Innovations et Réseaux pour le Développement
Development Innovations and Networks
Innovación y redes para el desarrollo

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How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line

Speed, endurance, dexterity and an eye for colour : just some of the skills needed when weaving on a loom. Eveline Ouédraogo masters them all. Without visible effort, this Burkinabé woman rapidly moves her feet over the pedals, her hands manoeuvring 40 brightly coloured coils of thread.

With each thread going back and forth, Ouédraogo, 37, earns a little bit more. Every fling on the loom brings her children a step closer to a better future : one the EU hopes – as the funder of the micro-enterprise where she works – will keep them at home rather than migrating north.

Ouédraogo is employed by the Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme, and the fabric they produce has featured in international fashion magazines. “Did you know there’s even a picture of Beyoncé wearing our fabrics ?” said Ouédraogo, well within her rights to boast.

The association’s small workshop on the outskirts of the capital, Ouagadougou, is supported by the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a programme run by the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the UN and the World Trade Organisation.

Major fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are linked by EFI with artisans in poor countries, supporting the idea of “fashion as a vehicle for development”.

Ouédraogo earns two to five euros per metre depending on the complexity of the fabric. On a good day, she can weave up to one and a half metres – making just a little over the average wage in Burkina Faso.
Investing in people

Last year, the EFI received €5 million from the multi-billion-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to expand its programmes in Burkina Faso.

The fund, launched in 2015, aims to tackle the root causes of outward migration through development aid, security and peacebuilding support, as well as financing for migration management.

But in a country like Burkina Faso where remittances from migration represent real financial benefits for families, are projects like EFI – or more traditional EU rural development assistance – enough to dissuade young people from taking the risk of travelling to Europe ?

Some €3.3 billion has been pledged to the EUTF, according to the European Commission. Burkina Faso is one of 21 sub-Saharan African countries contributing to migration flows to Europe that is benefitting from the fund, to the tune of €84 million.

Simone Cipriani, founder and head of EFI, believes the EUTF’s job creation strategy makes sense. “With this project, I think we will stabilise some jobs here, and tens, if not some hundreds, of people will decide to stay,” he told IRIN.

By investing in new technology and expanding the customer order book, he believes the “hundreds of jobs” EFI supports could be transformed into “almost 2,800 jobs”.

However, the evidence suggests that while increasing prosperity at home may encourage some people to stay, it also enables many more to leave. Cipriani acknowledged this. “People in Europe sometimes forget that people here in Africa have the freedom to go and migrate,” he added.
Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme
Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN
Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme

Take Christiane Zoungrana. Five days a week the 42-year-old wheelchair-bound weaver pushes herself to work to help provide for her family. She has no plans to migrate, but her eldest son has recently been talking a lot about leaving.

Zoungrana would prefer to keep him as far away as possible from the dangers of the desert and Mediterranean, but he can’t seem to find a job. “If he really wants to go, I’ll help him,” she said, seeing the potential positive of having the means to employ someone to take care of her in the future if he made a success of himself elsewhere.

Read the full text on IRIN

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