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Burundi

Economic Empowerment

Burundian women’s economic opportunities suffer legal and cultural setbacks among other barriers.


Employment-wise, as of 2017, 84.6 percent of women participate in the labour market compared to 82.7 percent for men [1]. 78.4% of females over 15 are employed but still living in poverty, compared to 76% of males. 1.2% of females over 15 are unemployed compared to 2.1%. However, only 32.36% of women are in management positions [2]. The 1993 Labor Code that allows women on maternity leave only half of their salary, is also still in effect today [3]. This shows that there is room for improvement in terms of equal employment opportunities between women and men.


On the other hand, Burundians’ attitudes toward equal employment still tend to be traditional. In a 2017 study, 73.25% of men and 28.60% of women think it is more important for men than for women to find work outside home. The same percentage of them agree that there should be professions reserved to men and those reserved to women. 58.5% of men and 24% of women think that men should be responsible for contributing to household expenditures, and only 32% of men believe both the husbands and wives should do so [4]. This shows that awareness of the importance of equal employment opportunities for women and men is still lacking and education is necessary.


In terms of land ownership, customary laws and practices are applied when it comes to inheritance, especially in the rural areas. Customary practices exclude girls from inheritance, as they are thought not to perpetuate the family line [5]. In November 2021, Burundi House Speaker Daniel Gelase Ndabirabe claimed that educated girls and women are trying to destroy Burundians’ customs and traditions by pushing for inheritance law changes, and that “wise people” agreed that changing the law to allow women and girls to inherit would “bring more problems” [6]. This shows there is still a long fight until women and men can have equal right to land inheritance. The traditional and misplaced attitude to land ownership can be shown by the words of a man from Kiremba, “Men are responsible for providing for their families and the main source of income is the land, if we have to share the land with women that means we will end up with nothing to feed our families” [7]. The result is that only 40.1% of women have secure tenure rights to land compared to 49.6% of men, and only 67.21% of female agricultural population have ownership or secure rights over agricultural land [8]. As land is arguably the most important asset a person can have, there is still a lot of progress to be made for equal land ownership between women and men.


As regards economic empowerment at home, the 1993 Personal and Family Code that stipulates that husbands are the head of the conjugal community, is still in effect [9]. The legal position is also reflected in Burundians’ attitudes, as 59% of men believe the husband should be the only one who decides on all household expenditures, and 66.5% of men agree that a man should be free to spend household money without asking his wife’s opinion. Women tend to be more egalitarian in this respect, however, as 74% of women believe the wife and husband should decide on household expenditure together, and 75% of women disagree that a man should be free to spend household money without consulting his wife. A female from Busasa in the Commune of Muyinga states that as Burundian women typically do domestic chores and look after women, they know about the priorities of the household and should therefore have a say in decisions about expenditure. Unfortunately, she stated, it is not the case, and that in her community, “men decide on everything that has to do with money” [10]. This shows a disparity between women and men on their notions of their appropriate economic role in the family, and a case for domestic economic equality.


Current Law and Policy:

Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations and is struggling to emerge from a 12-year ethnic-based civil war. Since 2015, Burundi has been in the midst of a humanitarian and political crisis, with the security services and members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, carrying out widespread human rights abuses. This crisis has heightened the risk of domestic and sexual violence for women in the country with violence against women and girls being accepted as part of everyday life. This is exemplified by the fact that 23% of women reported having experienced sexual violence, while 50% reported having experienced domestic violence. Only a small percentage of these incidents are actually reported, so the actual incidence is likely to be much higher. 

In 2017, specific legislation on the issue was introduced. However, there is little information available on its implementation and effectiveness and there are no further plans for reform. 


In 2013, CEDAW acknowledged that Burundi had taken various practical measures to eliminate domestic abuse. A bill had been drafted on the prevention of, protection from and punishment of gender-based violence, which was in the process of being adopted, and a pilot centre had been established to provide comprehensive support to victims. Burundi had also taken steps towards ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which it has since ratified. A national children’s forum and a women’s forum were in the process of being established and “focal point” judges were appointed in civil courts to monitor cases of gender-based violence. Despite this progress, Burundi was criticised by CEDAW for its lack of a specific law on violence against women.


On 22nd September 2016, Burundi introduced Law N°1/013 on the Prevention and Punishment of Gender-Based Violence [11]. However, despite this Law being introduced, women in Burundi still lack confidence in the judicial system and police services. This is because the police often try to reconcile women with their abusers and remind them of the social consequences of filing a complaint. Rape and sexual assault victims typically do not report crimes at all. Many fear retaliation from the perpetrator and/or negative reactions from their families but, in addition, most simply do not know where to go for help. Rural communities lack any real victim support services and many women are unaware of their rights. 

Burundi has a particularly serious problem with sexual violence. The political crisis that began in 2015 remains unchanged and women and girls are at heightened risks of sexual violence, which is often used as an intimidation tool. In its latest report, the Burundi Commission Inquiry highlighted the political context in which sexual violence has been committed in recent years. During the reporting period, Marie Claire Niyongere, a prominent opposition politician, was sexually assaulted and killed. Most cases of sexual violence were attributed to members of the security forces, intelligence forces and the Imbonerakure.


The government in Burundi claims to have established four centres to provide assistance to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

There are major obstacles to human rights monitoring in Burundi. Independent local NGOs and media outlets not affiliated with the government have been closed. The government also requested the closure of the OHCHR country office, which took effect in February 2019. Therefore, there is limited information on any recent progress in addressing domestic violence, although there do not seem to be any plans to introduce further legislation tackling the problem. There was very little information about the 2016 Law and the last observations from CEDAW date from 2008.


Violence against Women

Interpersonal violence is a serious problem in Burundi. The Seruka Centre reported an average of 1,500 cases of sexual violence per year [12]. A study by Impunity Watch, an international human rights organisation, finds that violence in Burundi affects women disproportionately, with 97% of victims being women [13]. In 2018, 22.1% of women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or ex-partner in the last 12 months [14]. In a 2017 study, during a focus group discussion with men in Budahunga, Kirundo, all 8 participants condemned gender-based violence and denied ever beating their wife. One woman participant, however, claimed that every one of them was known to “beat his wife and to abuse her by taking the household money away and wasting it on alcohol or other futilities while his family does not have food to eat” [15]. This shows that interpersonal partner violence in Burundi seriously affects women and takes many forms, including physical, sexual, and economic abuse.


Teenage girls are a particularly vulnerable group of victims of sexual violence in Burundi. 3.5% of women aged 18-29 years have experienced sexual violence before they turned 18, compared with 0.2% of men [16]. In 2016, the Nturengaho Centre, an association fighting for the protection of victims of sexual violence, received a monthly average of 20 cases of teenage victims of sexual violence [17]. This shows how teenage girls are a particularly vulnerable group of victims of violence and deserve special attention.


The Burundian government has strengthened their legal protections for women and girls from sexual violence and exploitation. They adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in November 2007. In 2013, they adopted a new law on criminal procedure (article 64 paragraphs 4 and 5) which allowed civil society organisations to support victims of sexual violence in their search for justice. In 2016, they adopted a very strong law against sexual and gender-based violence [18]. This shows the government’s willingness to deal with this problem. However, it is arguable that legal protections are far from enough to eliminate gender-based violence, as 42.80% of women and 38.09% of men believe that women should not report violence they experienced for the sake of family cohesion. Additionally, 45.80% of men and 41.75% of women believe domestic violence is a purely domestic affair and no one else’s business. A woman from Mugozi in Gitega explained that reporting their domestic abuse might expose their family, including their children, to shame, while not reporting it shows the women’s dedication and protectiveness of their family. Another woman from Ngozi added that women do not want their husband to face imprisonment because they want to keep them to “help with the children and find food”. Therefore, a man from Busasa claims that it is better to tell the husband’s father rather than anybody else, because it is the husband’s home [19]. This shows outdated notions of family loyalty and reputation might prohibit victims of domestic abuse to seek legal protection.

There are other signs that gender-based violence is as important a cultural as a legal problem in Burundi. More than 30% of females and more than 40% of males accept domestic violence as normal, and it is condoned by more than 50% of both men and women when it is due to women’s unfaithfulness. Male sexual entitlement is also an important factor, as the percentage of men who believe physical abuse is acceptable when their wife refuses sexual intercourse ranges between 42% and 48% across different provinces. 81.32% of men and 62.15% of women believe a man has the right to refuse when his wife asks him to use condoms, and 75.85% of men think it should be up to them alone to decide on everything about sex. Additionally, 41.65% of men and 19.50% of women agree that a woman’s priority within the household is sexually satisfying their husband [20]. This shows that violence against women is enabled by a permissible cultural norm in Burundi.


Political and Judicial Representation

Burundian women’s political representation has been significantly improved by the 2005 Constitution of the Republic of Burundi, which, at articles 129, 164, and 182(2) requires that women hold a minimum of 30% of seats in both chambers of Parliament and the executive. In 2011, Parliament also legislated via article 33 of the law of political parties that there must be a minimum of 30% percent of women in national and provincial executive committees of political parties. They even require government offices to employ women for half their positions. The new 2018 Constitution extended the existing minimum 30% gender quota to the judiciary. Nowadays, women make up at least 30% of members in important national institutions, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Independent Commission on Human Rights, and the National Independent Electoral Commission [21]. This shows that Burundi provides robust legal protection for women’s political representation.


Currently, 38.2% of seats are held by women in the national Parliament. The ratio between the proportions of women in parliament and the national population is 0.74 for the lower chamber of Parliament and 0.78 for the upper chamber. In deliberative bodies of local government, women hold 33.3% of elected seats [22]. In addition, 37% of communal administrators and 51% of communal advisors are women. However, only 3 out of 17 provincial governors are women, and of the 44 politically active parties in Burundi, only 2 are headed by women [23]. This shows that there is still room for more equal representation of women in political institutions in Burundi.


A slightly worse picture is shown in terms of judicial representation. As of 7 September 2020, only 24% of women sit in key courts and state attorney offices including the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Moreover, women make up only 28.6% of leadership positions in these offices. Women make up an average of 20% of seats in the Hill and Suburb Councils, which are the smallest administrative units in rural and urban areas respectively, and which form part of the community justice forums [24]. As the 2018 Constitution imposed the 30% minimum gender quota in judiciary positions [25], it remains to be seen whether and how it will be put into effect.


In terms of voter participation, 52% of registered voters are women, but the percentage falls to 35% in the capital city. Apart from that, only 4 of the 12 political parties had more than 30% of their membership as female in 2014 [26]. There is therefore more work to be done to enable female voters to participate in politics.


Education

Women’s educational attainment is a significant problem. Only 68.4% of women can read and write, and 12.4% of girls are not in school [27]. According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2020, the mean years of schooling is 2.6 years for females and 4.1 years for males [28]. Moving up the educational pyramid, disparities between the genders widen; at the secondary level, 7 girls are enrolled for every 10 boys who do so, which has not changed significantly since 1990 [29]. This shows the seriousness of gender inequality in education.


Such inequality can be attributed to various factors. Firstly, due to poverty, young girls often have not enough food at home and resort to sexual relations with men who can provide them money, which results in early pregnancy and child marriage [30]. 58.2 per 1,000 women had children during adolescence as of 2015, down from 84.5 per 1,000 in 2011 [31]. From 2009 to 2015, almost 12,000 girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy (9), and according to UNFPA, around 3,000 Burundian girls drop out of school due to unwanted pregnancies [32]. 2.8% of women were married or in a union before the age of 15 and 19% before the age of 18 [33]. These all show the impact that teen pregnancy and child marriage can have on girls’ education.


Another important reason for girls’ lower educational attainment is the costs of education which cause parents to sacrifice girls if they have to choose between continuing education for the boys or the girls. Although 93% of women and 75% of men agree that secondary education is as important for boys as it is for girls, 28.94% of men and 21.06% of women are willing to sacrifice girls to keep boys in school if they are faced with financial duress [34]. This shows that parents’ preferential treatment for boys has a detrimental effect on Burundian girls’ educational attainment.


Healthcare

Women of reproductive age often face barriers to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are 548 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and in 2017, only 39.6% of women had their family planning needs satisfied with modern methods [35]. Cultural norms are a significant barrier to women’s achievement of reproductive control. Only 44% of women aged between 15 and 49 make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive healthcare [36], and 81.32% of men and 62.15% of women believe men are entitled to refuse their wife’s request for condoms. Men also tend to be unsupportive of women’s contraceptive efforts, as 62.84% of men believe it is up to the women to make sure they do not get pregnant during sexual intercourse. There is also stigma relating to contraception, as 68.60% of men and 52.23% of women regard women who keep condoms in their purse as prostitutes [37]. This shows that cultural norms are a significant obstacle to achieving women’s reproductive health.


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Sources


[1] Worldometer, “Burundi Population (Live)”, (worldometers.info).

[2] UNICEF, “Abuse, Impunity and Sexual Violence in Burundi”, (unicef.org, 14 June 2018).

[3] UN Women, “Global Database on Violence Against Women – Burundi”, (evaw-global-database.unwomen.org).

[4] ibid.

[5] European Network for Central Africa, “The COVID-19 Response Should Leave No One Behind: The Pandemic’s Implications in the Great Lakes Region”, (2020), Policy Report.

[6] Burundi, Loi No1.013 du 22 septembre 2016 portantPrévention, Protection des Victimes et Répression des Violencesbasées sur le Genre.


Further Reading


[1] UN Nations General Assembly, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – Burundi”, (2013), Report of the Twenty-Third Session of the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/23/9, Agenda Item 6.

[2] UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, “Burundi”, (un.org).

[3] Refworld, “Burundi: Protection and Resources for Women Victims of Spousal Abuse (2010 – June 2013”, (refworld.org, 3 June 2013).

[4] HRW, “Burundi – Events of 2018”, (hrw.org).

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