BURUNDI: The Battered Women of Burundi

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Although they have been separated for over a year Chantal's ex-boyfriend, Kamessa, has repeatedly threatened her. On October 12, he seriously beat her up and dragged her half-naked into the streets.

He shouted at her: “I will beat you up until you become disabled. I will continue to pay alimony and you shall watch over my son while being handicapped.”

The blows Chantal received left bruises all over her body but it was her face which was most seriously damaged.

Fear of ex-rebel

In Chantal's neighbourhood it's not uncommon that people turn a blind eye to the abuse of women. But in Chantal's case people are also frightened of her ex-boyfriend who is a former rebel.

A victim of domestic violence in BurundiPhoto: RNW/ Emelyne Muhorakeye
Even when Chantal fled to her closest relatives for shelter, they didn't dare to intervene. They feared retaliation from the ex-soldier. The only advice they gave her was that she needed to forgive him.
When Chantal asked the District Administrator to help her, her attempts were in vain. The administrator too was afraid of Kamessa.

Finally, Chantal headed to a women rights organisation, ADDF, for support. Aid workers decide to take care of her.

According to Mireille Niyonzima, the chairwoman of ADDF, the situation of many battered women in Burundi has not improved, but worsened in the last couple of years: “Violence against women in Burundi, in all its forms, increases day after day. Since January 2010, our organisation has documented 3.148 cases of abused women.”

Traditions count

The Burundian penal code has been revised to address domestic violence, but victims of abuse are still confronted with the heavy weight of traditions that acknowledge that women should accept whatever she experiences in the domestic sphere. Women are expected to remain stoically silent.

Burundian society is also prejudiced about separated or divorced woman which makes it is difficult for the survivors to speak about the physical and sexual abuses they underwent.

This is why police officers try to reconcile survivors and perpetrators. “When a woman dares to go to a police station to register a complaint, the police officer's first words to her are: “Be careful, it is your husband, it is your brother-in-law. You will get into trouble ». Policemen don't seem realise a crime has been committed”, complains Mireille Niyomzima.

In Burundi, strong legal provisions on violence against women exist. However, they are not observed and this is why women like Nibizi are still in danger.