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Burundi’s Battle for Women’s Rights

Burundi, a nation racked with political unrest since the takeover of the country’s ruling party, fell into havoc when the National Council for the Defense of Democracy Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) revealed their decision to legitimize President Pierre Nkurunziza’s candidacy to run for a third term in the summer 2015 presidential election. This is a direct violation of the nation’s constitution as well as the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi.

The resulting civil conflicts and repression led to a series of detrimental effects on women’s rights and human rights in general. Protests and rallies erupted throughout the country, rebelling against the unconstitutionality of President Nkurunziza’s third mandate, only to be met with arrests and violence as punishment for demonstrations against the ruling.

Additionally, the unrest has sparked more obstacles and negative reprisals against women’s rights. Women in Burundi are faced with casual sexual violence and rape while being denounced and oppressed in regards to political input, leaving them with little choice and no voice.

In light of the political and social turmoil, Dr. Marie-Louise Baricako is a leader willing to stand and instill change and reform in the African country. Baricako is a lecturer, human rights activist, former Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS), and serves as the chairwoman for the Burundi Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security.

The chairwoman wishes for the movement to be a model of gaining respect for women’s rights, a major problem in Africa that Baricako feels is long past due solving.

“If we want to bring African development, rights should not just be written to remain on paper,” Baricako told The New Times. “There must be implementation.” Baricako also emphasized a need for African leaders to actively promote and support women’s rights.

The movement is calling for political delegations to include female representation by holding various demonstrations, including some in Arusha, Tanzania where an Inter-Burundian political meeting was being hosted on February 16, 2017. Citing the United Nations’ Resolution 1325, which dictates that conflict resolutions must sufficiently represent all parties, including women, the demonstrators claimed a right to be included in the session.

“In Burundi, you can’t say ‘trouble areas’, because trouble can be in any area. What is safe today is not safe tomorrow,” Baricako told The Daily Maverick. “Civilian life today is a life of fear, a life of uncertainty, and not knowing exactly what is happening tomorrow.

People plan only for the next 24 hours. Anything can happen. When they come into your home, they take the men and the boys and inside they rape the wife and the daughters. It’s incredible, you cannot describe it, but what is happening in Burundi should be a question of morality for the whole continent of Africa.”

Although a refugee due to Burundi’s 2015 political crisis, Baricako continues to use her influence to appeal to the United Nations and mobilize groups and African leaders to become involved and make women’s rights in Africa a priority on their political agendas.

Political leaders’ and the United Nations’ responses have been relatively weak. However, in April, 2016, Baricako did manage to push the United Nations to stabilize Burundi’s situation using UN police force.

While there is still much progress to be made and more problems that need to be addressed, Baricako is working alongside other women organizations and groups, such as the Burundian League for Women’s Rights and the SOS Women in Distress Burundi (SOS FED), to promote change and reform.

Featured Image by AMISOM Public Information on Flickr
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