The first organisation Survivor Corps Burundi works with is the Associations des Femmes Juridiques du Burundi (AFJB). They are an umbrella organisation including many of the countries women’s organisations, and exist to provide support to vulnerable women around the country, ensure that they are able to exercise their legal rights, and lobby for better legal protection of women. When I meet the Programmes Officer, Patricia Ntahorubuze, she talks about the ways in which women can be doubly marginalised; in a general sense of being poor, displaced, or traumatised by war, but in the second place due to the attitudes their families take to them, and the failure to recognise their specific needs.
She talks of the many types of women who are vulnerable; widows, former combatants, former child soldiers, those who have been raped, and girls who are head of their households. These women often struggle to integrate in their communities; if they have been raped, they may face rejection by their families and communities. Similarly, former combatants who are women have violated many strongly-held gender norms, and will struggle to reintegrate for this reason. Unfortunately, these two categories will often overlap; many women who have participated in the war will also have been subjected to gender based violence. Many of the women the AFJB exists to help also have problems relating to property, particularly in the case of widows, who risk being “chased from the house” as their husband’s family tries to claim their property and “manage” the widow – a violation of numerous rights including the rights to property, privacy, and family.
Perhaps the most serious problems however, in that that they combine the two, are faced by women who have had children as a result of rape or who during their time “in the bush” (i.e. with the rebels). In these cases it will often be impossible to identify the father, and even when he can be identified he will often not accept the baby. The mothers of these children often face rejection by their families, while their children will be unable to inherit from their fathers (as would traditionally be the case) or their mothers (as they have been rejected by the family); this is an issue that has arisen in similar terms in Northern Uganda, where it has been studied in some detail by the Justice and Reconciliation project. At a psychological level, the children affected will often suffer from identity crises, and as a result have behavioural problems; these children are also survivors, and will need help if they are to claim their rights and integrate successfully into their communities.
The AFJB is able to help these women in a number of ways; in the first place, echoing The Advocacy Project‘s goal, by simply listening to them and allowing them to tell their story. The importance AFJB places on this demonstrates clearly the importance of disempowerment *as such* in creating problems for these women; when they feel excluded, and not listened to, they are less likely to feel confident enough to claim their rights against substantial social pressures to acquiesce in their marginalisation. Listening therefore constitutes an important first step in AFJB’s work. It does not, however, stop there; as an organisation of lawyers, they are in a strong position to offer practical help to women whose legal rights are being violated, ensuring that they can retain access to their property and any services owed them – this is particularly important given the large number of land claims resulting from the return of tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. Finally, they are lobbying for changes in the law to better protect women, in particular a proposed law against Gender Based Violence. I will be helping AFJB by profiling some of the survivors they are working with, helping them develop their web presence, and helping them use the profiles and other materials in their campaigns to improve women’s rights in Burundi.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jun 17th, 2009