Marie Léa Zongo
Fellow Since 1995
This profile was prepared when Marie Léa Zongo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Girls born into traditional rural households in Burkina Faso face many disadvantages and traditionally receive far less support and attention than their brothers. Many girls assume heavy workloads from the time they are five years old and rarely, if ever, enjoy the liberties or educational opportunities accorded to their male siblings. One of the significant ways in which girls are denied basic rights is through the practice of early, forced marriage.Marie Léa Zongo is tackling the deep-seated discrimination faced by women in Burkinabe society in two ways that are fundamentally new. Whereas prior efforts have been directed toward adult women, hers is the first to focus on young girls. Marie believes in the importance of educating young girls to understand their situation and recognize their potential before their wills are broken by the weight of tradition and the drudgery of the lives that have been predetermined for them.Marie's work is also pathbreaking in its willingness to confront the deeply ingrained gender-biased attitudes and customs that the majority of her fellow citizens see as irreversible. Working with great sensitivity to the traditional norms and institutions that still define Burkinabe society, Marie has created a new mechanism through which to deliver a "girls' rights" message into the most conservative settings. Her village "Committees for Conciliation and Intercession" are composed of religious and community leaders who educate parents about their daughters' legal and human rights and provide mediation between runaway daughters and their families. Marie believes this rights-based approach toward reconciliation is a powerful new way to simultaneously reform and reaffirm traditional parental and village authority.