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When Women Become a Priority...

After 13 years of absence, I returned to Burundi with NO IDEA what I was going to find. One thing was for sure, I was ready to learn. I was in the middle of my graduate studies, and I had already chosen my thesis topic- or so I thought. For as long as I remember, women issues have always been close to my heart. Therefore, I had decided to work on a thesis paper on HIV/AIDS and how it affects women in Post-conflict zones. So I arrived in Burundi ready for research, and I had already arranged my interviews. It did not take long before I realized how naïve I was in my research attempts. After speaking to several women, and seating through meetings with women’s organizations, I realized that the problem of HIV/AIDS was of a causal affect that resulted from gender inequity. Furthermore, there was little research in the field, and it was almost impossible to find information on women and the trajectory (if any) to gender equality.

Two weeks later, I returned to my studies in New York, and realized that if I wanted to affect change then my first step was to contribute to the research on gender equality in Burundi. I had been so far removed from my country and my experiences as a girl/woman in Burundi had been based on the memory of a seven year-old that had left fleeing for her life. I had been blessed to have parents who believed in the value of an education. They made sure, whether we were refugees in the Congo, or settled in Kenya, I always kept up with school. This was rare at that time as many of my friends did not attend school.

By 2011 when I returned to Burundi, the statistics on girl-education had become better, but not ideal. Girls still had their relegated roles, which did not value education. This was more profound in rural Burundi. With a country that has one of the lowest GDP in the world, there were several contributions to this lack of education for girls. Economy and societal values are the major contributors. For every family that realized that their girls needed to be educated, there were two more that would prefer for their girls to stay home and help with chores, and be prepared for that day that they would get married. This reality was confounded by post-conflict environment where the family structure had changed. More than ever before, girls had been forced into motherhood because of the rampant raping of girls during the war. The challenge then was not only to educate the girls, but to also make sure that they also have access to viable means for income.

The good news is that the challenges in girl’s education present an opportunity for women to define and redefine their roles in society. By the time I submitted my thesis in June 2012, I had been able to speak to so many women who were ready to fight for women’s rights, but more importantly, bridging the gap between boy and girl education opportunities. As more girls become educated, they are paving way for other girls to aspire to be educated, and fight for their rights to education. As girls become women, and they see the value of education and the correlation it has to better economic opportunities, more families will also aspire to see their girls educated. This is probably not the easiest path to getting girls educated faster, but it is a process that will last. In the meantime, programs are being developed, programs that not only include scholarship on gender equality, but programs that are building support programs for those girls who want to go to school or are in school. These kinds of programs give me hope because it is through these kinds of programs that we will see an increase in girl’s education in Burundi. In a society that values experience, the best people that girls can learn from will be the women who have walked down the same path to attaining an education.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Anita Muhanguzi's picture

It is true

My dear sister it is true that the girls in your community will be more aspired to go to school if they learn from the women who have walked down the same path to attaining an education. God bless your parents who valued education and ensured you continued with your education despite the hard situations. Your story will surely inspire others. Thank you for posting and continue to post these testimonies because we love listening to your voice. Stay blessed my dear sister.

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Head of Legal and Advocacy
Centre for Batwa Minorities
Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

innerdelight's picture

Lead by example

Hi dmuragijimana,

I loved reading every word of your story and felt as if I was on the journey with you. I love that you chose to return to Burundi and how your experiences there have really surfaced the underlying causes and how you are now leading by example!
As you say:

"In a society that values experience, the best people that girls can learn from will be the women who have walked down the same path to attaining an education."

I look forward to reading more from you.
Joyful blessings,

Hesychia's picture


Dear one ~

Your story is very eye-opening in terms of how difficult it is for young women in Burundi and how the situation is gradually improving. Your willingness and openness to learning and to changing what you were researching reveals much about your dedication to the women of Burundi. I'm am glad for them, as well as for you! Your sense of hope for the future is powerful.

Thank you for sharing!

Blessings ~

Diane Ezeji's picture

I enjoyed reading your

I enjoyed reading your article, particularly hearing how your expectations of Burundi were different from the reality. You told that part well, and I was anxious to hear what differences you found. I wish you strength and opportunities to help make a difference.

Diane Ezeji

smothyz's picture

a first!

Burundi is one of the African countries that is rarely spoken of especially since after the genocide. We hear of how Rwanda has risen up from the ashes, but rarely does anyone speak of Burundi. I am glad to have gotten an insight of how Burundi is, even though it's just a glimpse. I am also glad to hear that even though there is inequality in women, there is a glimpse of change too. I hope that what you aim to achieve bears fruits and i pray that you may never lose the drive to want to see change, but may always have the strength to wake up and keep gearing towards that change that you want to see in your country.

God bless you.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that. -Martin Luther King Jnr.

Hello dmuragijimana,

Thank you for sharing the story of your journey. It's impressive to see your ongoing and evolving commitment to addressing gender inequality, in the many places and issues where it presents a challenge.

I was especially interested by, and agree with, your opinion that women need "viable means for income" in order to achieve better life opportunities. Your piece points out how that there are additional challenges to accessing such means in a post-conflict society like Burundi. What kinds of opportunities for women do you think are most viable in the context of Burundi today?

wishing you success in your work and joy in life,

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