Despite the end of the civil war in Burundi, the country continues to grapple with a dismal record of civilian armed violence and human rights abuses. Women, who are the main victims of this violence, are often the sole providers of food on account of rampant unemployment and widespread widowhood.
Conducted under the patronage/sponsorship of the United Nations Development Programme, this study presents the results of a survey undertaken by a team of researchers and a Burundi-based consultant. Several dozen groups of workers, women’s associations, farmers, displaced women and children, merchants, widows, prostitutes and youth were involved in the survey. From these interviews it emerged that women in Burundi are particularly affected by three new forms of armed violence: acts of vengeance (or “private justice”), sexual predation, and theft.
It is clear that Burundian society is awash with small arms and must be delivered from this scourge as a matter of urgency. The personal testimonies and viewpoints provided by the women interviewed for this study reveal the extent to which extreme poverty combined with the widespread availability of weapons has resulted in a vicious cycle of violence. Indeed, automatic rifles, hand-made weapons, guns and hand grenades can be easily acquired on the markets, either for purchase or on loan. In order to survive, many Burundians resort to armed robbery, often accompanied by rape and even murder. The pervasive climate of fear has in turn affected agricultural production and commercial activities. Armed violence has become a synonym for widowhood, forced displacement, and orphaned and abandoned children.
In short, in Burundi weapons are both instruments for survival and the very scourge preventing the country from emerging from the ashes of war. The study concludes with two separate series of recommendations in which the central emphasis is placed on disarmament, development and the involvement of women in the search for solutions.