Gabonese Women Help Redress Gender Imbalance

Gabon, gender, bunny
Africa Gabon
Gabonese Women
Help Redress
Gender Imbalance
With International Women's Day on 8 March just around the corner, Agence de Développement Française hears from twelve exceptional women from Gabon through an exhibition perfected by talented photographer Bunny Claude Massassa. Come and discover these five Gabonese women, each fighting in their own arena for a more equal society.

Gabonese women speak up. For years, Agence Française de Développement (AFD) has been supporting these women on a daily basis through its projects conducted in partnership with all those working in the country. The progress made thus far is impressive: gender equality has been greatly improved, certain legal discrimination has been removed, and the country’s ambitious ten-year strategy “2015-2025, Decade of Women” has been established.

Yet more must be done. This is the message we hear from the Gabonese women we will be introducing you to. They tell of the daily challenges they face in the workplace, in the field of new technologies and at school. They send us a strong, but simple message: there is still work to do to eliminate discrimination and break down stereotypes.

This is particularly true in Africa, where education, maternal and child health and access to rights are central issues in the path to equality between men and women. AFD is addressing these challenges through its strategic “100% social cohesion” objective, particularly through the inclusion of women and the fight against gender inequality.

Above right: Ada Mvono, midwife in Gabon: “We must make maternal and child health education more accessible and easier to understand.” © Bunny Claude Massassa / AFD

Gabon, gender, ada
Gabon, gender, Bunny
Opening minds through new technology
Nancy Dondia, General Coordinator within the NGO “Acte”.

What is the NGO Acte?
Nancy Dondia: Acte is the Association for the Consolidation of Education Technologies. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the integration of technology in education. We target young people and work in institutions, from the primary level to higher education. We also welcome “external” young people who are not attending school. All in all, we welcome nearly 10,000 young people per year at our centres.

How do you integrate the gender issue into your activities?
For three years now we have put an emphasis on girls in our programmes. When I began working at Acte, girls primarily worked on the administrative aspect. They were afraid to really take on any digital components. Then we decided we should encourage them more in this area and expose them to all the communities of practice. We then realized that the girls were the best. Since then, I require a quota of girls in every project we launch.

Does that work?
Yes. But we must fight against unintentional, unconscious and historical discrimination. When we were young, our parents tended to give “tech” gifts to boys. Game Boy was a fun toy at the time. But there was never Game Girl! What has changed today is that technology is linked to social interactions, and girls are much more sociable than boys. This is also why their role in the field of technology is becoming stronger day by day.

Is there still progress to be made?
Of course. Girls still represent a minority in scientific fields and technology careers, particularly in creation/creativity areas. But working in computer technology does not necessarily mean studying the sciences! This is a trend we want to change at Acte. We expose young girls to technology starting at a very young age. We tell them, “you can code, you can program”, and it sparks something in them.

We also led a digital talent incubation programme among out-of-school youth, funded by the European Union. We made sure girls were well represented. They didn’t know anything about technology, had never even touched a mouse. We trained them on how to program and they were able to make cartoons, video games, etc. They went failure situations to becoming women who were thriving, with fresh hope and a desire to keep fighting.
Gabon, gender, Bunny
School as a promoter of gender equality
Darene Ayingone Mabele (left) and Elfried Rosina Gnoumba Ndengue, students at Collège Georges Mabignath in Libreville.

Darene and Elfried are in Year 10 of secondary school at Collège Georges Mabignath in Libreville, Gabon’s capital. They are good students, among the top in their school, and some day hope to become a doctor and lawyer, respectively.

Full of ambition and supported by their parents, they believe in gender equality. It is therefore out of the question to consider boys as superior to girls, especially since “in class, girls dominate more and more.” While girls obtain better academic results, these students also offer another explanation: “As girls, our families watch us very closely, we’re not allowed to go out. It’s different for boys.”

At school, they notice behaviour towards girls ranging from verbal abuse to physical violence. This is most frequently takes the form of mockery. “It’s a recurring situation at school. We laugh at anything, sometimes without realizing we’re hurting others,” Darene explains. In general, the mockery relates physical appearance or dress.

“I think gender-based violence at school is linked to provocation. Those who feel superior want to impose their domination on others. Yet sometimes, it’s linked to the family unit,” Elfried observes. “Some grow up with abusive parents. They are influenced by this behaviour and reproduce it with others.”
Gabon, gender, Bunny
Fighting for authority with men
Lyliana Gladys Boura, a park ranger with Gabon’s Agency of National Parks (ANPN).

Lyliana Gladys Boura is a park ranger at Akanda park, one of Gabon’s 13 national parks. She is the only women in a team leader position out of the 26 positions in the national park system. Lyliana fights against illegal wood operations, fishers and poachers. Yet Akanda Park is not as exposed to these risks as some. What the park ranger fears most is all the time spent on the water. “We’re afraid the boat will capsize. Will we make it to the base? We feel like we might be at the end of our lives. And we think ‘Oh God, my children!’”

As a mother of two children, this ranger admits the profession is not easy for women, still less for a mother. She is single; her mother helps care for her children. The missions on the ground last 21 days, without any possibility of returning home. Above all, it is her passion that pushes her to continue in this field. “Maybe because I love nature. And we’re in contact with the whole world. We welcome trainers from Senegal, England, the United States. We share work experiences.”

In the long-term, she hopes missions on the ground can be adapted to suit women’s needs: more frequent, but shorter missions, for example for one week. She also hopes that someday women will be able to obtain an administrative position after 5 years, rather than the 11 years in the field that are currently required.

Lyliana freely admits that her relationships with colleagues of the opposite sex are often complicated, especially when it comes to older men: “There is a marginalization problem. They think a woman can’t give orders to a man. You have to be courageous, stay above the threats and be determined. Many men think I got here through relationships. But I don’t let them intimidate me. If a man wants to impose his masculine authority, I impose my own authority. I make sure he understands that we are equal in our profession. If I must give him an order, he must accept it. If he disagrees, I write a report.”

Among park rangers, there is no special treatment for women. Everyone has their own material: a tent, a blanket, a bag. There are no dormitories specifically for women in the living facilities. “When the technicians came to build the base, there was a total of three women, and we raised this point. But they told us it wasn’t in the plans. So, we organize things as best we can; the men have their dormitory and the women stay in the empty rooms. The showers and toilets are shared.”

Lyliana Boura believes her sector can provide women with great opportunities: “The forest is an issue for everyone. Being a park ranger is not reserved for men. A woman is above all a mother. She protects, educations and guides. As park rangers, we protect Gabon’s biodiversity. This connection comes naturally!”
Gabon, gender, Bunny
Breaking down gender stereotypes
Marielle Ntsame Nguema (left), Consultant, Managing Director and Member of Agir Pour le Genre, an NGO promoting gender quality, and Nicole Nguema Metogo, Consultant.

What does Gabonese legislation say on gender issues?
Nicole Nguema Metogo: The legal framework is fairly supportive of gender equality which is enshrined in the Constitution. We also have a law on quotas that stipulates that women must account for at least 30% of positions in decision-making bodies and executive positions. However, there is a difference between legislation and reality. This is true when it comes to quotas and in far too many instances of widows and orphans being dispossessed by relatives. In addition, our legal corpus is littered with some 98 discriminatory provisions.

Are women aware of their rights?
Nicole Nguema Metogo: We have come to realize that many are not. We are trying to train them on international conventions and the local legal corpus.

Marielle Ntsame Nguema: The Ministry of Family and the Agir Pour le Genre NGO have produced brochures aimed at helping women be heard, particularly regarding violence against women. A workshop was also held to validate the national strategy on fighting gender-based violence.

What are the most blatant forms of discrimination?
Nicole Nguema Metogo: The main forms of discrimination result from the sociocultural context and stereotypes in general. For example, in a family, when a child is sick, the woman must care for the child. This is also true when it comes to the choice of studies: girls tend to choose literary fields while boys choose scientific fields. Then there is our society’s image of women. In Africa we say, “the woman does not speak.” If she speaks during a family meeting, she is viewed as impolite. This is also reflected in the public sphere.

Marielle Ntsame Nguema: There is also the issue of land, both in the North and the South. In the North, land belongs to the man. The woman works the land and uses it in the context of marriage but does not have any right of decision regarding the land. In the South, we say the land belongs to everyone. In reality, the woman works the land, but cannot decide to sell it. That is the man’s decision.

Are there differences between rural and urban areas?
Nicole Nguema Metogo: Yes. For example, in rural areas, a poorer woman who is dependent on her husband will have less access to information. She will have less access to contraceptives and less control over her pregnancies.

What must be done to improve the situation?
Nicole Nguema Metogo: The Office of the Prime Minister must establish an observatory to deal with gender issues with a cross-sectoral approach. With representation at that level, public budgets would become gender responsive, which would result in the implementation of gender-responsive policies.

Marielle Ntsame Nguema: I believe we must begin by breaking down stereotypes at the very foundations of society, because gender is first and foremost a social construction. The gender issue should be addressed beginning in primary school, in school textbooks, in order to deconstruct stereotypes.
Gabon, gender, Bunny
“Women, unite!”
Josiane Kinga Delalain, Chief Accountant for Gabon’s state railway—Société d’Exploitation du Transgabonais (SETRAG)—and President of an organization for Gabonese railway women (Association des Femmes du Chemin de Fer Gabonais).

What is the objective of the Association for Gabonese Railway Women of which you are the President?
Josiane Kinga Delalain: The association seeks to promote mutually-supportive connections between railway women. It exists to reduce stress, break down bitterness and frustration, eliminate disparities and help put misunderstandings behind us.

How many women are employed by SETRAG?
There are 250 of us, out of 1,300 railway workers. In the beginning, we were scared to get involved in technical industries. But things are slowly changing. In 2019, we decided to visit technical secondary schools and universities with our colleagues who work on the rail network and shops, and those who operate locomotives and haul railway trucks. We will present our professions to students, especially female students, to tell them, “don't be afraid to take on the technical field.”

Is it difficult to work in a traditionally male sector?
Yes, it’s often hard in the beginning, but women eventually overcome the challenges. They learn to discuss, propose ideas and make decisions.

How do the women view each other?
Men are mutually supportive by nature, but women are their own worst enemies. I know what I'm talking about. I'm the president of the association and some people don’t like that. “Why is she president, why this, why that?” But if, as a woman, you do not support other women, don't ask men to start supporting them!

What must women do to gain influence?
Women must overcome their inferiority complex and learn to express themselves and speak out in public. They must also go beyond the prejudices of those who say that men will always be superior to women. That is our association’s goal: to help women feel confident at work, participate actively in corporate issues and promote themselves. Once they show men that they can work just as hard and as well as them, while still having a family life, they will have won.
Photographer & activist

Bunny photographerBunny Claude Massassa, the artist behind the portraits of these women fighting for gender equality, is a multidisciplinary artist from Gabon, born in 1990. A self-taught photographer, she interned with the agency Afrik’image and the Gabonese daily newspaper L'Union, becoming one of the first women to advance in photography in the Gabonese press. She was also the first women to cover the Africa Cup of Nations football competition in 2017.

In 2019, Bunny created her own company, Bunny Studio. As an activist, she volunteers for numerous organizations by creating photographic campaigns and offering photography classes for children alongside SOS Mwana and by organizing fundraisers for Educaf.
In 2017, she presented her first exhibition in Libreville, entitled “LUMIERE: l’homme en quête de connaissance”. (LIGHT: man in search of knowledge)

In 2018, Bunny’s photography was presented at the 13th edition of the Dakar Biennale and then in Uganda. In 2019, Bunny will present her exhibition “Envoûtement” at the photography festival “L’Émoi” in Angoulême.

AFD action in Gabon
Gabon, the second largest economic power in equatorial Africa has some serious assets: vast forest resources, arable land, and exceptional biodiversity. Yet the country must still fight against inequality, develop its infrastructures and improve access to healthcare and education.


An employee of the Trans-Gabon Railway that connects the western part of the country with the east. © Sonier Issembé / AFD
An employee of the Trans-Gabon Railway that connects the western part of the country with the east. © Sonier Issembé / AFD

For over 70 years, Agence Française de Développement has supported Gabon in many different sectors. It has supported a multitude of projects over seven decades, some of which have become emblematic: the Kinguélé dam in 1975, the expansion of Libreville airport and construction of the Owendo port in 1988, the Eboro-Oyem-Mitzix road in 1993. Today, AFD’s work in Gabon can be divided into the sectors of education, healthcare, rail transport infrastructure, agriculture and the environment, and the banking and private sector.

In the area of gender issues, our efforts are in keeping with the AFD Group’s strategy, which has made gender equality a major objective. In Gabon, AFD has carried out analysis of the gender situation, as well as a specific study on women in rural areas, including practical recommendations for fighting against existing discrimination. These recommendations could be implemented in the near future as part of an agricultural project.

The testimonies gathered for exhibition were related to projects AFD is currently leading in Gabon with our public partners (the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Health, Institut Gabonais d’Appui au Développement, Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux), and private partners (AEDH, Femme lève-toi, Acte, 3S, Agir Pour le Genre). This partnership approach is absolutely essential in together working to build a common world.