Interview with Jocelyne Tenkouano, Burkina Faso Country Director

Can you tell us about yourself and your history with buildOn?

My Name is Tenkouano Lamoudi Jocelyne Haoussatou. I am married and the mother of two boys.

I have a master’s degree in Management and Applied Foreign Languages (Spanish and English) from the University of Jean Moulin, Lyon III (France) in partnership with the University of Lerida (Spain) as an Erasmus Student.

Since my graduation in 2009, I have evolved in the area of NGOs. From 2010 to 2012, I worked for the NGO Skillshare International / Coaching For Hope West Africa Program as an Administrator. Then I worked for the NGO John Snow, Incorporated (JSI) / USAID | DELIVER PROJECT as a Finance and Administrative Officer. And before joining buildOn, I worked as an Administrative and Finance Officer from 2014 to 2016 with International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

I joined the buildOn movement in April 2016 as Finance Manager. Then in 2017 when the position of Country Director was vacant, I applied and successfully passed the recruitment process. Therefore, since July 3, 2017, I am the Country Director of buildOn in Burkina Faso.

You are one of the first female Country Directors in Burkina Faso. What does this achievement mean to you? 

I am proud to be the second female Country Director in Burkina Faso. Since buildOn has started implementing its activities in Burkina Faso it has been led by a female leader. This shows how important gender equality is to buildOn and proves how much women can succeed in such roles. 

Being a female Country Director means a lot to me because, first of all, it was a challenge being selected as Country Director since it was my first high leadership role. Indeed, when the position of Country Director was vacant, my first reaction was that I can’t assume this role because I never had such responsibilities. Do I have the competencies? Will I be able to manage these people? Will it interfere with my family life? Will I be able to excel in the role of spouse and role of a leader? A lot of questions and worries tormented my mind. But after reflecting, I decided to apply because end the end: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What are you most proud of during your time as a Country Director in Burkina Faso? 

There is so much to be proud of when you are able to contribute to the development of your country through your job.

Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces that are leaving shelters for adequate schools built by buildOn and their parents is deeply rewarding! Allowing girls and boys who were once refused access to school because of overcrowded classes, distance, and inadequate shelters to be enrolled in newly built schools is just delightful! Giving a second chance to children for better education and a vision for the future is just wonderful! It’s especially great when each year a child attending a buildOn school is awarded the honor of being the top student in his or her entire district at the final primary school exam.

Where there was no hope, we give hope! And I am so proud and so grateful to be part of this great movement.

Is it common to have women in leadership positions in Burkina Faso? 

Nowadays, we often see women in leadership positions in Burkina Faso. Indeed, with the promotion of gender, there are efforts made with regard to women in positions of responsibility, but this is insufficient because women have the potential to occupy more than half of even managerial positions. But the problems within the household are a great barrier. Before having the ambition to accept any kind of leadership position, women, especially in Burkina Faso, have to submit their projects to their husbands and request his advice and support. Otherwise, she will not succeed in her professional and family role at the same time.

Why is it important in Burkina Faso – and everywhere – to have women in leadership roles? 

Having women in leadership roles helps women build that sense of empowerment and belief in themselves. It provides an example to other women that it is possible to have a positive impact on their family, community, and country. Women in leadership roles, empower other women and girls around the world. This makes other women understand that they have the choice to take command of their lives and that each woman should trust herself, define her own success, and struggle to achieve it.

In Burkina Faso, we are still struggling for the education of girls and for parents to see women role models and be convinced that they must invest in their girls. As a Country Director, when I go to communities and the community members, especially the women, see that I am a woman and that the Field Coordinators that are all men work under the supervision of Rolande (a female Construction Manager) and myself, it gives them hope for their girls and they become convinced that they need to enroll their girls so that one day they can be like us.

Moreover, having women in leadership roles creates economic empowerment for women, which is the surest route to poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make a huge contribution to the economy and to their families.

What are some of the challenges/barriers that keep girls and women in Burkina Faso from achieving their goals? 

The main challenges/barriers that keep girls and women in Burkina Faso from achieving their goals are:

  • Lack of education: the non-schooling of girls and the low rate of literacy among adult women. 
  • Typical African traditionalist beliefs or behaviors of subordination of women: refusal to invest in women (because it is perceived as a great loss), the cultural or social conditioning of women being confined to a specific role (e.g. a housewife). Our cultures always relegate women to the background. In our societies, the role of educating children is left to women, so women do not receive enough encouragement when they have projects that will lead them to spend more time away from their homes.
  • Not recognizing the impact of women’s work in society and family: stereotypes further this and perpetuate the idea that women are the weaker sex and not as capable.
  • Sexual exploitation: some women, lacking the means of their parents, are forced to sell off their future and sell their bodies to meet the basic needs of their families.
  • Early marriage: because they are overwhelmed by poverty or by tradition, some parents in Burkina Faso do not hesitate to marry their daughters very early. Sometimes, too, the honor of the family is linked to the virginity of the girls. So the parents marry them long before they are ready to have sex.
  • Denial of resources and opportunities: denial of access to economic resources/goods or livelihood, education, health, or to other social services. For instance, preventing a widow from possessing her inheritance, extortion of the money won by an intimate partner or a family member, preventing a girl from going to school, etc.

Do you have any advice for young women in Burkina Faso and around the world? 

We all have little opportunity for success and great chances for failure, but it all depends on the choice we make! We are not perfect, but we have great abilities and with determination, perseverance, and honesty we can overcome all obstacles that occur. We should never give up! And if we fall, we should stand up and continue the fight because it is worth it!

Many people are not going to believe in you as a woman. They won’t stop telling you that you will fail. However, you must always believe and invest in yourself. Believing in yourself starts with hard work and preparation. You must create a plan and execute it!

I am convinced that women should fight to get their independence, assume their multitasked roles, and be fulfilled regardless of prejudice. Women should make the decisions that are better for themselves and not hide behind fear or stereotypes.

Women should believe and invest in themselves because education is the key to a better tomorrow.