Unpacking Gendered Trajectories and Wellbeing in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso By Mallory Bernstein

In the second African Studies Lunchtime Seminar, (27th October 2016) Dr Sara Randall from UCL Anthropology presented original research into wellbeing and ageing in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Her work combines anthropology and demography and revealed a number of nuances in demographic surveys about how marriage responsibilities dictate life trajectories of the elderly.

In researching experiences of the elderly, Randall established three steps in the general elderly trajectory:

  1. Independence- ability for self-care
  2. Transition- change to family members, friends providing care
  3. Dependence- acceptance of care given by others

In five lower socio-economic areas surrounding Ouagadougou, 54 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed, revealing that even in these three steps, men and women’s lives differed significantly.

The surveys and interviews indicated that if a woman is elderly, she is more likely to be single and living in a son’s homestead. If a man is elderly, he is most likely taken care of by one of his wives (marriages are polygamous) and will be far less likely to live alone. Moreover, men marry young wives- therefore one rarely encounters a single man without caregivers. On the other hand, women marry older men, thereby increasing the probability of being widowed later in life and taken in by a son.

In Burkina Faso, caring for the elderly has changed in the last few decades as the younger population has moved into the capital city, Ouagadougou. This means that in old age fathers will most likely be able to remain in the villages outside of Ouagadougou because they will have wives to care for them. Mothers, on the other hand, will most likely move to the city after the death of a husband, uprooting their social life and relocating to a son’s homestead.

The gendered trajectory of men and women reflect their respective outlooks on the transition step to dependency. Men often saw loss of physical strength as the biggest stress of uncertainty during the transition step. However, women often saw uprooting and relocation as the stress of uncertainty during this stage.

Although the way in which marriage trajectories and the experience of old age will differ from London to Ouagadougou, Randall identified how many of the experiences of those in Ouaga are similar to the experiences of those in London. The transition from being an independent person to dependent on others for care is not localized in Burkina Faso. Rather, these transitions are a common factor from one country to another and the outlooks of these transitions change based on gendered trajectories. Indeed, this research identifies the need for a gendered and qualitative understanding of the experience of ageing and the different ways in which elderly men and women relate to their family members, care-givers, and residence patterns.

To read more, about Dr Randall’s work, see: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/people/academic-teaching-staff/sara-randall

Image of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso obtained from:


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