This is the story of Médiatrice, who became the leader of the colline [colline is French for hill, it can be compared to a community] of Bwoga in Burundi to represent women and to challenge gender-based violence.
« My name is Médiatrice Ndayizeye, I am married and I have 5 children. I am a farmer and leader of the colline since 2016.
I am among the first women to be elected in my community. This happened after several trainings from CARE, teaching us that as women, we are capable, we have the right to be elected and we can contribute to shaping the community we want. Before it was difficult to believe that, because I have been taught that women are responsible for the household, and that we don’t have the right to speak in public.
When I got elected, everyone in the street was pointing their finger at me. I was a shame to my in-laws and definitely the last woman that my husband wanted to have as a wife at this time.
Therefore we asked CARE to train our husbands as well. That is how the first VSLA groups for men were created, with the objective to get them to support us women. »
VSLA stands for village savings and loan associations. It allows women and men to save money: they put in a little bit of money every week, and when they need a larger sum of money, they can get a loan from their VSLA group. A loan to set up a shop, to buy medicines or to pay for books for school.
‘Every Voice Counts’, a programme implemented in Burundi and supported by CARE, has linked the meetings of the VSLA groups to the topic of GBV. By teaching men that they will be more successful in their business if they for instance share responsibilities with their wives. The importance of respecting one’s wife is emphasized in these meetings.
« If the men are aware of our rights, the men could help us in the household and that way, we become more independent and we have more time to represent other women in our communities. My husband participated in awareness raising trainings and he started to support me. Now, my husband is a member of Abatangamuco, he is a man engaged in the fight against violence against women and girls. »
Abatangamuco is a group of men, supported by CARE and the Every Voice Counts programme, which helps their communities to fight against gender-based violence. With men as role models, Abatangamuco is able to connect with more men within and outside their communities and discuss together the benefits of respecting and supporting women and girls.
Gender-based violence is a broad concept: it includes sexual, physical, emotional and economic harm done to someone based on their gender, usually targeted at women and girls. Médiatrice witnessed a neighbor of hers who took advantage of his wife, something that motivated Médiatrice to become a colline leader:
« The husband sent his wife away and she took refuge in Bujumbura. He took the opportunity to sell the land that the family needed to make a living and he got remarried. During this time, I was a colline counselor. With the women who were in the council, we stood up to say that it was unfair to sell the family properties while his wife was gone. I could not sleep because I kept thinking about how this woman was going to survive when she got back. But as only the colline leader, who was a man, could make a decision, we lost this case. That is how I understood that only a woman could understand the deeper needs of another woman. That is how we are different. This injustice motivated me. »
Her motivation has led Médiatrice to become the leader of her colline and to be respected by both men and women. She is striving to make sure that all women know their rights and she aims to take away all threats towards women in her colline. In the future, Médiatrice hopes to become a commune leader. Because who can better understand and address women’s issues in the commune than a woman herself?