Since the political crisis in Burundi started in 2015, most human rights defenders have been forced to flee the country to avoid persecution. With the help of DefendDefenders, Burundian defenders in exile have pushed the UN to investigate violations in Burundi.
The societies in Muyinga province, in north-eastern Burundi are rather patriarchal. Women are often economically inferior to men. The women living in economic plight often resort to desperate means in order to survive. Many drop out of school. Some become house help in families, some start selling their bodies to get a daily meal. Many live dependant on their husband’s economy and goodwill. In cases of divorce, women are often left with nothing. The societies embrace a silent approval of certain forms of gender-based violence, such as women’s inferior economic status.
The women and children who need help are many, though the ones helping are few in numbers. The political crisis in Burundi, which escalated in 2015, has restricted the work of local organizations as well. Donors have pulled out of Burundi and both NGOs and the government are left with less funds to work with. Food and other resources are scarce. The justice system, even more than before, is dependent on the assistance and contribution of NGOs. Judges as well as victims of human rights violations do not have sufficient funds for transport, thus justice is often blocked due to lack of gasoline.
At the grassroots however, there is significant strength. One seed of hope at the grassroots level is an organization called Association des Femmes Juristes Burundi (AFJB). The organization was founded in 1995 and it has for long been helping the victims of gender-based violence. KIOS has supported the work of AFJB in the province of Muyinga where the organization has a legal aid and counselling clinic.
Florence is one of the women who have benefited from the assistance of AFJB. Florence’s husband abandoned her and their five sons and has already re-married. Florence’s former mother-in-law treated Florence like an outsider. Florence was not allowed to grow crops in the family lands.
“With the help of AFJB, I won a case against my husband. Though the judgment is still waiting for its execution, I now have hope. I have hope for the future”, says Florence.
Another beneficiary of AFJB, Sophie, tells the following: “AFJB lawyer at the legal aid clinic in Muyinga helped me to proceed with my case. And with the court’s verdict, our family belongings were evenly distributed between me and my husband. I now have a house of my own with my six children and we do not have to live in the household of my brother.”
There have been positive legislative developments as well in Burundi when it comes to eradicating gender-based violence. A law specifically against gender-based violence and for helping the victims was enacted in the fall of 2016. The legislation now acknowledges the existence of gender-based violence as a fundamental problem and offers some tools to fight against the violence. AFJB was among the organizations who worked and lobbied for the legislations for a long period of time. The legislation is not perfect and authorities are now always too aware of its content or even existence. But acknowledging gender-based violence as a huge issue is a step forward in the battle for eradicating the violence. AFJB gives training to local authorities on the contents of the legislation.
AFJB continues to work in a context where help is most needed and those who help are few in numbers. The organization takes part in the celebrations of the International Women’s Day and keeps working for a better Burundi.
Text by AFJB
Pictures by KIOS
The names of Florence and Sophie in this article have been changed.
The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy of KIOS.
This article is part of celebrating KIOS 20 years and sharing voices from our partners in the Global South.