Burundi’s growing femicide problem
As authorities turn a blind eye to the growing cases of violence and spousal murder, women’s rights activist are increasingly vocal.
The burial of Aline Inarukundo, whose death has shaken Bujumbura, took place on 7 March. Her body was kept in the morgue for 47 days. The delayed burial was the result of a tug of war between her in-laws and her blood relatives ironically over the imprisonment of her husband, Claude Arakaza, who is suspected of murdering his wife.
Inarukundo’s relatives have called the death a femicide. Disputing this, Aline Inarukundo’s in-laws asked for an autopsy to be conducted outside the country, presumably so that the cause of death could be independently verified, and demanded the release her husband, Claude Arakaza, even as murder investigations are still underway.
Concerned family, friends, and former colleagues of the victim as well as women rights activists launched a protest campaign on 2 march demanding that she be buried with dignity.
Pacifique Nininahazwe, a civil rights activist on social media claimed that the Attorney General was pressured by women’s rights groups into authorizing Aline’s burial.
“Let the women be respected, they were able to encourage the Attorney General to allow the burial of Inarukundo,” Nininahazwe said.
Aline Inarukundo, a mother of four, died on 21 January night in her home, in the south of Bujumbura, the capital. Her husband Claude Arakaza is believed to have been involved in the murder, as his wife died minutes after he returned home from the bar at about 0300H. He was arrested on 24 January, and has been locked up pending trial ever since.
Fidella, 38 (her name has been changed to protect her identity), reports: “Her husband used to abuse and beat her. The police repeatedly intervened. Family members knew Aline was in danger.”
Aline’s arm had been broken twice, alleged Fidella, adding, “Her death occurred when she was planning to initiate the divorce process. She has suffered greatly in this relationship. I expected that the worst could happen.” Fidella feels guilty for not doing more to prevent the tragic death.
A report in Kirundo Province reveals that from 2022 to the present, eight women have been killed; two other women from Rumonge province, one from Kayanza, another from Mwaro, and one from Makamba – all killed since January 2023, murdered by their husbands or sexual partners.
The Seruka Center, a local NGO dedicated to assisting victims of gender-based violence has recorded 241 cases of rape victims from December 2022 to the end of February 2023. It also assisted 38 victims (including 37 women) of physical, emotional, and economic violence.
Although the perpetrators are sometimes punished, authorities apparently see no pattern in the incidence of violence.
Culture, tradition and ignorance: the three-legged stool of femicide
Burundi is a highly patriarchal society in which only 17.7% of women, who constitute the majority of the population, have access to land, the main source of income.
Burundian culture describes the ideal spouse as ‘Umukenyezi’, the one who ties her loincloth on thorns and walks without flinching and without the outside world noticing her pain,” according to its literal translation in Kirundi.
A woman, who dares to denounce violence and abuses she is suffering, is considered rude. Moreover, these social norms make women afraid to denounce what happens to them, for fear of being stigmatized in society and being considered deviants. “Whenever a man beats, injures, or breaks his wife’s arm or leg in Burundi, he is only punished by being advised not to repeat the act. As for the victim, her mother, older sisters, and aunts advise her to keep it a secret so as not to tarnish her couple’s image explaining to her ‘we too have always suffered the same thing’,” explains Inés Kidasharira, a women’s rights journalist.
Kidasharira attributes the increase in femicide cases to Burundian culture, “which encourages and positively values women who keep quiet even when their husbands destroy their dignity”.
She also considers the ignorance of the laws on women’s rights to be another cause of femicide. Women, especially rural women, do not know of the laws that exist to protect them against physical, moral, and economic violence. “Consequently, they cannot file complaints against their aggressors.” And for those who know, the problem of lack of access to resources prevents them from enjoying their rights.
According to Kidasharira, if a woman is not financially independent, she cannot divorce or file a complaint against her spouse, who provides everything. “They prefer to tolerate all forms of violence while comforting themselves by saying; we must stay for the sake of the children.”
She warns that domestic violence is fast becoming normalised as men who kill their spouses go unpunished.
The main obstacle to ending gender-based violence is impunity, reports the Family and Community Development Centre. In the case of the murder of a wife, the families of the spouses make an amicable settlement to prevent a civil lawsuit, creating the kind of environment that allows others to commit the same crime. It does not help that the family of the victim does not easily denounce the husband, saying that they are protecting the victim’s children.
Worries over femicide becoming commonplace
While Burundi’s law on gender-based violence was passed in 2016, women’s rights organizations are agitating for its amendment. They criticize it for not being adapted to the current situation and for its lack of clarity, which influences the continuity of gender-based crimes.
Emerance Bucumi, chairperson of the Burundi National Women’s Forum, at an occasion to mark International Women’s Day last month, hailed the government’s initiatives to promote women’s rights, but expressed concern about the murder of women, domestic violence, and other forms of violence against women. She urged the judiciary, administrative and security authorities, and the population to collectively fight the scourge.
Kidasharira decries the lack of government commitment to combating these violent crimes. She finds it inconceivable that the government does not adopt necessary measures to arrest this growing phenomenon.
Sixte Vigny Nimuraba, chair of the National Independent Commission on Human Rights acknowledges the increase in gender-based violence, but indicates that his institution plays an advisory role. “Whenever we receive allegations of human rights violations, we conduct investigations to find out what really happened.”
The commission analyzes the law and gives advice or guidance to the government or to the state institutions to take the necessary decisions.
Spouses do not kill each other in a single day, observes sociologist, Patrice Saboguheba. Rather, spousal murder is the result of the gradual accumulation of violent quarrels, which, unfortunately, break out in full view of everyone else. “Why do we wait for death to follow to finally stand up and denounce this violence?”