By all accounts, it was a calm night in Ouagadougou when terrorists targeted the Istanbul Aziz restaurant and left 19 people dead and many injured. Among the victims was Bilel Diffalah, a long-term volunteer with Uniterra.
When I learned of the attack I was on vacation in France with my family and my heart sank. For those of us supporting Canadian volunteers abroad, it is our greatest fear. Within a few hours I learned of Bilel’s death.
This heinous attack raised many questions among our volunteers, supporters and partners. A lot of people asked me: what does it mean for Crossroads International and its work in Burkina Faso?
Burkina Faso’s experience of terrorism is not unique. Citizens in Barcelona or London also endured senseless acts of terror in the last few months. Poverty and inequality fuel these acts in countries where we work and the citizens and those working alongside them are among the most vulnerable.
For Crossroads, the safety of our volunteers is paramount. We are keeping a close watch on the situation in Burkina Faso as well as in any other countries where we are working and are adapting our work to this new reality. I am heartened by the commitment of our volunteers and their strong desire to continue their mandate alongside the citizens of Burkina Faso. That is why, Crossroads must redouble its efforts to advance equality for youth, strengthen women’s economic empowerment, fight forced and early marriages and increase women’s leadership and political representation. Despite positive actions taken by the Burkinabe government, a lot of work is still needed to improve women’s and girls’ rights in Burkina Faso. The country has, for example, the sixth highest rate of early marriages in Africa with 52% of girls married by the age of 18, half of them already mothers at that age.
We know that, with the threat of terrorism, we are facing an additional challenge. However, as long as the safety of our volunteers is not compromised, we will continue to work together to give youth hope for a better future and to advance equality and women’s rights. Let’s not forget that the rise of extremism often leads to women’s rights violation and that’s why it is essential to advance women’s rights to fight this ideology.
International development is fundamental in times of crises. I believe that by working collectively to create one world where poverty is eliminated, equality prevails and the rights of women and girls are fulfilled, we will also help advance peace.