Burundian women make their voices heard

With support from UN Women, International Alert has facilitated an elected delegation of Burundian civil society leaders to participate in the Burundi Development Partner Conference in Geneva on 29th and 30th October 2012. The conference aimed to mobilise financial support for Burundi’s second Strategic Framework for Growth and Poverty Reduction (SFGPR II), which outlines the government’s commitments for the country’s economic growth and development from 2012 to 2016.

This conference took place at a crucial time for Burundi, when the country is facing major economic challenges. Nearly 81% of the population still lives below the poverty line and it is doubtful whether the government will be able to meet its target to bring this percentage down to 49% by 2015. Food insecurity and chronic malnutrition are widespread and closely linked to high levels of population growth. Rural households are finding it increasingly difficult to access land, and agricultural productivity is declining. While Burundi is making progress in ensuring women’s participation in decision-making bodies (37% female representation in parliament, 33% in the cabinet and 46% in the senate), only 18% of its women own land - even though women constitute 55% of the workforce in the agricultural sector.

The main goal of supporting the delegation’s participation in the conference was to enable Burundian women to advocate that their priorities be taken into account in the funding and implementation of the SFGPR II. Following successful advocacy by women’s rights organisations in Burundi over the past few years with Alert’s support, the framework documents reflect concerns and priorities outlined by a broad cross-section of Burundian women. The conference was a major opportunity for women’s organisations to push for these written commitments to be translated into concrete and tangible actions that will benefit women and girls, and contribute to durable peace and reconciliation for all Burundians.

Women’s organisations met ahead of the conference to collectively write a declaration (Read the Declaration by Burundian Women's Rights Organisations here), which calls on the government of Burundi and its partners to:

  • Establish community centres and community radios across the country, in an effort to allow Burundian women to access information about their rights, civic education, transformative leadership and conflict transformation, and to stimulate a change in discriminatory attitudes towards women;
  • Put into place a venture capital fund and microcredit schemes to promote small projects initiated by women and young girls from rural communities;
  • Finance the creation and running of centres to meet the needs of victims of sexual and domestic violence; and
  • Ensure gender-sensitive financing and budgeting of the SFGPR II and to take all measures necessary to enable women's organisations to play a key role in monitoring its implementation.

Conference proceedings were tightly controlled by the government and there was no opportunity for the delegation to read their declaration. Nevertheless, we managed to get the declaration displayed in the conference room in Geneva. Hundreds of copies were distributed to participants, and members of the delegation used it to directly approach and lobby key Burundian officials, donors and policymakers attending the conference.

Disappointingly, there was little mention of gender issues throughout the conference and members of the delegation expressed concerns that gender would end up being side-lined if not enough funds were raised to implement the SFGPR II. The government claimed to have raised US$2.6 billion. However, key donors such as the World Bank, European Union and the governments of the Netherlands and Norway made it clear during the conference that their support would be conditional on improvements in the security situation in Burundi, a widening of the political space, and an intensification of the fight against impunity and corruption.

A member of the Women's Delegation with policymakersNevertheless, this conference was a unique opportunity for Burundian women’s organisations to participate in an international decision-making forum on the future of their country. Despite their observer status, the delegation played an active part in the working groups, where they presented some of their key recommendations to a wide audience. The intense lobbying and advocacy they carried out throughout the conference will be invaluable for the work of women’s organisations in Burundi. As a member of the delegation put it, ‘We managed to participate in this high-level international conference and attend all the sessions. This, in itself, is a major achievement’.

(Pictured above, left to right: Déo Hakizimana, President of Centre indépendant de recherché et d’initiatives pour le dialogue (CIRID); Remco Van der Veen, Member of the Cordaid delegation at the conference; Evariste Ngendakmana, Poject coordinator at Réseau femmes et Paix and member of the Women’s Delegation at the conference; Michel Bossuyt, Head of Mission, Cordaid, Burundi).

We intend to build on the momentum created through this initiative to reinforce our support to women’s organisations working on peace, development and women’s rights in Burundi. The outcomes of this conference will feed into our planned work in Burundi over the next year, which focuses on: ensuring that the action plans and budgets for the implementation of the SFGPR II are gender sensitive; and advocacy and sensitisation on women’s social and economic rights, including the area of inheritance law.

Since 2010, through a project supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alert and its Burundian partner organisations have supported Burundian civil society groups and women's organisations to ensure that women’s needs and concerns, and reconciliation, were at the heart of the SFGPR II. This project has contributed to building consensus and alliances between women and reinforcing the cohesion of the women’s movement, at a time where ethnic and political divisions are still rife and the lack of social cohesion remains a central issue in the country.

Read the Declaration by Burundian Women's Rights Organisations here.