Since May 2010, Burundi has embarked in a marathon electoral season, with five successive elections (at district, presidential, legislative, and village level) over a period of five months.
In the district elections on May 24th, the ruling party won a landslide victory. Despite some minor irregularities, international and national election observers stated the elections were largely fair, while opposition parties claimed they were fraudulent and withdrew from the election process.
Conflict immediately followed and led to violence that could potentially spread throughout the country and take it back to the war situation Burundi has known for more than a decade.
International Alert Burundi and its local partner, women’s organisation Dushirehamwe, have been supporting Burundian women in their response to the election violence through a project, funded by the Government of Norway, for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
A discussion forum for women
A workshop including 80 women from various areas of society (politics, private sector, civil society, media, church groups...) was held on 17th June in the capital Bujumbura, with International Alert Burundi’s financial and logistical support.
The workshop meant to provide a space for women to voice their concerns and to take specific action against the electoral violence, as one participant explained: ‘I really wanted to express my views about the current situation. But most of all, I wanted to get together with other women and think of what we can do to contribute to the return of peace and dialogue between conflicting parties’.
Women identified some priorities on which to work together, including activities, such as a nation-wide peace campaign through the local media, lobby meetings with the parties in conflict, and raising the awareness of female politicians and the wives of top politicians to work for a peaceful resolution to electoral differences.
Three commissions were formed to look at advocacy, communication and events, which were accompanied by Alert.
Burundian women: an encouragement for the international community
Women’s activities have been highly praised by the international community as they reinforce their work towards elections and peacebuilding in Burundi. As Ambassador Bah from the African Union Commission affirmed: ’When women raise their voice, men keep silent. They are encouraging us to keep supporting Burundi because they have shown that women care about the future of their children and their country. This confirms that in spite of the political crisis, the population wants peace’.
Representatives from the international community, including the Integrated UN Mission in Burundi/BINUB, the European Union, the United States and Norway, attended a ceremony sponsored by International Alert Burundi on 25th June, critically timed just before the presidential elections, where women presented their activities.
Aiming their peace messages at the entire population, women particularly encouraged political actors to rejoin the democratic process, and called for everyone to stop political intimidation and election violence.
As women officially launched the beginning of their campaign “scarves and candles for peace”, the BINUB symbolically distributed scarves to all participants. The campaign encourages people to light a candle or wear a scarf in their homes or at their workplace as a sign of their support for peace.
International Alert continues to support the campaign and will continue to lobby for the voices of women to be heard in the Burundian peacebuilding process.