Organizing women street vendors in Burkina Faso

By Irene Doda
November 23, 2023
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Women street vendors in Burkina Faso constitute the majority of workers in our sector. Our affiliate SYNAVFL organizes fruit and vegetable vendors across the country. We visited them in July 2023, and we learned more about their work on the ground.

Burkina Faso is a land-locked country in West Africa, who lately has suffered from a series of coup d’etats and a great deal of political instability. In this precarious context, StreetNet’s affiliate Syndicat National des Vendeurs des Fruits et Légumes (SYNAVFL) works tirelessly to organize the street vendors, specifically the ones devoted to trade of fruit and vegetables. Evelyn Benjamin-Sampson, StreetNet’s organizer for West and Central Africa, visited SYNAVFL in July 2023, to document the efforts of the syndicate and assess the success that StreetNet’s support for the organization brought about. 

Women street vendors in Burkina Faso

Challenges for women street vendors

SYNAVFL members are predominantly women. In Burkina Faso, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 95% of women work in the informal economy or in subsistence agriculture. During the visiit, we observed a number of challenges for the vendors, for example the lack of toilet and water facilities in market, the lack of a proper shed for the produce vendors (in Burkina Faso temperature can rise above 40°C during the hottest months). Decent work conditions are not met in many cases. From a legal perspective, there is no instrument guaranteeing recognition and social protection for workers in the informal economy. This can be particularly challenging for women vendors, who are often young mothers: there are no maternity benefits and no public “creches” for the young children. 

Working on awareness raising campaigns

Sensitizing and awareness- raising are among the priorities of SYNAVFL. But there are challenges: “According to our observations, the main obstacles we face when mobilizing women in our country, is the illiteracy of the majority of these women” tells us Alizeta, Secretary General of SYNAVFL “It prevents many of them from fully understanding and making sense of things, because every time we try to approach them, they already have the idea that our work has some political scheming behind. This leads them to be reluctant, especially given the country’s instability. We intend to remedy this literacy problem through training in different national languages”. SYNAVFL is also working to set up a mutual health insurance scheme. 

Women vendors in a fruit market

Working in urban and rural communities

During her field visit, we had the opportunity to interact with the members both in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, and in the rural community of Yipelce. 

In Yilpece, we met with no less than seventy women vendors and their traditional male leaders. The women have been able, thanks to an economic recovery project sponsored by StreetNet, to acquire a plot of land (300 meters square). They also acquired a  piece of fenced land they negotiated for, which was released for use by their members for training purposes. 

Being committed to the development of their activities, the women in Yipelce pointed out the lack of digital connectivity and access to smartphones, as they wished to also bring their businesses online. 

SYNAVFL has worked a lot to organize communities outside the capital city: Yipelce, Toeson, Ziga, Nagreogo, Koudougou, Kaya, Tenkodogo, Kienfangue, Goudrin, and still counting.

The prevalence of informal cross-border trade in Burkina Faso

Many workers affiliated with SYNAVFL are informal cross border traders, who face their specific sets of challenges. Despite the advocacy work supportyed by StreetNet, which helped, for example, drastically reduce the taxes at the Burkina-Togo border, several problems remain for the workers in this particular condition. The workers explained that, at the moment, there are issues at the border between Burkina and Ghana, with extortion being a common practice. 

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Evelyn Benjamin Sampson meeting with the leadership of SYNAVFL

The contribution of StreetNet 

Workers in the markets of Ouagandougou demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm about the visit from StreetNet. The interventions and support of the alliance have been of paramount importance for the workers and the leaders on the ground, to support the vendors’ collective action. For example, there has been a lot of sensitization around the issue of the rights of informal cross border traders, and workers feel more empowered in advocating for themselves. Comrade Alizeta expressed her gratitude for the effort of StreetNet in helping the autonomization of women. “In Burkina Faso, StreetNet was successful in publicizing its intervention” Evelyn concludes “ so the consciousness of members on what SNI is doing for them was higher in relation to other places I visited. One obvious reason was the logo of SNI that lies side by side with that of SYNAVFL in all. This led to the expression of appreciation I received there, in the name of StreetNet International”