaigns are conducted on the issues of malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention through activities including theatre groups, documentary screening and topic discussions, as well as video projection sessions. HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention materials are distributed to out-of-school youth to minimize the risk of early infection.
  • Finance: Women in rural areas often experience extreme financial vulnerability. Poverty in Burkina Faso is mostly female and rural. The programme offers micro-credit schemes to support women in developing income-generating activities. Facilitating learners’ access to micro-credit gives them the means of further promoting their socio-economic status.

Innovative Features

The programme is innovative in the holistic approach it takes to education. The curriculum reflects the educational levels of the participants. For many women, particularly those who live in extreme poverty and have low social status, poor basic numeracy skills will be a barrier to learning about micro-credit. By developing learners’ basic literacy and numeracy, the programme ensures that all learners can gain the financial knowledge they need to generate an income for their families.

The instructional pyramid of the programme: This microcredit programme is a development programme implemented by APENF through funding from Educators Without Borders.

The use of the Reflect approach enables learners to analyse their problems, research appropriate solutions and translate them into action. The sense of responsibility and ownership this gives learners means they are highly engaged. There are additional benefits for learners’ well-being.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Programme facilitators are expected not to impose knowledge as ‘the one who knows’ to ‘those who do not know’, but, instead, to stimulate dialogue and reflection on the basis of learners’ prior knowledge, and to draw on and validate local wisdom. The programme relies on local facilitators. It invites local communities to identify facilitators based on their ability to be creative and flexible in meeting learners’ needs, and to make use of available resources. Facilitators who perform exceptionally well at the end of a learning cycle receive a special prize – CFAF 30,000 Francs CFA (around US $60,000) every month over a six-month period – for their contribution to local development.
Facilitators are trained by trainers who are experienced in the Reflect approach and have knowledge of adult learning and literacy. To ensure quality, the facilitotrs are supported in their work by supervisors who are better qualified and have a better grasp of the Reflect approach. Their role is to monitor the facilitator’s performance and to advise him or her on how to improve.

Enrolment of Learners

To be eligible for the programme, a learner must be older than 15 years, a member of an association, and completely illiterate.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes by Students

The programme uses a number of qualitative and quantitative measures to assess learning outcomes. Tracking learners’ attendance is one of the quantitative measures used. To achieve the programme’s goals, learners must attend classes regularly and actively participate in class discussions. Assessment of written texts is an important qualitative measure. Learners produce texts based on class discussions. Texts can be elaborated collectively or individually, depending on the kind of text chosen. Corrections are made to ensure orthographical, grammatical and textual norms are observed.

Learners are also assessed to determine the degree to which they have improved their instrumental skills. Internal performance evaluations are conducted at the programme centres to track their progresses. An additional evaluation of learners’ progress is conducted annually by the Ministry of National Education and Literacy.


Monitoring and Evaluation

The programme is monitored and evaluated for its external effectiveness. With help from the Korean Embassy in Abidjan and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, assessments of external effectiveness are conducted by independent consultants to evaluate the programme’s impact on individual and community development. This is in addition to the ongoing production of mid-term and annual reports.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievement

Since its inception, more than 17,625 learners have benefited from the programme, with an estimated 5,875 beneficiaries per year. Some notable figures, attesting to the programme’s social impact, are outlined below:


  • Nine Reflect centres have opened, engaging 234 learners, 200 of them women;
  • Five libraries have been established to promote literate environments and sustain literacy skills;
  • 1,024 students, including 986 women, have benefited from specific technical training on various activities related to their themes; and
  • 76 learners, including 70 women, have taken part in contests organised to encourage learners to make use of what they have learned. These take place periodically, with learners from all of the centres invited to participate. Prizes are awarded for the best entrants.


  • Public awareness campaigns to educate participants about malaria and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS have reached about 1,600 locals;
  • 725 people were tested for HIV (five tested positive);
  • Condoms and other prevention products were provided against HIV/AIDS and malaria;
  • Food, pharmaceuticals and clothing were provided to 80 participants (90% of them women) to help them live with HIV/AIDS; and
  • 132 school children from households affected by HIV/AIDS were sponsored through scholarships ranging in value from FCFA 20,000 to FCFA 52,500 (US $40-106). Academic monitoring of these children was also provided.


  • 329 participants, 75% of them women, have benefited from microcredit projects such as farming, small trade, handicrafts and agricultural production. Participants reported that the programme had strengthened their financial autonomy; and
  • Reimbursement rates from credits granted to participants vary between 95.23% and 98.49%.

Learners report that their social status has been enhanced as a result of the programme. They are more likely to engage in community activities that may help them earn wages, as well as to gain respect from senior members of their villages. The extra income brought home by women learners has helped families take care of basic necessities and so reduce their financial burdens. Participants emerge from the programme with a better understanding of the value of education and its impact on individual wellbeing. In one village, Worou, more than 30 children were sent to school by their mothers as a result of awareness sessions they attended in the literacy centres.

Lessons Learned

The main lessons learned from the programme are:

  • The importance of flexibility and interactivity to the programme: each semester, a participatory evaluation helped to resolve problems;
  • The value of the tripartite collaboration between APENF, Education Without Borders (EWB) and agencies with an effective presence on the ground;
  • Ensuring close follow-up with the learners contributes to the success of a project; and
  • The use of newly acquired reading and writing skills has a positive impact on the socio-economic activities of the learners.


Funding is a significant challenge to the programme, with women, in particular, facing a range of competing expenses (such as household costs, funerals and illnesses). The programme often struggles to secure the resources necessary to run the programme, for example, drinking water for learners. Some programme leaders have not attained an appropriate skills level and there are sometimes insufficient microcredit funds to meet the needs of learners. Certain micro-credit tools are used too infrequently by some learners. In some cases, local literacy and other specific training was inadequate. Vulnerable women living below the poverty line were sometimes not officially registered and could not, therefore, access credits. The challenge was to give them the skills they needed to change the situation.


The programme is sustainable in that the learning processes and content can easily be adapted or added to, depending on local demand. The curriculum is jointly developed by learners, facilitators, and subject experts in order to solve local problems. This bottom-up approach ensures the curriculum is relevant to learners and their communities, generating community buy-in and ensuring strong local attendance. The Reflect curriculum has been in use in Burkina Faso since 2000. Its flexibility and adaptability means that it could as easily be be applied in other countries.

The programme draws on working capital to grant new credits to learners each year. EWB’s financial contribution means that this working capital can be increased on an annual basis. When EWB pulls out of the programme, APENF has committed to provide working capital until the programme operators have achieved full financial autonomy. Only then will APENF also withdraw from the programme.



Mme Germaine Ouedraogo
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Tel: 0022 70 26 80 04
Email: geroued (at) gmail.com

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.).. Last update: 24 July 2017. Empowerment of Women Living in Extreme Poverty, Burkina Faso. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 4 June 2023, 19:44 CEST)

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