"Traditionally, not a single woman had a voice. Even when she was abused, she had to keep quiet. That was the way of living for all Burundian women and for the majority of us that life was quite normal. Now, a woman who is elected can sit near the Administrator, and can even speak in front of men." Pascasie Hatungimana, hill representative, Bugendana Commune, Gitega Province.
Ms Pascasie Hatungimana is aged 55 years, a widower with seven children. She is one of the two women who were lucky to have been elected in 2010 at the hill level, together with 20 men. They are currently leading at the hill in Bugendana Commune, Gitega Province, the Centre of the country.
A seat near the Administrator
'I remember that when I was elected, many women were not supportive at all. Their major concern was that they were to be led by a women! At the beginning, many of them refused even to tell me the sufferings they were enduring in their families because they thought that I could not be of help. Many of them did not trust me at all." But little by little, they realized that I was able of my work. Now, many of them including men come to me. I am proud of my work,' she said.
'I think my position as a leader will inspire many women in the coming elections. For instance, when there is a meeting organized by our administrator, they look at the respect I am given when I sit near him and I read in their face that they also aspire to be in my place. Some of them already told me that nowadays, things have changed. A woman can sit near the Administrator, and can even speak in front of men,' she added.
No lack of soap or salt
'Before being voted as a leader, only three associations were created and they were all about agriculture and many of their members were men. Then, when I presented myself in 2010 as a candidate, I promised to the population, especially women, that I will help them to organize themselves into community associations in order to get out from the hidden place, "their home". Now, we currently have 12 community associations on my hill and each is made of 25 persons and more than 80 % are women. We give each other loans and no one ever lacks salt or soap as it used to be. I am really proud of that", she added.
According to Pascasie, women who lead others inspire them at the same time and help them to open eyes for all that is happening in the community. Women leaders are the light and model for many others in the community. Consequently, all the concerns of the woman are known and she is no longer excluded or isolated from society.
"Women should be united. Their actions should be characterized by an atmosphere of unity. All over the world and especially in Burundi, we are the majority and we should not destroy each other. No man will win if he is not supported by women. And we should keep the light switched on and we must learn more to fight for our rights. Women must be empowered to transform our communities. Let's fight for our positions today, tomorrow may be too late for us."
As leaders at hill level Pascasie and her colleague aim to resolve conflict peacefully, for the welfare of the whole population. She is proud of being a leader and as such, part of the conflict resolution mechanism at the grassroot level where she lives. In her opinion, any violence against women must be eradicated and women must take part in decision making positions in order to fight against community or societal injustice and discrimination.
"Peace and security among our population are the key indicators for our success. Though our work requires dedication and is very demanding, I fulfill my duties with a huge amount of love."