Gender-based violence in Burundi: A survivor's testimony

Audrey Inarukundo from the National Network of Young People Living with HIV (RNJ+) shares the testimony of a young rape survivor from Burundi. This young woman has agreed to share her experience because she recognises that, if nothing is done to help the survivors of gender-based violence, the perpetrators of these acts will continue.

<p>RNJ+ is the young people's positive network in Burundi, which is a liefline for young people most affected by HIV.</p>RNJ+ is the young people's positive network in Burundi, which is a liefline for young people most affected by HIV. © Alliance

‘NK’, from north Burundi, is now 18. She was orphaned at a young age, and never knew her parents. She was raised by her grandmother until her grandmother died, and was then raised by her uncle who abused her. When NK reached, as she describes it, “the age of reason”, she decided to leave her native province and go to the capital to look for work.

NK arrived in Bujumbura at the age of 17 and worked as a cleaner. She worked for her boss without issue, but met a boy who was working as a cook, who told her he loved her and wanted to marry her.

"The day I could never forget was a Sunday in May, this year,” says NK. “Pretending we were engaged, he asked me to go with him to see his family, so he could introduce me. I don't think I'll ever forget what happened to me that day. I was taken to a house where there were more than seven men, including my so-called fiancé. When I asked him if this was the family he wanted to introduce me to, he crudely told me that I was to say nothing, the only thing I had to do for now was sleep with him, which I didn't agree to, so he took me by force. I struggled, but in vain, because some of the other men helped him and he eventually raped me. Afterwards, he invited his friends to do the same, but I pleaded with them and in the end, they let me go."

The only thing I had to do for now was sleep with him, which I didn't agree to.

After experiencing this horrendous event, NK returned to work feeling ashamed and not knowing what to do. She continued to work as if nothing had happened. A month later, she grew worried when her period was late, so she took a pregnancy test which was positive. When she informed the man who raped her, he told her:  "You can't hold me responsible, I don't even know you."

NK said nothing after that. She continued to work while the boy left his job. A few days later, her boss discovered she was pregnant and fired her. She was unable to find another job, given her pregnancy, and she was forced to live on the streets for a few days. By the time I met her, she had managed to find accommodation with a woman who had agreed to take her in. But this woman's husband does not want NK in his house so she lives there knowing she could be kicked out at any time.

NK told me: "I'm afraid of ending up on the streets again because I have nowhere to go, but I don't know what to do, I've placed my fate in God's hands."

NK says she wants to appeal to everyone to get involved in eradicating gender-based violence rather than thinking it is just the government's responsibility.

She said: "Everyone should strive to bring an end to gender-based violence. A perpetrator would not be happy if he realised that what happened to me could happen to his sister, daughter, wife or aunt. The government must apply the law so that the perpetrators will be afraid to commit these crimes because they will be in fear of the law. Families should view girls and boys as being equal because sometimes what happens to girls is partly the result of families not wanting to accept the equality of children.”

A perpetrator would not be happy if he realised that what happened to me could happen to his sister, daughter, wife or aunt.

We at RNJ+ believe that boys and young girls should be treated equally and equitably. Everyone should know their rights and perhaps this could help bring an end to gender-based violence and thus achieve gender equality.

GBV in Burundi: The facts

Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses in the world. Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or experience other abuse during their lifetime.

GBV is widespread in Burundi. Around 4,000 cases of gender-based violence were reported in 2010, 94% of which related to women and girls. A 2013 survey found 16% of people had experienced some form of physical or non-physical sexual violence, and the majority of cases happened to 16 to 20-year-olds.

Acknowledging the extent of the problem, the government established a law for the prevention, protection and punishment of GBV, which was adopted in December 2015.

This law has now been in existence for two years yet, the texts of the law are generally not applied. This means those experiencing GBV are unaware there is a law that protects them. Thus, when they suffer it is not clear who to turn to or what to do.

Rather, most of those who experience violence decide to remain silent or allow their families to settle the issue with the perpetrators. In most cases, this only furthers the physical and psychological suffering of those who have experienced GBV, sometimes even driving them to commit suicide due to feelings of isolation and abandonment.

The work we are doing at RNJ+ is fighting to change this, so that people such as NK can have brighter futures.

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